Check it out…

Have you ever experienced the self-checkout at your local Wal-Mart store? You know the ever increasing method of self-scanning your items and paying without having to speak to a single person? A sure sign of technology assisted labor cost reduction and of course significant cost savings for me the customer. Right?

Today was my day of errands running and I have to admit I was making impressive progress; one task to the next and on to the next. Making such good time in fact that I found myself with one hour and forty five minutes before the next appointment. I previously had planned to go shopping after my last appointment and I had prepared myself and large shopping list. With the day’s good fortune and efficiency I thought: “Cool, I’ll hit the local Wal-Mart and then I can head back home after my final appointment for the day. It’s all good!”

Once inside the store, I have to say my good fortune continued as I was a picture of efficiency moving from aisle to aisle grabbing the items on my list. I even took time to compare prices and purchase the best buy. Now this is an impressive statement given that I am a guy and a single guy at that who until recently has never needed to shop for myself. This efficiency continued throughout the shopping experience right up until I had that one small incident with the kid in fresh produce. I turned the corner and was walking along with intent of selecting the perfect avocado and tomato at just the right price from the long bin of items. I was at about half way down the aisle when a young person in his late teens or early twenties pulled his stocking cart across the aisle blocking any passing opportunity I might have had. You know I thought to myself, had he done this in his car he would likely have gotten shot in the latest of road rage incidents reported as breaking news over and over again by the ever efficient news networks we have become accustomed. Does anyone remember Walter Cronkite and his signature statement, “And that’s how it is?’ Oh the good ole day’s when honesty was in style and propaganda was minimized for the sake of truth to be told. Oh wait, that is another story entirely. Sorry about that, I digress, back the story at hand.

So I was thinking ok he’ll move and let me pass. Instead he picked up and began stocking pineapple on the bin. He was facing me with full view of his face which had a strange look best described as a creepy smile. My first thought was I wonder if he is suffering from schizophrenia and the voices are telling jokes? Then remembering modern day I looked for ear phones in his ear. He must have had some amazing earbuds because I couldn’t even see them. Finally I said; “Dude, you gonna move so I can pass or what?” He actually physically jumped a little at the direct verbal stimulus I had given apparently he hadn’t even noticed me before. He recognized his error and said, “Oh, sorry” and moved the stocking cart giving me a passing route. Politely I said, “thanks man.” No reply given so apparently he was back with the voices. No worries, I continued making up the time on every selected item.

Finally I glanced at my phone time and found thirty minutes before my next appointment. Among the items I had selected there were a large number of fresh fruit and vegetables items. So I headed to the clerks up front. I have to admit being fairly new at shopping, I have been intimidated for months by the self check-out station when I have fresh fruit and vegetables. No scan code bars on those bad boys and how in the world do you look them up?

I confidently strolled to the front of the store and scanned for the ever familiar numbered light which would indicate a speedy and efficient clerk was scanning and happily discussing the beauty of the day with other joyful and pleasantly satisfied customers. Do you remember back in the day when this was the case and people actually possessed the skill to verbally interact with one another and enjoy the exchange? I actually half expected and opportunity to engage in conversation and maybe make a new friend in the process.

I saw two lights illuminated on the far end of the store. I began walking to those clerks and while on my way I passed bank after bank of self-check stations but I have to admit I allowed myself to be intimated. I have fruit and vegetables and no idea how to check them out. I walked on toward the two friendly clerks who were surely waiting at the illuminated stations. However, as I got closer I noticed the lines. The sight reminded me of long lines I had seen on television as a kid of Russian people in Communist Russia waiting in the streets to buy toilet paper. Still I was intimidated and got in line and waited after all I had thirty minutes before the next appointment. Fifteen minutes later I hadn’t moved an inch. In fact I stepped forward in line to make sure the clerk was still breathing as she hadn’t moved a muscle in over five minutes as best I could tell. I was in serious debate with myself at this point, do I just leave the cart with all of my carefully selected items and walk out so that I could make the appointment? Do I buck up and give the self-check out a try? Finally another gentleman walked up, recognizing me as a friendly person who would engage in conversation he said, “Holy cow is this line even moving?” I replied, “not very darn fast.” He said, “I don’t know how but I’m going to try the self-check out”. Building my courage with his own I following him to the near endless bank of self-check stations. Now this good man had less than five selected items but his courage inspired me.

I walked up to the readily available faceless and cold scanner. I selected the first few items which had bar codes; one after another the tone sounded and my confidence built. Finally I grabbed the packet of grapes and scanned them. “BONK”… “unrecognized item, set it a side and/or ask the customer service specialist for help” the computer instructed. I did so and scanned all of the other items in my cart with bar codes. So many were there that I began to stack the bagged items on the floor because I still had a number of items in the cart including fresh fruit and vegetables. I felt stress and pressure begin to build. Finally the customer service representative walked past. I said: “excuse me, can you help me I don’t know how to do these fruits and vegetables?” Clearly irritated she said, “you don’t know how? Just hit this button and the type in the number, if that doesn’t work put it on the scale and hit this button and select the item from the menu.” She then began to walk away. At which time I became a bit more persuasive; I have a bit of a reputation for doing this occasionally. I said, “don’t go anywhere, watch me do this!” The first item was bananas and “BONK” the first attempt didn’t seem to have worked, I tried again “BONK”. With a heavy sigh she stepped closer and began to watch and correct my many mistakes correcting me as I went. I retried the bananas again, it worked. Brussel sprouts next; boom, green pepper next; boom, after a few more items; boom, boom, boom I began to go faster confidence and a smile building on my face. Finally, thinking “I’ve got this”, I released the customer service specialist from my control to go help other learning customers.

I gathered my sacked items from the floor, paid the lower than normal price I was certain that I had gotten because of the cost saving technology and headed for the door. I passed the customer service specialist as she helped others, I stopped, walked over to her touching her on the arm I said; “thank you for the assist it was quite an education.” Finally, she smiled and said you’re welcome have a nice day. “You too,” I said to my new friend. I’ve never ceased to be amazed at what a kind word and a thank you can do.

Upon arriving home following the next appointment I had the very real feeling that I had taken items for which I did not pay. So inquiring minds must know I am told. I actually checked the items off the receipt as I put them away at my home. One after the other I found on the receipt and put it away. Finally when all items were stowed each having been located on the receipt. I examined the receipt in amazement at the efficiency of this self check-out. Could it actually be that accurate?

While doing this I noticed one item listed twice on the receipt and only one check mark. One glaring error on the entire receipt. Any guesses? If you said “banana” you are so right. BONK, so much for cost savings.

So check it out, the way I see it is, Sam Walton owes me some bananas and on my next trip I’m going to find my new friend the customer service specialist and say, “Hey do you remember me and those stupid bananas?” I have a ten spot that says she does just because I told her “thank you”… Never underestimate the power of a kind word.

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