Most of us have been there before ourselves: working some minimum-wage retail or service job as a teenager to make a bit of spending money. We might not have liked those jobs very much, but we took them anyway all in the name of earning a few bucks to blow at the mall. We’d flip our burgers, ring up purchases on our cash registers, and assist our clueless customers while still managing to keep a smile on our faces.
Then again, I can’t remember the last time I saw a retail worker with a smile on his or her face.
In the last few years, I’ve seen growing evidence that our nation’s retail workforce–a vital part of our economy–just doesn’t give a hoot anymore. It seems that a serious outbreak of apathy has afflicted most hourly retail workers, and it shows in how they interact with their customers. I’m sure you’ve experienced your fair share of workers who are less than eager to be making six bucks an hour to bag your groceries or pump your gas; I’ve certainly seen these types myself, and it usually doesn’t affect me too much. But a small, almost inconsequential encounter last night made me realize just how little many retail workers care about doing a good job anymore.
My wife and I went to Target to pick up a new flashlight. With our purchase in hand, we went to the top-floor checkout lanes and entered a line behind a 30-something woman accompanied by her young daughter. She had an assortment of items, and the cashier–a woman who couldn’t be older than 20–scanned and bagged them all without much chit-chat. When the cashier tried to scan a metal teapot, she discovered there was no barcode. She looked up at her customer who said, “It was the only one over there, and I didn’t see a price.”
The young cashier flipped the teapot around in her hands a few times, perhaps hoping a barcode would mysteriously manifest itself. It didn’t. She turned to her customer again and uttered words I’ll forever recall whenever I enter a retail checkout line: “I can’t scan it, so I can’t sell it to you.” She proceeded to put the teapot on the counter behind her and continued processing the customer’s other items.
At this point, the customer appeared almost dazed at what had happened. She opened her mouth to speak as the cashier continued to ring up her purchases, but then she closed it again. Instead, she turned to us, still waiting patiently in the line right behind her. If her facial expression were an instant message window, it would have said “WTF” with an obscene number of question marks after it. I looked back at her, almost equally stunned at the cashier’s actions. All the while, the cashier continued to scan the rest of her items.
The woman opened her mouth to speak a second time, but she was interrupted by the cashier’s announcement of her transaction total. She looked back one more time at us but proceeded to whip out her credit card, paid for her purchases, and departed without saying a word.
I learned a very important lesson from that experience. It wasn’t that retail workers are becoming more and more uncaring, unresponsive, and unwilling to do more than their basic job functions; I already knew that part! My lesson learned is that people seem to be willing to let retail workers get away with that apathy and laziness. Had I been that woman, I would’ve had the cashier on the phone asking for a price check in two seconds flat. And then I would’ve spoken to her manager on the way out.
I can maybe understand why the woman might not have responded at first to the cashier’s rudeness and stupidity; it was a downright shocking experience. But to leave and let the cashier think that her actions were anything resembling proper behavior is almost as bad as the actions themselves.
So thank you, woman in Target, for allowing the apathy of the retail workforce to blossom unhindered. I’m sure we’ll appreciate your inaction even more in a few years when we consider a good customer service experience to be one where the cashier actually comes out of the break room to stand by her register as we scan and bag our purchases by ourselves.