To be, or not to be in 10 items or fewer lane

Opinion 11/4/11 Checkout/basket graphic
Graphic by Carly Karas | The Oswegonian

As a cashier at a grocery store, I see a variety of people every day at work. Business women in heels, old men in suspenders with glasses as thick as Coke bottles, hairy-chested guys with unbuttoned flannel shirts; you name it, I’ve seen it.

The longer I worked at the supermarket and watched these people, the more I realize that ethics exist all the time at a grocery store.

There are some things that some people will not have any problem doing at the supermarket. For instance, deciding to leave an item such as a big box of cereal that you don’t want behind, instead of returning the item back to its original location may seem easier, but causes headaches for the employees.

On a rainy Monday afternoon a few weeks ago, I was putting back groceries that a customer who forgot her credit card at home was forced to leave behind. It was mostly dry goods: cereal, canned beans and cookie mix. As I wandered around the aisles putting things back on shelves, I noticed a man inspecting a box of expensive chocolates. It was fairly clear that he was deciding whether or not he wanted to purchase the chocolates. From the other end of the aisle, I watched the man look at the box, take a long look around and set the box on the shelf in front of him, which was nowhere near the true location of the chocolates. I smiled to myself and shook my head as he reached into his cart and placed two more boxes of chocolates on the shelf. A mother carting around her young daughter passed by me as I walked up the aisle and said, “Can you believe some people? How unethical.”

That was what caused me to truly realize the ethical issues of the common American grocery store. I was instantly reminded of a similar occurrence months before this happened.

I was ringing up a man’s groceries. He was a larger man, with a beer gut hardly contained by his John Deere suspenders that barely kept his tucked-in shirt from exposing his awful stomach. On his head he wore a trucker hat that read “AMERICA.” As I watched him unload his groceries onto the conveyor belt, I noticed that he was putting large packages of meat into the DVD bin at the end of my register. He might not have wanted the meat, or maybe wanted no one else to have the DVDs? I’m not sure. So instead of handing it to me and telling me that he changed his mind about purchasing it, he decided to drop the large trays of beef right on top of clearance “Laurel and Hardy” DVDs, among many other classics. I kept my mouth shut, because I didn’t want to put him on the spot, though I could feel the frustration boiling inside me. Another customer joined the line at my register, behind the “American Pride” man. She noticed the meat placed in the DVD bin, and innocently asked the man,

“Excuse me sir, are these yours?”

“That ain’t mine,” the man replied.

This man was a perfect example of ethics at the supermarket. There are many, many more customers who would have done the same thing, but on the other hand, there are many customers who I have seen return items directly back to where he or she finds them, even if they happen to be at the other end of the store. Yet, ethics goes beyond these item-returning situations.

“To use or to not use a divider?” is a question asked at checkout situations across the country and throughout time. I’ve seen all ends of the spectrum; customers who place an order divider after their order, customers who finish setting their items on the belt and then place a divider after their groceries and customers who do not use a divider at all. It’s hard to judge what is right or wrong here, but I would say that it is unethical only not use a divider at all. Unless you’re purposely trying to keep your cashier guessing, just use a divider.

Cooped up in the store for hours at a time, the check-out line is a feeding ground for child misbehavior. All times of the day at the checkout I have seen kids begging their mothers and fathers for candy, which is so tantalizingly placed right before the cash register. Kids can’t resist candy, but each parent deals with their nagging child differently. I’ve seen mothers smack their child on the hand when they reach for a Hershey bar. I’ve seen mothers yell seemingly as loud as possible at their child when he or she tries to grab some gum. Thankfully, I’ve seen mothers who simply give in to their child and buy the candy, as well as those who calmly say, “No, we have candy at home, remember?” If you choose to yell at your child at home, should you still yell at them at the grocery store, in front of a crowd of people? I am unsure of the answer here.

And then there is the oft-moralized express lane. The express lane is a sacred place in a grocery store. If you have 15 items or fewer, you are religiously expecting the express lane to pull through and get you out of the store quickly. Some people, however, do not seem to believe in the true nature of the express lane.

I once rang out a woman, in the express lane, who clearly had more than 15 items. If I see an order ahead of time and notice that the cart contains more than 15 items, I politely let the customer know that I am an express register and that there are regular registers open down further. In this situation I acted as I normally would; I told the woman that this was an express lane. She looked down at her cart, paused, and said “I have separate orders”. I knew she did not have separate orders, because it was clear that she had to plan a response to my seemingly common question. Between her two orders, which I noticed were divided up in no particular order, she had around 30 items. As a line formed behind the woman, two and three-item customers disapprovingly looked on.

The express lane raises many questions. If you have 17 items, should you still go through the express lane? What if you have only a few large items, but have 14 containers of Greek yogurt? Beyond that, what if you have 18 items, but are in an emergency situation? Ethics at express lane are no different than the ethics at the grocery store in general. Where is the right or wrong? What is truly unethical to do during your shopping trip at the supermarket? I don’t know, but it’s time we all start considering the question.

4 thoughts on “To be, or not to be in 10 items or fewer lane

  1. Great article. I wonder the author feels about the coupon people, should there be a seaparte checkout for them (they take so much extra time for chechout)?

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