Russ Allen: Grocery Store Etiquette

We are about to enter that time of year when the various and diverse segments of Harwich’s society attempt to live together in relative harmony. Full-time residents, second homeowners, returning snowbirds, business owners, employees, and customers, J-1 Visa holders, college sports players, vacationers and tourists; over the next three-four months all of these will interact in ways that hopefully will prove mutually beneficial. These can be times that will evoke a smile when remembered in years to come. It can also be a period of great stress and tension. Whatever the context for our interaction we can choose to treat each other with dignity and respect. With that in mind here are a few thoughts related to one specific and essential area of our common activities over this summer: shopping at a local major grocery chain outlet.

  1. If you do not have the time to shop, then don’t. Most grocery stores are less crowded in the beginning of the week, and either early or late in the day. Pick a time when you can enjoy the activity without feeling rushed, impatient or demanding.

  2. Register clerks and baggers are not paid very much and many of them work more than one job, yet all are doing the best they can. Treat them with the same respect you expect to receive from them.

  3. “Express - 12 items and under” means what it says. Usually its register clerk is also its bagger. Don’t rationalize – if you have more than 12 items go to a regular register, even if that means waiting in line.

  4. Customers have options as to how to shop. Self-serve. Self-scan. Express register. Regular register. In each case, customers have a pro-active role that they can fulfill as responsibly as the register clerk and bagger fills theirs. Don’t assume they will do a bad job or rip you off. Be friendly and helpful to them, not demanding or critical of them. They are not your personal servants.

  5. Sometimes things go wrong with the register system. Registers slow down or freeze. Receipt rolls run out. Bags rip. Things spill. Coupons are invalid or credit cards rejected. Items are out of stock or mislabeled. These are not the register clerk’s fault and customers should not blame them when they happen. Rather, be patient and understand that when things like that happen the register clerk’s life becomes far more complicated than does yours.

  6. Contrary to corporate policy, the customer is not always right. Accept graciously the register clerk’s correction when you are wrong, just as he or she accepts yours when they are wrong.

  7. Students who are working under a J-1 Visa (about whom I will write more next month) are foreign visitors primarily here to experience American culture. Many work two or more jobs at minimum wage for the entire summer in order to afford to be here, live under conditions that many customers would find unacceptable, and have little more than a few weeks after Labor Day to travel before going home. Remember that they are guests in our land and should be treated as such.

  8. Domestic disputes or abuse have no place in a grocery store – especially in public at the checkout counter. If two people cannot shop together in a mutually respectful manner one should stay home.

  9. Grocery store personal will bend over backwards to respond to a customer’s reasonable request for help meeting his or her needs. They welcome and appreciate a friendly greeting and will respond in kind. In these ways, the entire grocery shopping experience becomes more pleasant and comfortable for all involved.

  10. Whatever the commercial environment or corporate expectations, employees and customers are first and foremost human beings with valuable and meaningful lives. No one should feel dehumanized or disrespected in such a setting, whether by another person or the company.

These are a few simple suggestions that may help make a routine task we all must perform more pleasant and less regretted.