13 Things The Grocery Store Cashier Wants You To Know

Expecting the cashier to unload the basket is a cardinal store sin, and it's not the only one.

January 30, 2018
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Being a cashier at a grocery store may be considered a fairly mundane job, but it’s surprisingly stressful—and not just during rush hour. In fact, customers’ behavior can make a lot of difference when it comes to getting through that shift.

If you’ve never worked as a cashier, you might be surprised to learn that some of your shopping habits aren’t ideal, or perhaps parts of your weekly grocery run routine are making things more difficult for yourself than they need to be.

These insider tips can not only make a cashier’s day better, but they can help make your entire shopping experience much smoother.

1. Practice common checkout courtesy.

First of all, a counter is not the same as a conveyor belt. See how that flat surface isn’t moving, or attached to any kind of machinery? It’s basically just a table. No, those groceries aren’t going to magically move themselves toward the register without the power of technology. Yes, please physically bring them to the cashier.

Now it’s time to unload your basket. That’s right: you, not the cashier. It’s an awkward height, and lifting 15 pound hams out of baskets with one arm all day isn’t great for your spine.

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There is, however, one exception: If you have many of the same item in your cart, you only need to put one of them on the conveyor belt to be scanned. There’s really no need to unload 32 individual packets of frozen corn.

Make sure you use the divider, too. That’s how the cashier can distinguish your groceries from the person in front or behind you. Do you want to be paying for that random customer’s olive oil? Didn’t think so.

Brandon has worked in a Canadian grocery store for nine years in many different roles, including as a cashier. He warns against putting anything that’s not groceries on the conveyor belt, including money, coupons, and cards.

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“This can be a big no because some tills might have enough clearance between the conveyor belt and till that allows these things to fall in between,” he says. “And even though most tills will have a trap to catch anything that might slip through, there is no guarantee the trap catches it.”

2. The cashier isn’t trying to steal your card details.

You know those little electronic point of sale machines that you use to pay with your card? They don’t all work the same. While some of them simply need the customer to swipe their card and enter their pin, others require the cashier to take your card, swipe it, enter the total, and then hand the machine back to you for your pin.

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Some people tend to panic when it comes to handing someone else their card. Rest assured that the cashier doesn’t have the desire, time, or capability to memorize every single one of your card details for their own gain. They’re much too busy trying to get you and in and out so they can serve the next customer.

3. Understand how to read labels.

You can save a lot of money if you look at the price per weight of each item to see which one is really cheaper. On the other hand, there’s no point overreacting to a $50 per pound price label on that imported cheese when you’re actually just buying a couple of ounces.

Paige has worked as a cashier for three years, two of which have been in a grocery store. She knows all too well the importance of reading those labels.

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“There is such a thing as an item limit, a brand, a weight limit, all that—the sign will tell you, so will the grocery store ad,” she says. “Very few people actually read the weights and just grab whatever the sign is near. Often, that means [everything from] grabbing the wrong size to getting the incorrect brand. Just because a sign says ‘Brand A shredded mozzarella eight ounces’ doesn’t mean you can get ‘Brand A 16 ounces mozzarella,’ ‘Brand B eight ounces,’ or ‘Brand A block mozzarella.'”

4. Do you really need that bag?

There’s nothing worse than the feeling of second-hand environmental guilt that washes over you when a customer asks you to double-bag or even individually bag every single item. You don’t need a plastic bag for that one apple. In fact, you probably don’t need a plastic bag at all. Why not bring your own reusable bag from home?

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“If you have reusable bags, make sure you hand them to the cashier at the beginning of the transaction,” Brandon says. “Otherwise, we may have already begun to bag your groceries in plastic bags, which are wasteful and bad for the environment.”

And in case you do need to accept a plastic bag, trust the cashier with how many you need. No one knows better than them that a single plastic bag isn’t going to hold the weight of all those cans.

5. Cashiers are human beings.

This shouldn’t be something that people need to be reminded about, but sadly, some customers do take their frustration out on the people behind the counter.

“Your cashier could be a mother, a father, a university student, or a high school student getting their first job,” says Paige. “We don’t really have much say in how the products are priced or what policies the store follows, so getting mad at us won’t do you any good.”

If we bag something incorrectly, please be polite and ask if we can change something.

Jordan, who’s worked in grocery stores since 2013, has seen some unfortunate breakdowns from coworkers.

“I’ve seen too many of my friends and coworkers cry over some nasty person who yelled at them over something minuscule as a coupon,” he says. “The job is way harder than it looks.”

He says the key is simply being polite.

“If we bag something incorrectly, please be polite and ask if we can change something,” he says. “I’ve been way more accommodating to customers who say, ‘Could you please put the bananas in a separate bag?’ than I have to others who say, ‘I don’t want bananas with my bread! You’re gonna bruise them!’ and angrily snatch the bag from my hands.”

6. They actually do want to hear about your day.

Small talk isn’t always fake! Long shifts can get boring, and it’s nice to interact with people when you’ve been staring at a register for hours on end.

In fact, Paige says that if you go the extra mile, you might even strike up a beneficial friendship.

“Want to make days better for cashiers? Become a regular,” she says. “Let them learn your name, and learn theirs. As we get to know them, they get to know us. And when we know someone, we’re far more willing to do something for a regular we’d never do for a John or Jane Doe.”

“Short a dollar or two? Sure, I’ll cover you, you’re in here a lot, so I know you’ll pay me back. Need a sale ad four days before it’s out ’cause you’re going out of town? If we have them, sure. Just be warned: Once you’re a well known regular, we’re allowed to tease you!”

7. You’re not the only one in line.

You might be in a rush, but so are other people. You don’t deserve priority service over other customers. Don’t push in line.

8. If you change your mind about an item while in line, just hand it to the cashier.

“For some reason, people get apologetic or embarrassed about this,” says Brandon. “They should not be, especially when the alternative is putting the item in question in a random part of the store.”

You’d be surprised where these items turn up.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have found spoiled meat and milk on the shelf because someone was too lazy to walk three steps and put the item back in its cooler,” says Paige. “Not only is it gross, it’s outright unsanitary.

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“It’s exactly why we had an infestation of fruit flies. Someone hid a package of meat that had a hole in it instead of giving it to someone, and it festered. We couldn’t find where it was, either, till someone followed the flies—it was actually on top of the freezers!”

If you can’t manage that social interaction, then at the very least, return frozen items to the freezer and cold items to the refrigerated section.

“If you don’t know, just ask,” says Jordan. “If you don’t want to buy that pint of ice cream, don’t put it in the vending machine fridge. We both know it doesn’t belong there. Don’t know where to put your basket? Ask, and we’ll take it away for you. We’re not only here for our paychecks. We’re here to help!”

9. Hand coupons to the cashier at the right time.

“Some items might have coupons stuck to them or wrapped around them,” says Brandon. “If you notice these, take them off and hand them directly to the cashier when you are cashing out, either at the end of the transaction or when they are ringing the item in question through.”

10. Double-check your receipt and change.

“Always give a quick glance at your receipt after the transaction,” says Brandon. “Again, cashiers may go into auto-pilot and not realize they double-scanned a product and overcharged you. We are human, and we make mistakes. Luckily, these can be fixed by customer service most of the time.”

11. The back of the store is not a magic portal.

Thought the “backroom” was a place full of infinite possibilities and that item you can’t find in stock? Sorry, but that’s not even close to reality.

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“It’s gray, boring, industrial, and usually cramped,” says Paige. “There’s pallets of goods, boxes of this, crates of that. But that doesn’t mean that the back is a magical place where there’s always another one of the item you want.”

12. If you’re wowed by a certain cashier’s great service, make sure to let their manager know.

“If you like someone, tell their manager how great they are,” says Jordan. “My company tends to give out coupons to associates who are recognized by customers.”

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Not to mention it will put them in good standing with their employer and possibly help them get that raise or promotion!

13. A shopping cart is not a trash can, and neither are you.

Empty water bottles, half-eaten sandwiches, and any other form of trash has no place in a shopping cart. If you have rubbish, hold onto it until you can find a bin. Chances are the cashier has one under the counter.

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On that note, take care of yourself before coming into the store. It’s not exactly courteous to interact with people when you haven’t changed your clothes or brushed your teeth in a fortnight.

“Take a hecking shower!” says Paige. “I just got one guy today I could smell from 10 feet away.”

No one wants to be the person who pushes in line or leaves frozen peas in the candy bar aisle. But you definitely don’t want to be the customer known for their odor.

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