The Worst Kinds of Customers in Retail

If you really hate yourself and want to reinforce a dim view of humanity, there’s no more effective way to accomplish this than to work in the grocery or retail industry. There’s a lot to it that makes it some of the worst soul-crushing misery that man can impose on his own kind without violating the Geneva Convention, such as the fluorescent lighting, the destitute pay, and the mindless, low-skill busywork. But what really drives the misanthropy home is the customers.

I’ve worked in the grocery and retail industry for years, and was happy to get out. From my experiences, I can name some of the worst kinds of customers that one can expect to have when they have to work with the general public.

To be fair, I’ll point out that most customers were pretty normal, and therefore weren’t very memorable. This list is more about the ones who, if I were to take over the world, you’d have to thank if I were to usher in some kind of global police state.

The Litterbugs

Once you’ve wiped your nose on a tissue or finished your free sample of coffee in those little Styrofoam cups, you’d have to use the wastebasket. Sometimes, this involves holding onto your trash until you find one, which is the procedure when you’re in any public place. One store I worked at was nice enough to have a small trash bin at the end of every aisle.

Apparently, this still wasn’t easy enough for some people. These would be the litterbugs. They’ll ignore the trash receptacles or pretend that they aren’t even there, and simply leave the trash in their carts, even after leaving. In doing so, they leave their problem for the next person, who blames the staff for not noticing it before they did. So they just ignore the cart with the trash in it, or they just throw it into a different cart, even if there’s a trash bin right by them.

Worse yet are the ones that just drop their trash on the floor when they think no one is looking, or, even worse, the ones that stash their trash among the merchandise. I kind of wonder how filthy their homes are, because in public they’re total slobs.

The cart not-returners

So you’ve gathered up everything on your list and paid for it without incident, and loaded your order into your car. After having gotten this far in taking a trip to the store without making a dunce of yourself, you have one thing left to do – just one thing – before having accomplished the bare minimum of being a decent customer. You put the cart into the cart return.

You can do this, right? That’s what they’re for. They’re designed to streamline the process and make it as easy for you as it can be. But there are still people out there that find it too hard.

If a cart is left anywhere outside a cart return, such as next to a signpost or propped against a curb, it could inconvenience a customer that might have to maneuver their car around it. Or worse, the wind can cause it to drift into a vehicle. This doesn’t just cause dents and nick expensive paint jobs, it can necessitate the need for an expensive coating that needs to be done soon before rust can set in.

The customers on this list aren’t just bad for the workers, they’re terrible for other customers.

The dog walkers

Too many people who go to the store don’t think far ahead, and pet owners are some of the worst offenders. I suspect that their logical progression of thought goes something like this: “I’m going to the store, may as well bring the dogs with me. I’ve arrived, but I can’t leave the dogs in the car, so I may as well bring them in with me.”

I suspect that this is used as a pretext to show off the wimpy little inbred mongrel that they consider a dog, considering that if you’ve met a dog person, you know that they’re proud of their degraded wolf and won’t stop talking about it.

But there’s a problem with this: People are allergic to dogs. Stores don’t prohibit non-service pets just to be mean, they do this because some of us really can’t be around them. Put that on top of the fact that there’s so much else that can go wrong with bringing a dog to the store, and it’s evident that those who bring their pets with them have left their brains at home.

The shoddy-stockers

If you change your mind about an item in your cart, just put it back where you found it. Easy, right? Yeah, it’s so very easy. It’s hard to imagine how anyone can mess this up. But there are those who still manage to.

Hanlon’s razor aside, we know that the reason people do this is because they are either lazy or they think that making the place a mess for the staff or their fellow customers is funny.

What’s more, some of them get creative with it. There are times when there gets to be a rancid smell near a certain spot, and it can take a while before the workers find out where it’s coming from. When they do, it turns out that it’s coming from a leaky, sopping pork roast that’s been set behind boxes of cereal, and has long since spoiled.

The look-in-the-backers

You knew these guys were coming, the ones who can’t find what they’re looking for or found an empty spot, so they ask an employee whether there’s any more in the back.

As much as you’d want to tell these guys what they can put in their back, this isn’t standard minimum-wage procedure, so it’s on to “assisting” them. Usually, the first thing I’d do is check where the item is kept on the floor, because I’d sometimes find what the customer is looking for, and relish the awkward pause as it dawns on the customer, at least in part, that they aren’t as diligent as they thought they were.

In grocery and retail, the back rooms are mainly for unloading stock from trucks, which are then quickly moved out to the floor. Product that remains in the backroom doesn’t sell, so management wants the staff to get the product on the floor quickly. Because of this, very little product is actually in the back, and finding it back there is a long shot.

This takes a while to explain to customers, and if one were to go to the trouble, they’d probably insist that the employee go check anyway, or they wouldn’t get the idea, or funnier still, they’d say that they don’t believe it even though they have little choice but to take the employee’s word for it.

So, what can an employee do about it? Usually, they just go to the back, take a short break, then return in a few minutes saying that they couldn’t find it. At this point, the customer usually resigns himself to the inevitable, but in some cases, they’ll fall into the next group.

The ones that call for managers

There are some people out there who just can’t take an honest statement of fact, however tactfully delivered. So they move on to inconveniencing the next level up on the ladder: the managers.

Customers seem to have the expectation that employees get in trouble the moment management is involved, because when I’d nonchalantly agree to go get management, it seems to surprise them. Believe it or not, employees don’t necessarily have an adversarial relationship with management. They work together, and have pretty similar goals. Besides, making enemies with someone you see every day is stupid.

When I called management over, they pretty much always agreed with me. After all, most people in management are bright enough to understand that giving someone something that they don’t have is physically impossible.

For all the threats that I got from customers saying that they could get me fired, I actually worked in grocery and retail for about a decade without facing termination once. Which was probably worse to endure than collecting unemployment, all things considered.

Miscellaneous checkout shenanigans

As simple as the process of checking out is, it’s surprising just how much can go wrong, and how many customers there are who find ways for it to happen. One would think that customers would be extra careful at this step in the visit, considering that this would be the point where they part with their money. But, it somehow turns out to be when they make the most mistakes. I suspect that there’s some science that the retail industry has mastered to make their customers’ IQ drop by 30 points during their visit, while the sanity of cashiers is the collateral damage that companies are willing to pay.

I’m not kidding, I hated working register with a passion. I’ll just go over a rapid-fire list of dos and don’ts to keep things nice and tidy.

  • Don’t make a point of paying with exact change. You’re slow at it, and the cashier is faster at it because it’s the cashier’s job.
  • Don’t attempt to use expired coupons. Do your due diligence.
  • Don’t hit on the cashier. The setting degrades the experience.
  • Oldie but goodie: Don’t enter the express lane with more items than permitted. Customers and cashiers alike make fun of you for it.
  • If your debit or credit card breaks, don’t be lazy, get it replaced. Cashiers hate it when you waste their time by having them punch in all those numbers, and the customers behind you don’t like it, either.
  • You’re not the first one to joke that “it’s free” when an item doesn’t scan right. If the cashier bothered to pretend a laugh, you have no idea how much effort it took.
  • If an item scanned the wrong price, it was likely you who made the mistake. Cashiers are seriously annoyed when things have to come to a halt just to do a price check, and so is everyone in line behind you. Take care to read the price tags to reduce the likelihood that you look stupid in front of the other customers.

There’s a lot more, but those are the main ones that I can think of at this point, possibly because my brain isn’t permitting me to recall too much about my grocery and retail work because of some internal mechanism that protects my sanity. Therefore, I’m concluding this list at this point and being glad that there’s life beyond retail.

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