by A. Kinchen
A view from the life of a convenience store clerk.
|There are several times a day when I stop and think to myself about the fate of the human race as a whole. Common sense is beginning to disappear from society, replaced by ignorance and superiority. Why is it that even though we all are humans, a doctor or a lawyer can consider himself more valuable than a clerk at your local convenience store or supermarket? It could be that his or her education level is higher or maybe because their finances are better. As I see it, without that clerk at the store, the life of the “upscale” would be much more difficult. If anything else, the clerk should be appreciated for the daily assistance they provide, not to mention the task of having to manage over five-hundred customers in a single eight hour shift.
Please keep in mind, though I believe these statements to be true and fair, others may not. These are strictly MY opinions, and I am not trying to force my beliefs upon anyone. I am simply stating how I feel about the situations that I encounter. I am but a single person, and my opinion is just that, one of a single person. If you do not agree with a statement contained in this story, please feel free to skip ahead to your next literary encounter. Thank you.
Having been in retail my entire adult life so far, I can tell more stories about ungrateful customers than I can about anything else. One thing to consider is that even though the person on the other side of my counter may be in the worst of moods, I must continue to provide prompt and courteous service to this person. No matter how my day has been thus far, I must remember that I do not know what happened to the customer before my encounter with them, nor can I predict what will happen when they leave. So I continue to smile and be polite, regardless of how I am treated. And thus is the life of a retail clerk.
A customer once said to me “I don’t see how you do this, day-by-day, and remain so sweet.” Well my response to this was a simple but honest one: It’s just who I am. But then can anyone tell me why I must remain so sweet at work, and then lose my ability to do so when I retire for the night? Perhaps, after eight hours of faking sugar, the real sweetness is gone? No one will ever have a definite answer. So again, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, I continue to serve the general public, going unnoticed to most. But just remember, the unsuspecting clerk may be the one to buy you gas when you run out, or spare a cigarette when you can’t afford any. That’s when the real sweet comes out.
A person has never felt the pang of sympathy until they encounter a single mom out of gas and money in a parking lot. To us three dollars may just be a small change, but to a desperate person it could mean a much better day. The way I see it, I would rather be down a couple dollars and help someone, than to have that in my wallet and watch someone suffer. I guess it’s just who I am. I am a person with a heart. I am a person who cannot pass by and watch others suffer when I have the ability to help. I am sympathetic.
And so life goes by. I sell you your smokes and gas and you go on your merry way. I remain, assisting the next customer, and the next, until my day is over. Not a single day passes by that I do not love and hate my job, all in a single shift. I amazed daily by the lack of care in people; People that can be so impatient of the elderly lady in front of them. Ordinarily I am alone behind the register in the mornings. I cannot believe how easily a person can become agitated with a clerk. Here I am running back and forth, doing my best to help everyone in a timely, yet polite manner, and the next person in line bites off my words when I apologize and explain that I am doing the best I can. Ah, a day in the life behind the counter.
To make matters even more difficult, my coworkers and I are passed on the task of staying in compliance of the law in many aspects. We ID any person “appearing to be under the age of 30 years old.” We also have to monitor for theft, counterfeit funds, and fake IDs. I assisted a lady a few weeks ago that was extremely irritated with the store. She had come in the previous night, and was sold the wrong type of cigarettes. (Side note: It is against the law to return tobacco products, no matter what time period or condition of sale.) I calmly informed her that as sorry as I was for mistake, I could not exchange them, that it was illegal for me to do so. She began yelling at me as if I sold them to her, or that we purposely ‘tricked’ her.
I cannot fathom what would push a person to get so irate over the difference between a box and a soft pack of cigarettes. Nor can I explain how to handle this type of person simply in text form. I can only do so in the situation. There is another scenario of seemingly useless anger that I would like to lay out on the table. There are several people that come into my store on a regular (first name type) basis. One of these said ‘regulars’ approached my counter recently with a newspaper and to buy a pack of cigarettes. We were out of his type, a very popular brand, at the time. When I told him this, he began raising his voice at me, insisting that “the idiot who orders them” is not doing his or her job. Little to his knowledge, I am the person who orders every tobacco product in the store. Also, our truck was due to arrive late that same night, and we had only run out that morning. And again, it is all the fault of the person behind the counter.
To the subject of the tobacco order and my role, it is my burden to bear. I am responsible for writing orders bi-weekly, as well as scan audits and product/shelf resets. I keep the store stocked with cigarettes, cigars, and all other tobacco products. I have been told a time or so that I should be on the management team. My response to this is the same every time, “managers get to carry keys.” I appreciate my role in the function of my store, and am always willing to learn more tasks. My manager once said, “These guys (my co-workers) look up to you, I know they do.” I tell them every day when I leave at three o’clock “bye guys call me if you need me.” We all know I don’t have keys, but for some reason, with customer issues, I am the one to call. I am proud of the stock that my co-workers put in my opinion, and I try my best to be nothing less than wonderful to them as well as my customers. We have to see each other almost more than our own families; we must get along to survive.
Now there are people that stop in everyday, I may know their name, their brand of smokes, but we never have a conversation with any depth. Then on the other side of the fence are my friends that I have grown to love through my job. I have several people that now know enough about me, and are considered good friends. These are the people that make coffee for me when I’m busy, or go get me food when I can’t walk away for even second. I trust that with time, a person can make friends with anyone that they see on an almost daily basis. It is refreshing to see a person that you know understands how you feel and will listen to your complaints for even just a second. It is also any cashier’s dream to hear, just once, from a customer that they are doing a good job. I get along wonderfully with the vast majority of my customers, and when there is a disagreement between us, it honestly bothers me. I cannot let a person be upset for an asinine reason, whether the reason was my fault or not.
On to the lighter side of dealing with the general public; my store has a separate cooler in which the beer is stored. This cooler is a public one inside the store, and the door to it reads: “Enter Here for Cold Beer” in big blue letters. One would not believe how many times I have been asked “where are your cases of beer?” or “you don’t carry anything other than single cans of beer?” I have had other customers tell them where it is, because they know that I’m just tired of saying it. Take another example of cluelessness: the coffee bar at my store is detached from the coffee condiments (i.e. cream and sugar), and instead of looking just to their left, I am constantly telling customers where it all is located. Repetitive statements can drive a person crazy, and I am beginning to give directions to beer in my sleep.
My coworkers and I receive in orders from multiple vendors on a daily basis. Not one of these vendors will question the fact that we are one of their more busy stores. These vendors are expected to unload their product, check for out of date and damaged products, and stock the shelves with the incoming product. Every so often, it becomes my job to “remind” the vendors of their role in the function of my store. They begin to relax after having come in several times, and begin to slack at their duties. For instance, do not drop your product in the middle of floor in my cooler, and leave without doing anything else. I had to correct this recently with a certain soft drink vendor. The job was not being done, and the customers were the ones suffering because of it. We do not realize that when we slack just the slightest bit at our job, the effect trickles all the way down to the “bottom of the totem pole,” if you will.
I am a fairly easy coworker to get along with, as long as you do your job and are polite to the customers. One thing that I believe should not be tolerated from an employee is disrespect of customers. The customer is the life and blood of your job. Whether liked or not, the customer that you just helped is what is keeping your job and your store alive. I have heard customers say some very rude, crude, demeaning things to my fellow cashiers, and most of them are able to take the comments in stride. Some, however, and caught every once in a while on the wrong day, and will let the customer know that they are in the wrong. I am a firm believer in “the customer is almost always right.” There are instances when a person comes in who is just downright rude or dumb, and this person will always aggravate the clerk, no matter how strong the work ethics.
This brings me to my next thought: why do we, as people, insist upon pushing the horrors of our day upon any person we encounter? Why must a single event ruin our mood so much that we cannot be pleasant with other people? It is fascinating how the mind works. In a single instance, a perfectly content person can turn into the exact opposite, with just one wrong word or action. This is the reaction that we must attempt to have control over daily. We must push past the anger in people and assist them the best we can. It is funny how one angry customer can then send a stream of angry customers for a good period of time. It is as if the mind can sense the discontent within other people and take the same state, replicate the mood so to speak.
There is one thing that is a problem to handle daily, and that is the ability of people to scheme, trick, and confuse a cashier into doing something that is against company policy, or even against the law. From underage purchases, to fraudulent returns and theft, people will seemingly do anything to get something for free. I encountered a young man recently in my store that wanted to buy a pack of cigars. I asked for his ID as well as the other man that was with him. When I did this, he began telling me that it was ridiculous and I couldn’t ask for both. The reality is that a cashier has the right to refuse sale if they suspect that any person in the party of sale is underage. I was only doing my job, and cannot afford to go to jail over a teenager’s smokes. My manager happened to be standing behind me at the time, and supported my decision to refuse the sale. He continued to tell me that he would have done the same, and that the kid was just angry, I should not worry about it. And so I don’t.
One thing that I worry about is the elderly that come in regularly to purchase gas. These are people that have had a full life, and are ones to be respected. At the same time, these are people who can barely walk. These people cannot pump their own gas, or even remember what side the tank is on. This makes me wonder why the state has yet to begin testing senior citizens before they are issued a driver’s license. There is great doubt regarding whether teenagers should drive at age 16, yet there is no debate over whether a senior should drive at age 85 for example. With the utmost respect, I am forced to point out that at the age where they can no longer see as well as they used to, nor hear or have the same reaction time/skills, these seniors should probably not be allowed to drive on 6-lane highways among the general public. But again, that is just my opinion.
My opinion is also strong on the matter of children and the way they are disciplined. When I was a child, if I dared to speak to my parents the way that I hear some children talking, my father would have spanked my bottom right then and there. There was none of this “friendly parenting” that exists today. A child needs to learn respect from a young age. Respect for parents, elders, and other authority figures. I would not have been brave enough as a child to run around in a public place screaming and acting like a maniac. I was brought up to behave in public, to say please and thank you, and to refer to my elders as sir or ma’am. These beliefs are very rarely instilled in the children of today. Parents need to consider, if your child can control you and what you buy for them, then how will they control you in 5-6 years when they are bigger than you?
I have several regular customers that bring in their children, and there is one family in particular that comes to mind when I think about misbehaving children. These children run around my store, hitting each other, and are not scolded by their mother. They tell her what to buy them, and will not leave the store peacefully until she does so. When I see this family, I can’t help but think how they would turn out after a week with my father. Are they too far gone to be disciplined? Can they be corrected and act as polite children instead of barn yard animals? This is just one more thing to make my job, as well as the job of anyone else they encounter, that much more difficult. These are the little things that send me home upset and pondering at night. The things that make me wish I could help every person that I come into contact with.