Why is This Line So Long?

shopping is stressfulRFID tags tags may someday allow us to breeze in and out of retail stores. But for now we have what’s left of our privacy, and the pleasure of confronting The Checkout Lane.

Retail technology is like real estate on a movie set. It looks impressive, but it’s not.

It’s more for appearance than function. Otherwise, it wouldn’t take 20 minutes to check-out at CVS or twice as long, if you’re lucky, at Costco.

The technology powering the checkout lane is largely dependent on human intervention: someone has to program the computers linked to the price scanner at the checkout lane. And often, it seems, they don’t, because there’s often discrepancies between the sticker on the product and the price on the register receipt.

That was fine when I lived in Michigan, where state law required retailers to refund consumers 10 times the difference when an item scanned incorrectly. But even there, inaccuracies added to the phenomenon known as Register Rage.

┬áMuch like it’s second cousin, Road Rage, Register Rage is marked by inappropriate emotional outbursts over seemingly insignificant issues.

It’s common among those who consider themselves too important to wait for anything, and increasing among those with hyper-sensitivity to being pushed around.

Twice in as many months, I’ve seen customers come one word short of fist fights over their spots on checkout lines. And no one is blessing the peacemakers anymore, at least in the checkout area. The most recent checkout crisis started when one customer cut another in line. Trying to be helpful–and make them both stop screaming–I offered the woman who lost her space a place in front of me, in the next line.

She was happy. The customer behind me, however, was not. So much for paying it forward.

Last week, at a grocery store, half of the items in my cart scanned incorrectly. New York doesn’t give consumers a bonus when scanners err, so mistakes are common in many stores–and actually expected at some.

The option is to pay in full, and then wait another 20 minutes in a line at the customer service center to get a price adjustment, or simply tell the cashier before she totals the bill. That triggers a call to a manager, who invariable calls someone else, who strolls at the slowest speed possible to check the price.

It’s inconvenient for the customers in the line behind you, but New Yorkers tend to justify it because they think the thing they’re in a hurry for is more important than the thing the person behind them is rushing to do. So I’ve adopted their style, although I throw in an “I’m sorry” to the people in the line behind me in a sometimes successful effort to prevent them from screaming.

So I braced myself for the worst when I turned to the man behind me to apologize for the delay. But something strange happened.

He smiled…and said “Don’t worry. I’m not in a hurry.”

For once, I was happy with the state of retail technology. If it had actually worked as it should, I’d have never had the chance to see how nice it is to slow down.

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Filed under globest, scream, Technology, thoughts

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