Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Good Behaviour at the Checkouts

I once started a thread on a discussion forum in which I began listing the things that customers do at the tills that make my blood froth. Before long, other retail slaves joined in and the thread ending up with over 500 replies. When I set out to write this blog entry, I intended to find that thread and handpick the best points from it, but I can't find it for love nor money. However, the fact that a 500-post discussion was held on the subject shows the sheer amount of material there is.

So this topic is likely to be one that I'll keep coming back to. For the next few weeks I'll probably be sitting in the training room racking my brains for more points to raise. But let's kick it off by discussing the customer do's and don'ts (I have no idea how to punctuate that correctly) that are formed in my mind right now.

Do not ignore me because you're too busy holding a conversation on your mobile phone. It's downright bad manners and, whether you realise it or not, it slows things down. The number of times I've stood there like a parrot "Two-thirty-nine please. Excuse me, two thirty-nine-please. I said two-thirty-nine please!" I will not stand there politely waiting for you to finish attending to your private business!

Do not wave leaky sugar in my face to demonstrate that the bag is bust. I believe you, and I will get it replaced. I don't want to be there until midnight trying to get sugar grains out of the till equipment.

Do not steal heavy duty, 10p carrier bags from the checkout in front. I will notice, and I will type in the PLU to charge you for it.

Do not moan that you have been given a handful of pound coins rather than a five pound note. Cashiers can only gather fivers when customers give them, and frankly if you pay for a 40p newspaper with a £20 note, you deserve to be punished with a handful of heavy change.

Do not wave credit cards in my face before I've asked for payment. I will finish scanning your shopping and then request that you pay. You have no right to invade my body space. Make yourself useful and pack.

Do not pretend not to see TILL CLOSED signs. I will fit them with neon flashing lights if necessary. We aren't robots. We do need to go for breaks and we do have homes to go to. If you're in such a hurry, do whatever pressing business you have before coming shopping.

Do pack whilst I'm processing your credit card. What is the point in standing there watching me put it through when you still have about 4 bags worth of shopping to put away? Stop wasting everybody else's time! Equally annoying, don't refuse help to pack and then insist of standing there for five minutes bagging your purchases before offering payment.

Do watch where you place items on the conveyor belt. Leaving a huge sack of potatoes dangling over the 'Next Customer Please' bars will push them down the groove and they'll all fall onto the floor. And it isn't going to be you crawling around retrieving them is it? And as for bottles. Use your brain. Stand them up and they'll fall down. Lie them horizontally and when the belt stops they're going to keep on rolling aren't they?

Do look after your God damned children. If you know they're liable to carry on in shops, get a babysitter and don't bring them out in public! You're only going to blame me when your child topples the trolley you're letting them climb all over.

Do not waste time pratting about. You've had the whole time you were queuing to prepare for your forthcoming interaction with the cashier so there's no excuse for dothering. When you've been served, don't hold the queue up by standing there sorting your purse/wallet/bag out.

Do not assume yourself to be intellectually superior to the cashier. When I'm putting your fruit and veg through, I'm looking on the wheel the find the code - not to find out what the item is. Droning: "haven't you ever seen a passion fruit before?" doesn't make me look stupid and it doesn't make you look clever.

That will have to do for now. No doubt more will come along soon.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Inducing Colleagues

Well the recruitment drive was completed yesterday. We have two new checkout assistants, one new night-shift team member and one new grocery replenishment assistant. And I'm not struck with any of them.

Of course, before they can start work they have to go through the company induction day. This is when they're told all of the boring things they need to know, are shown a barrage of wannabe-cool videos about health and safety and customer service and are issued with their uniforms and other palaver. And it falls to me to guide them through this wonderful experience. If they were enthusiastic and keen when they went in, they certainly weren't when it was completed.

We kicked off with introductions. I told them who I was, and asked them to tell the group who they were. First up, Lisa. A former MacDonald's employee who almost couldn't attend because she had a meeting with the benefits office. Then there's Dave and John who are fresh out of working for a rival supermarket chain (I made a mental note to probe them about it because I'm considering a change of scenery). Finally, we had Dean who has only ever worked in construction.

The next part was to read them through the employee handbook. I hate reading aloud. I can read very speedily in my head, but trying to co-ordinate my mouth with my brain just doesn't work. I kept tripping over words and soon became very self-conscious. For instance, I spent most of the read-through with my hand covering my mouth because I could feel my front teeth sticking out. I was trying to create an impression - I didn't want to look like Bugs Bunny. And then, the further through the book we ploughed, the more my voice droned. By the end of it I sounded like Ian Curtis singing Love Will Tear us Apart.

And all that was on top of the blushes created by the content of my sermon. Have you any idea how embarrassing it is lecturing people about personal hygiene? I had to tell them they needed to take a bath before coming to work. I had to tell them to keep a hanky with them. I had to tell them to wash their hands after going to the toilet. I had to explain to them that sweaty people smell. I'm cringing just thinking about it.

The book covers a barrage of other insulting topics too. Like how to behave towards disabled people. You mustn't call them cripples, invalids, spastics, mentalists, loonies or spackers. The correct term is 'wheelchair user' - not 'wheelchair bound'. And there was me just treating them like the next person. I mean, who the hell would actually refer to somebody's condition when serving them? It's not as though you'd say "oh, let me pack your bags for you since you have Cerebral Palsy and, therefore, must find shopping a challenge."

With the book out of the way, it was time for the video. Oh the joys. The first one gives an introduction to working for Food Place. It's shot inside a store using actors wearing the company attire. It demonstrates dialogue you should use with customers: "Good morning and welcome to Food Place. Would you like me to help you pack your bags? Isn't the weather beautiful!"

I've seen it now about 15 times and it just gets cornier and cornier with each viewing. Particularly the scene which shows you how to handle awkward customers. It depicts a woman screaming a lengthy diatribe at a badly-portrayed cashier because the store has been moved around and she can't find suet.

Now the Accident Awareness video is one that I do enjoy. It's hilarious because it uses CCTV footage of real accidents that have occurred in Food Places across the country. I sometimes stick it on to watch while working in the training room (I know, I do need to get a life). Here are some gems:
  • "Take care when approaching outward-opening doors with no viewing window." Cue footage of somebody getting smacked in the face by a cash office door.
  • "Never attempt to move a roll cage on your own." Somebody tries to pull a cage from a tail-lift and it topples right onto them.
  • "Be aware of slip hazards throughout the store." A customer slips on a grape and ends up on their backside halfway down the aisle with their shopping basket scattered around them.
  • "Never try to climb on fixtures to reach top-shelves." Some fool steps on a shelf and it crashes to the floor, taking them with it.

I could watch that one all day.

The next part of the induction process, having got them to sign-off all their training sheets and fill in all their personal details, is to guide them around the store, taking care to point out fire doors. I don't know why, but I always feel like everybody in the building stops and stares whenever I do this. Here I am conducting a guided tour of a supermarket to four people in plain clothes. It attracts a lot of puzzled looks. And you feel stupid pointing at a shelf of Pedigree Chum and explaining: "This is the pet-foods section."

Could all readers please join me in a prayer. Please don't let Food Place recruit anybody else. Ever. Because I'll only end up having to bore you all with a fresh account of the induction process.

In other news, Emma worked on the checkouts on Sunday. And lost £30 from her till. My fury knew no bounds. It's been three weeks since our weekly cash discrepancies have totalled more than £10 - and that's for all the tills for the entire week. And this week, that airhead goes and loses three times that amount in one wallop. And on the first day of the trading week. So we went into Monday £33 down!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hall of Shame: Volume II

I could fill a book with stories about encounters that have taken place on the Service Desk. It's where people go when they've got something they feel the need to make a fuss about. They hurl all their own frustrations at the poor member of staff who is paid (not very much at all) to take it.

I was unfortunate enough to work on that desk, full time. I wanted to progress to working in the cash office and this was just the stepping stone. I had to keep telling myself that.

There's the little day-to-day annoyances. Like people who bring stinking, vile, mouldy food back when they want a refund because its gone off. Why the hell would you do that? It's not as though anybody could make a career out of returning empty packages and demanding refunds, so why would we distrust anybody who did? Throw the rotten article away and bring me the wrapper you fools! I don't want to share a workspace with a decomposing chicken.

Sometimes, however, there are much larger hurdles to overcome. The main one I can think of is common sense and intelligence. Some customers lack both. And nobody displays this better than the Milk Token Man.

It was a Sunday (surprise, surprise) and this man, who was Welsh, had just had an argument with the cashier at the checkouts. I'd caught bits and pieces of it and it mostly consisted of him mouthing off about free milk.

It wasn't long before I had the pleasure of his company.

"I've just been to your tills and have been told a load of absolute bollocks about these milk tokens!"

Why, in the name of Christ, should I even respond to this? "If you could just explain the problem to me, I'll see if I can help."

"Well I've already wasted my breath explaining it to her over there!"

Strewth. "There isn't much I can do to help if I don't know what it is you want."

He gave me a filthy look before telling me of his plight.

"I now receive these vouchers." He waved one right in my face to demonstrate. "They are for free milk to feed to my children and I've just been told I can't have it free!"

"I see, how much milk were you buying?"

"This!" He shows me two bags, each containing three four-pint cartons of milk.

"OK, and how many coupons do you have?"

"This one, I've shown you it haven't I?" He took a deep 'I don't believe this' sigh and leaned across the desk. Which is actually quite intimidating when you're trying to help somebody.

"Well, if you look on the front, the coupon states what you are entitled to. And that's 7 pints of milk." I had my diplomatic voice on, but the effect was lost on him.

He mimicked my voice: "Well, if you look underneath it also says I'm entitled to 3.98 litres of milk." He read it as 'three point ninety-eight', of course.

"That's the just the converted amount."

"Could I have that in English please?"

You cocky ass! "7 imperial pints is equal to three-point-nine-eight metric litres. They're the same amount. This voucher entitles you to a 6-pinter and a 1-pinter. Or any combination that adds up to 7 pints."

"You lot want to learn your own jobs and stop talking out of your arses! This says I can have 3.98 litres, and that's what I'm getting. Free"

Am I talking to a paperclip? Why the hell do I stay here!? "Well that's fine. You keep one of those 4-pinters, and get a two-pint and a one-pint. That'll be free and it'll be 3.98 litres. But you'd either need to pay for the rest or have them refunded if you don't want them."

It went round in circles for a while longer. Another lady was now standing waiting to be seen, and the man chose to drag her into it and started complaining to her. "This is f*****g disgusting!" She just nodded along, but clearly didn't agree.

He finally gave up, but not before delivering this:

"You robbing bastards are taking food out of our childrens' mouths! You want shot, the lot of you!"

So as well as being tired, probably slightly hung-over, hungry and desperate to get off that damn desk, I was also responsible for starving babies to death.

The man departed. To the next counter: "I want three hundred Richmond Superkings please".

I HATE Sundays

Sundays are just the bane of my working week. If ever I'm short of something to rant about, I can always wheel the old Sunday topic out.

The worst part of it is that, despite Sundays having been part of the retail week for a good ten years now, they are ignored by management. For as long as I've been at Food Place, Sundays have always been treated as an annoyance that's tacked on the week after Saturday. As a result, it never occurs to them to take on staff willing to work them and no matter how many times we really struggle, they just let it continue.

Which is a very stupid philosophy to take considering Sunday is our busiest day by far. From 10:15am onwards we operate the checkouts to capacity (or as close as we can get with our lack of staff) and the queues still snake up the aisles. We take the same amount of money in six hours of Sunday trading as we do in 14 hours of Monday trading. And, on top of dealing with the massive volume of customers, there's more work to do on a Sunday.

Like the end of week cash office close. Which is also the bane of my life as it takes a good two hours to complete and often involves spending a further hour frantically searching through the records for the entire week to find out where an unaccounted-for £20 is.

Which brings me onto till discrepancies. Just how do cashiers manage it? You type in how much the customer gives you, the screen tells you how much to give back, you give it. If a customer asks for cashback, you count the correct amount out to them. We have four cashiers who are routinely losing at least £10 a week and no amount of retraining can stop it. We all make mistakes once in a while, but every damn week?

Sandra has been getting on my nerves again. She had agreed to cover a shift we didn't have anybody for, which I won't deny was good of her. But I can't stomach the woman. Her latest project is Emma who works on the deli counter.

Emma is totally useless. She has no interest in the job, which never helps, but she's so stupid she'd get in the shower and forget to wash. She think everything she's shown how to do is a one-off and doesn't understand the fact that, once shown, she's expected to do it all the time - without prompting. She runs off crying because she "can't do the job", but doesn't even try. She comes in late and still goes for a fag before starting work. So, unsurprisingly, her colleagues are getting fed up of her and have lost patience.

This is where Sandra comes in. Sandra likes weak-minded people. She also likes people who are isolated, for whatever reason. She gets her dirty claws in, and starts controlling their minds. Take the incident today:

It was busy at the checkouts and I asked Emma to come off the deli and help out. She moved to follow me and I said "you'd better wash your hands first, you've been handling raw meat." She huffed and made a scene about it, which puzzled me. Later, I seen Emma standing behind the counter talking to Sandra and thought "oh I bet I'm getting called worse than shit in that conversation." Later still, Emma pounces on me as I pass the deli:

"Why do you always have to put me down like that, in front of people?"

I was a little taken aback. "I don't know what you mean."

"Snapping at me to wash my hands like I'm dirty or something."

"Emma, it was a simple request made for hygiene reasons and I didn't snap at you at all. You were the only person with an attitude about it."

"I'm sick of everyone taking the piss out of me."

I just rolled my eyes and walked off. Sandra was behind that. I can just hear her in my head: "Emma they're bullying you, you do know that don't you. And you don't have to put up with it love. Confront him and if he doesn't apologise, go over his head love. You don't have to stand for this."

I've just about had enough of Sandra trying to paint the supervisors as bullies. Wendy and Lorraine have both had similar problems with her and she's at it with David and me too. It annoys me more than it should, especially with Lorraine. Lorraine's the type that would go out of her way to help anybody and is a lovely person. She doesn't deserve it.

Sorry about the lack of good humour on this subject, but there really is nothing to laugh at.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tantrums Cause Personal Injury

For the past couple of days I've had an odd, and most irritating, sensation in my left hand. There's a tingling numbness that spreads from my wrist, up one side of the palm and into my little finger and half of the ring finger.

I didn't think much of this at first, but when it persisted I sought advice and Googled my symptoms. The first results indicated that I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which was frightening, but after some frantic further reading I was, luckily, able to sigh "oops, wrong fingers". After a little more searching, I came across something that explained why this had happened. Apparently, there's a nerve in my elbow that, when damaged, causes the above annoyance.

So I began thinking about how I could have bruised this nerve. And then it came to me.

On Tuesday, I was filling in the daily sales ledger, at work, and had got all the way across the various columns before realising I'd mixed them up and put the previous day's sales in the column devoted to last week's sales. You might be surprised to know that I threw a wobbler. And smacked my elbows repeatedly into the desk whilst biting ferociously into my pen.

And now I'm paying the price. It's taking me twice as long to type because the numbness is causing me to hit the wrong keys and make typo after typo. It's driving me mad, but it should have taught me a valuable lesson: SORT OUT MY BLOODY ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSUES!

In other news, it was my day off today. Being the fool that I am, I ventured over to Food Place to get a few bits of shopping. Actually that was my pretext - I really just wanted to go over and see how the place looked now that the refit has been completed. And the answer is, bloody good. They've finally got the shabby old shed looking rather nice, bright and colourful.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tantrum Time

I wondered how long it would be before I got the chance to write about a fit of rage.

The day wasn't off to a good start to begin with. I knew I was on earlies, so I made sure I was in bed nice and early last night. I did manage to get to sleep, but ended up waking up again, couldn't nod back off and that was that.

So in I walked at 7.00 this morning, bleary-eyed and with numb fingers (I've learned from discussing the matter with others that I'm the only person in the world who gets numb hands when they're tired).

Cock up number one: I enter the cash office, switch off the alarm, log the computer on and go back outside the door to check the pigeonhole. A micro-second before the door slams itself shut the image of the keys, lying next to the computer, flashes before me. I'm locked out. I have to get a colleague to drive me to the nearest key-holder's house - since my own car keys are now inaccessible - and all the way there I can see that damn set of keys, laughing hysterically at me.

Cock up number two: Having finally managed to get back in, I set about my morning routine. I have all the lunchboxes (we use them to keep the cash for each till separate) piled next to me and open the first one ready to count the cash onto the system. When the phone rings. You know very well how infuriating a ringing phone is when you're engaged in a pressing task.

I answer it and give the usual "Good morning, blah blah, how may I help you?" when I really want to answer it and scream "it's seven thirty A-M! Go back to bed!"

"b-b-b-b-b-b-y-y-y-yes, hullo, erm, er, I wonder if, er, you could tell me, er, what time you open this morning, er, er please." As you may have gathered, the person is elderly. Elderly people get up at four-thirty and twiddle their thumbs until an acceptable hour to be seen leaving the house.

The phone call distracts me and I, unwittingly, enter the till number as C1 - when I actually mean C11. I then proceed to process over £2000 into the wrong till. It's not until I come to do the previous day till discrepancy report that I discover my error.

Naturally, under the circumstances, I take hold of my pen and hammer it repeatedly into the desk, letting out a roar of anger as I do so.

Actually, that's a bit of a non-tantrum really. I was building up to that, and for what? A small vent of steam. Last week's hissy fit would have been better for sharing.

For various reasons, the mere discussion of which will result in a repeat tantrum, I repeatedly banged a large, flat, box I was holding into the floor. I gritted my teeth so hard I felt something crumble in my mouth, and had a bit of a rant (as best I could through clenched teeth) while I was at it. "HOW DARE THAT BITCH SPEAK TO ME LIKE THAAAAAAAAT!" Sadly, the box was full of important posters and I creased them quite badly. Oops.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tardiness & Mr Foole

Even if the usual supply of rude customers is running short, there's one person that can always be relied upon to make a fuss about nothing and ruin your day.

A Late Opening at Food Place
Kick off - one minute past eight. The terminally bad tempered old fool who lives next door to Food Place is the first person to duck under the shutters as I open up. He glowers at me, tapping his watch. I pretend not to notice, keeping him standing there playing charades for just a little longer, and when I think he's looked like a Disneyland showpiece for long enough, turn and smile. He doesn't smile back; he wouldn't know how to.

"What time is it, please?" he droans.

I check my watch. It's one minute past eight and I'm not in the mood for a debate centering around his watch being radio-controlled and mine being wrong, so I tell it like it is. "One minute past."

"And what time do you open please?"

"Eight o'clock," I sigh, resigned to defeat. However small the defeat may be, it doesn't sit well when you're still recovering from waking up.

"Good day," and he walks off into the shop.

Mr Foole
Now this man annoys me for more reasons than I can count. How else would he acquire such a 'new-name' from me? He isn't actually called Mr Foole (which I think is pretty obvious), I just have a habit of giving ridiculous-sounding names to people I don't like.

The most pressing issue I have about Foole is his the way he sees himself. He walks around with his nose in the air, talking down to everyone and, generally, being a snob. You'd think he was a professor. Ask him what his profession was, before retirement, and he'll say he was a civil servant. Half truth. He worked for British Telecom and, I've learned, this used to make you a low-grade civil servant.

When Food Place was built, back in 1996, he was one of about four people who opposed the store. He tried to rally support but failed miserably; there was no disguising the fact that our area of town was lacking a grocery store. He just didn't want it next to his house, evidently preferring to live next to a derelict school. You'd think that somebody who was so against the place from the outset would avoid shopping there. But no, he's at the door at five to eight every morning to get his newspaper and breath mints. Interestingly, he also argued that Food Place would hurt independent newsagents - so why doesn't he buy those two items from the paper shop across the road?

And then there's the things he does once inside the store. He stands at the newscube (that's techno-shop-speak for newspaper rack) and reads the red-tops. He reads The Sun, The Star and the Mirror from cover to cover, then moves onto the Telegraph, which he pretends to read for a few minutes, before settling on his Daily Mail. He was an Express patron until it turned into the Daily Diana. There's only so much you can read about a dead princess.

So he makes a total mess of the newspapers before going to the tills and joining the longest queue. He does this on purpose to enable him to whinge about the waiting time. He also does his best to be served by Jean. She's a bit of a battleaxe; he doesn't like her, she doesn't like him. I've fielded ever manner of complaints about Jean from him:

"She didn't smile!"
"She momentarily looked away whilst serving me!"
"She crinkled my Express!"
"She didn't open a bag for me!"

Oh just shut up and go away. In fact, no don't. Because if you did, we'd be lost for somebody to giggle at each morning.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

First Day Back

Well the offices have been repainted. Lime Green. LIME GREEN. The dirty, evil...actually it doesn't look half as bad as it sounds. Gives the place a bit of zing. We've also had some new equipment installed in the cash office such as a filing cabinet (wooh!), a small lock-box for bulk change (wooh!) and a new fax machine (you should be green with envy now). About time too, as the old one ceased to function about four years ago.

The customers today have actually been quite pleasant. Typical. Just when you set up a blog specially to complain about the nasty ones, they go elsewhere. There was one vaguely snotty person who was unable to locate milk. The fact that they were wandering around, looking lost, in the laundry aisle might have contributed to their plight.

Freda found a new variety of sausages and conducted her usual show-and-tell. "Oooooh, they've got garlic and herb in!"!

Sandra had one of her, fairly commonplace, rants about how much she dislikes living in our area. She moved from Slough last year. Slough. How can anybody come away from Slough and moan about their new location? She doesn't like the people; she doesn't like the way we talk; she doesn't like our demeanor; she thinks we're all 'ignorant' (of what? I always want to ask). Shame she isn't going to do us all a favour and go back.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Back in Tomorrow

Well the holiday is over. I'm back in at 7:30am to do cash office until 12:00 and then personnel after lunch. All of the store offices are due to repainted overnight tonight as part of our store "revitalise", so fingers crossed for a colour scheme I can live with. I'm also going to walk into a store that's been completely re-laid last week, so I won't have a clue where anything is when elderly ladies come dothering over to ask at the most inconvenient moments.

Top of my list of jobs tomorrow is to recruit two new checkout operators for evening shifts. When I started this task, before going on holiday, I'd vetted the application forms, selected suitable people and organised interviews for tomorrow. But no matter how hard I try, I can never get it right.

They always say they can work any hour under the sun, but once they're safely out of their trial period they start getting fussy about working evenings and weekends. They say they've been supervisors before; it only takes 5 minutes, once they've began employment with us, for me to wonder just how badly their previous employer wanted shot of them. And never chose somebody because they have neat handwriting - they always turn out to be airheads.

There's been two occasions when I've been forced to employ people who submitted bloody awful application forms. They turned out to be excellent workers and are both assets. Just shows, you can't judge them by the forms they hand in.

So at some point this week I shall probably have to conduct a dreaded induction. I loathe them with a passion. It's a measure of how sad I am when I can sing along to the lyrics of the songs on the Customer Service video. I'll have to sign my name so many times I'll start to doubt I'm spelling it correctly. I'll have to read the new starters through around 100 sheets of induction material - and there's still a good few days for me to develop a sore throat, to make this task particularly cringeworthy.

And then it'll all be repeated again this time next month when both of the new recruits have to be replaced.

Hall of Shame: Volume I

I'd just finished serving a lovely customer. She'd chatted to me about the weather and about when she worked in a supermarket. I'd pulled faces at her children, helped her to pack and had just seen her off with a friendly goodbye.

So up pulls the next customer.

"Hiya!" I chirp. We have to greet customers with a smile and some variation of the word 'hello'. Fair enough, but it only opens the avenue for rude customers not to reply which creates tension. This lady doesn't reply but merely pauses for a moment to stare at me.

I begin scanning her items through whilst she piddles about trying to open a carrier bag. By the time I've got ten items scanned I can see her, from the corner of my eye, getting ratty with her carrier bag, which she still hasn't succeeded in opening. I stop and take off another few bags and flap them open for her to use.

"There you go, they're a bit stubborn sometimes," I say, trying to lighten the already deteriorating mood. She just tuts and snatches one of the bags. How very rude.

By now I've given up on this woman and decide to scan her shopping through and send her packing as quickly as possible. She continues to pack slowly, tutting and huffing all the time. By now I'm exchanging facial expressions with the next person in line who, like me, is getting irritated by her slow pace and lack of manners.

When we're finally done, and I've announced the amount due, she tosses her credit card at me. It won't swipe. I try again. Nothing. So on to the old trick: wrap the card in a carrier bag and swipe it through that - works every time.

The woman suddenly discovers her voice: "What on earth are you doing, that's my card!"

"It's just a trick we use to get them to swipe when they won't work."

"Excuse me but it DOES work. Are you trying to say I'm some kind of card fraudster?"

"No, the card hasn't been declined, it's just because the strip we swipe is dirty, the machine reads it better through a bag." and I'm thinking: here we go.

"Dirty? I've never known anything like this is my life." she roars. She tosses the last item into her last bag and hurls in onto her trolley before tapping her fingernails on the end of the checkout.

Once the payment is complete, this 'lady' starts fiddling around putting her card away and ratching through her handbag. I've done my best to remain as perky as possible to make sure she can't say I was rude. I hang back for a few seconds, but realise she isn't going away, so I start on the next lot of shopping, scanning the items straight into a carrier bag.

From the corner of my eye I see the creature I've just finished serving flinch. "Excuse me, I'm not finished! You might as well throw me out of the shop! And why is this woman getting a service you didn't give me?"

"I'm sorry?" Trust me to get lumbered serving the biggest drama queen since Mariah Carey.

"Why are you packing this customer's shopping when you didn't pack mine? This is a disgrace!"

By now there's a definite 'I'm fed up of you now' tone developing in my voice: "I'm only packing while you're still here, so as not to rush you."

"But you are rushing me. What's more, the service has been dreadful. I am going to report you to your superiors." With that, Margo Leadbetter stomps off to the Customer Service Desk and, no doubt, gives poor Tracey an earful too.

A few customers later, somebody points out there's a cooked chicken sitting on the end of my till, out of sight behind the carrier bag holder. Oh good God it's hers, I just know it. I wait for a quiet moment and take it back to the rotisserie for them to keep hot.

About an hour later I look up and my heart sinks when I see her storming back towards me.

"I have just got home and unpacked all my shopping, and I'm missing the cooked chicken I purchased."

I slap the smile on: "Yes, we did find it after you'd left, but I've taken it back to the hot counter. I'll get a supervisor to fetch it for you." I ring the bell to summon Annette.

"Is that all?"

Oh what the hell is it now? "Sorry?"

"Isn't it customary to apologise?" she barks at me.

Sod being nice, she's done it now: "I don't have anything to apologise for. You left it behind, nobody noticed. These things happen."

When Annette arrives to see what I want, the beast starts off on the biggest, most dramatic, rant you've ever heard. Could even match one of mine. She screams about poor service. How I deliberately started hurling the next customer's shopping down the chute when she was still there and how she'd gotten flustered and forgotten her chicken. Annette just nods politely and promises to 'have a word'. She never does of course. Well, not about me.

So, if you're reading this now and you know you once made a scene in Food Place about a cooked chicken and attempted to get a cashier into trouble because you'd been feeling rather tense lately - I hope you feel very bad about yourself.

There's one Hall of Shame volume told. Many more to come...

Jobs I've Done at Food Place

I've worked in many different areas in Food Place. In some ways, I've enjoyed them all; in other ways, I've hated them all. They all have their own unique set of perks and annoyances, as I'm about to divulge.


Greeting the customer, scanning their purchases, helping them to pack it, making small talk, taking payment, making sure you don't break any security or policy rules, cleaning and tidying up. In the days before thermal-transfer printing, it also involved hours tugging at the receipt printer to try and make it go faster. I have the exact sound the dot-matrix used to make emblazoned on my memory.

A LOT of the ranting I do on this blog will revolve around incidents that occur when I'm working on the checkouts. Unless you've done the job, you cannot possibly begin to understand how dire it can be. I made the mistake of thinking, before I'd done it, it would be easy. It's not. It's soul-destroying. The mental tension is unbearable.

But you can get round that if you try. I used to play games: 'How many items can I scan in 30 seconds?', 'how much can I annoy a customer without being rude or nasty or giving bad service?', 'judging by the evidence on the conveyor belt, what type of person am I serving?'.

And then there's your imagination. Some of memories I have of working on the tills show me just how drastically it can affect you. I can remember one day imagining the items on the belt were alive and that I was killing them when I scanned them. Boxes of Daz Citrus Blast were screaming for mercy. See?

And then you had the customers. Most were nice, we won't dwell on them, but some were absolutely vile. Thing is, you remember them much more clearly. In my mind's eye right now I can see the Hall of Shame. Their faces are etched onto my memory and I will hold a searing hatred for the way they behaved, the day I served them, forever.

There's a brilliant book by Joanna Blythman called 'Shopped'. It contains a chapter with an account of her time working on the checkouts in Tesco. It makes depressing reading, but highlights how horrible it can be.

The Kiosk

Standing at a counter serving customers fags, lottery tickets and scratchcards. With the twist that customers also barge into the queue with baskets full of shopping. So basically, checkouts but standing up and a much higher proportion of customers with withdrawal symptoms, be they gambling addicts or just nicotine deprived. A cashier at the kiosk is also more likely to be physically attacked as they're more likely to have to refuse a sale.

All the checkout stuff applies but you could play different games. 'What are they going to ask for?', 'Can I guess how much this clump of lottery tickets will add up to?'. I also used to take my shoes off and work in my stocking feet to combat the aches.

The Customer Service Desk

This is a Godforsaken HELLHOLE. What makes it so bad is that people only come near this service point if they have a problem. This means the customer thundering towards you brandishing a receipt is going to be a snotty one. The desk is also directly beneath the loudest music speaker in the store. So every encounter I've had here has a soundtrack to it:
  • The 'I'm entitled to unlimited free milk because I have a coupon' man = Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance with Somebody
  • The 'One of your colleagues tripped me up' woman = Enigma - Sadness
  • The 'I happen to know your CEO' woman = Maroon 5 - She Will be Loved

I challenge anybody to work on that desk without cracking up.

The Cash Office

Processing the takings, banking the cash, monitoring discrepancies, floating the tills, conducting random till checks, monitoring checkout performance statistics.

This one's great for the moments of solitude it offers. It's also where most of my fierce tantrums have taken place. When somebody annoys me I retreat into this room and let rip. Every item in that office has been attacked. I don't know what they must think in the stock control office next door when they hear it.

The cash office is my little baby. I keep it religiously organised and often rearrange the place to make it look more pleasing to the eye.

The Bakery

Putting frozen dough into the ovens for pre-determined lengths of time, wrapping the results with my favourite machine ever, burning oneself on the ovens and having to go to First Aid, counting bread.

Thankfully I don't work on here too often, just in emergencies. To put it simply, I'm crap. Anything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong. Any rants about working on here are likely to be filled with sadness and sorrow that, not for want of trying, I can't grasp how to work this department properly.

Personnel, Payroll & Training

Paying the staff, inducting (or inducing, as I think it sounds funnier) new colleagues, training existing staff with corny videos and patronising books and generally running around cleaning other peoples' snot up.

I do quite like it though, but if I have to watch one more cartoon about rude cashiers, potential accidents or the safe way to open doors...I...will...scream.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Who's Who

With 76 staff at Food Place I couldn't name them all, so only the characters that I feel are most likely to feature in future blogs are here. Notice the disproportionate number of women mentioned here - indicative of the gender imbalance at Food Place.

He's our General Manager. (Terry is such a managerial name isn't it?). We could do a lot worse, but he certainly has his fair share of short-comings. For a start he's all talk. He berates us supervisors for being too soft on the staff yet he seems terrified of checking the outrageous behaviour of the department managers. He loves his catchphrases and buzzwords, "we'll have to suck it and see" and has a track record of making a fool of himself in front of the area manager.

Is a Department Manager. I say manager, but actually he doesn't do very much at all unless he feels like it. When he's in a good mood he's a great motivator who is passionate about retailing. On a bad day he's hung-over, or even still drunk, and sits around eating whilst leaving the workload to his team. Looks like an egg and has a tradition of crashing through glass doors whilst drunk.

One of our Department Managers. Like Will he only cares about the job when he wants to. He uses his team to cover up his own incompetence by increasing their workload and messing them around with their hours. Despite his laziness he is a very funny and likeable person. He doesn't have a bad word to say about anybody and you can tell him anything, safe in knowledge he won't tell a soul. He's addicted to ProPlus.

A supervisor who, like me I suppose, puts up with everything and is rarely seen to get mad (the real ugly stuff goes on behind the scenes). She works about 300 hours a week without lunch breaks. She is, however, wasted completely on the job and should be doing something much better with her life. Or, at least, working for company that will value her input.

Cynthia & Sandra
Are the resident shit stirrers. They were born to poke their nose into other peoples' affairs and have a bigoted opinion about everything. They wouldn't hesitate to step on anybody to better themselves. Cynthia is a hypochondriac who also invents illnesses for her children to fall victim to. She has no manners, butts into conversations, bursts into private meetings and, realising it's private, makes any excuse to periodically re-enter and overhear as much hot gossip as she can. Sandra is just vile and looks like a bulldog. She's everyone's best friend to their face and bludgeons them behind their back. She desperately wants to be promoted and isn't happy unless she's a victim of something or another. She picks out weak colleagues and manipulates them to think like her. Both of them never seem to stop talking about Polish immigrants.

Catherine & Gina
Without them, Food Place wouldn't be worth working in. They're absolutely stark staring bonkers. There will be many a story about their latest shananigans. It's not unusual to walk into the office and find them both weeping with laughter, barely able to move.

Marge & Jane
The two morning shift ladies. They've worked at Food Place since 1500BC, still follow the rules and procedures as laid down in their 1942 Food Place Handbook and are absolutely terrified of technology (including the tills they work on). They're fiercely territorial about the confectionary - nobody is allowed to touch it and customers get tutted at for taking things off their displays.

Somebody who comes in three days a week to dolly about on the dairy aisle. She searches for short-coded food and reduces it to sell quickly. Occasionally she finds something out-of-date or a new product and takes it around every member of staff in the store to show them: "Oooooooo look!" She's one of those wonderful people who's interminably happy and finds the most mundane things hilarious. She can wet herself laughing just telling you about the time she had to change a light bulb.

Is a supervisor. She would do anything for anyone but she calls a spade a spade. You don't need to wonder whether or not she likes you, you just know. Woe betide you if you upset her. All you have to do to stay in her good books is be a decent person - and then you'll get along just fine.

She can't get through a sentence without swearing and if she was subtitled it would look something like this: "So I went to the f*****g council office and f*****g got the useless f*****g c***s well and f*****g truly in their f*****g place! The total w*****s!"

Is one of the people I like (there are a lot of them, believe it or not, they're just not as interesting to write about). He's another silent bitcher like me - we whinge away like a couple of old women when we're on breaks (which aren't whenever we fancy them like SOME staff).

It's always the quiet ones. She doesn't say a word all day and then suddenly, while we're eating lunch, starts rhyming off a list of people she knows, as fact, to have done a number 2 in the staff toilets. Despite her disgusting fascination, she's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Debbie & Hayley
Two evening staff who are hilarious. They are both thirty-something mothers and wives but they haven't really gotten over their childishness yet. And I hope they never do. They're the sort of people that, if you went round to their house, you'd sit having bizarre, surreal conversations with them until dawn.

She's my soul-mate in there. But she's the sort of person that has hundreds of soul-mates of her own. She doesn't dislike anybody until they've shown dislike for her and has time for anybody. She's absolutely hilarious and her sense of humour clicks perfectly with mine. We can spend hours howling with laughter at - well nothing. Once we managed to find it hilarious that her name would be Kat without the 'e'. I know. There's lots of aspects to her personality I'll never understand, but I'd never judge her for any of it.

The Ellenfoot Food Place (the name, obviously, invented to conceal our location)
Not a person, but our neighbouring store. They're like Ms Poppins - practically perfect in every way. If our waste is £1000 a week, theirs is 10p. They're smaller than us but consistently take more money. We hate them.

And then of course there'll be the day-to-day cameo appearances from the rest of the staff and visits from every stroppy customer in the UK because, after all, they seem to hold their daily complain-fests in our branch of Food Place.

(Ex-colleague) Nick
An ex-department manager who, I shall be frank from the outset, I hated. He gave me so much material in his ten months of working at Food Place that I'm likely to be writing about him this time next year.

He was everything you don't want in a manager. He was self-serving, unscrupulous, dishonest, unprofessional and a total arse. If he made a mistake he'd blame the first person that popped into his head. He had a 'hit-list' of people he didn't like and he attempted to make their lives hell until they resigned. But he was extremely sneaky. At first glance you'd think butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Nobody ever dared to actively accuse him of the things they knew he was up to because he was so good at talking his way out of things. But talk was all he was.

I can't divulge the exact circumstances of his departure, but let's just say he's cutting hedges for a living now.


Why's this being Written?
This blog is being written for one purpose. To provide a place for me to vent the build-ups of tension and anger that are the result of working in a supermarket. That way I can splatter my anger all over this blog rather than boring my friends and relatives with never-ending rants about the latest source of annoyance at the Food Place (as we shall refer to it here - to prevent me having to set up another blog, at a later date, to rant about being unemployed).

Who's Reading it?
What you'll get out of reading this blog will depend entirely on who you are. If you're the type of person who goes into Food Place purely to buy food then you will, most likely, be utterly disgusted to learn what staff like me think of you. If you, like me, work in one of the UK's Food Places (they're all the same, one presumes) then you might enjoy reading about a fellow sufferer's sufferings. Or you might be screaming "NO! I put up with this ALL DAMN DAY and I can't take ANOTHER SECOND OF IT!" In which case, leave. It's okay, I understand. If you're neither then I don't know - sorry. You might enjoy it, in which case I'm glad at least you find it amusing.

Who's Writing it?
I work for a supermarket chain in the UK. Recently companies have been, very publicly, making mincemeat of employees who dare to blog about work, apparently because it brings their employers into disrepute. It would, therefore, be quite unwise to reveal which particular logo my slavedrivers brandish. It's not as though I'd reveal anything that would harm them, but you have to be safe. It may be the sort of job you could spend hours moaning about, but it's a job and it pays. Also, get sacked from one company and who else would want you?

So, anyways, although I work in food retailing, I don't retail food. I work in a bizarre, somewhat self-inflicted, role that encompasses administration, personnel, payroll, cash office, checkout supervision, checkout operating for that matter, customer service, and, sometimes, putting out shelf labels and POS. It's self-inflicted because I'm soft as clart and too reserved to ask the management to take me off an old duty when I learn a new one. As a result, I only live to wipe asses. If anybody, anywhere in the store, has a problem, be they a customer or a member of staff, they invariably get directed to me.

As mentioned, I'm soft and won't unleash the fiery hell of my wrath on annoying customers or infuriating colleagues. All the bile builds up inside me and I have to release it somehow. In the absence of a tried-and-tested listener, there's no alternative but to throw a tantrum. I throw things, punch things, kick things, shake things. I grab hold of innocent objects and smash them repeatedly against the nearest work-surface. Is it any surprise that most of the equipment at Food Place has, at some point, been rendered broken by one of my wobblers? Sometimes, the source of my frustration is so great, even a good hissy-fit can't relieve the stress. There are a great number of customer encounters that are burned onto my mind and the mere mention of them will send me into a spasm of destruction.

Hopefully I can help myself through writing this.

What will it contain?
Anything about my life at Food Place that I feel needs to be said. This may be a rant about stupid rules and procedures, a rant about how poorly we are treated by the company, a rant about the customers, the things they do, the things they say. How they breathe. A good long thesis of how I'd run the company. If Food Place is unusually quiet, or the moron-customers have all agreed to give us a week off, I might delve into the dusty archives and talk about the snotty customers of many moons ago. I'm sure I'll never be short of things to complain about; there's a colleague of mine I could happily bitch about until the sun turns teal.

Read on.