cashier stories Archives - I Hate Working In Retail


42 Things Your Grocery Store Cashier Really Wants You To Know

Grocery Store Cashier

Most people interact with a grocery store cashier at least a couple times a week. We hand them our credit cards and they see our most intimate purchases, but beyond a (hopefully) friendly greeting and quick “have a nice day,” those of us who have never worked as a cashier know very little about this back-breaking job. I sent out a bat signal email to all the current and former cashiers I know, asking them one question: what do you wish you could tell every customer who comes through your line? Here’s what they said…

On Customer Interactions:

1. “When I ask you ‘How is your day going?’ I actually do want to know. Anything to distract me from my killing feet is appreciated.”

2. “Don’t hang around and flirt with me while I’m working — I’m probably not interested and it makes me look like I’m socializing on the clock to my boss.”

3. “Please do not comment on my physical attributes, it’s annoying and frankly kind of creepy. I am not a display.”

4. “Stop telling me how much cheaper our competitor is. I already know. I probably shop there too.”

5. “Personal space: Know it. Love it. Use it.”

On Your Purchases:

6. “Cashiers are totally checking out your eating habits even though we pretend not to.”

7. “I can tell the difference between cilantro and parsley…can you?”

8. “Shit can get expensive real quick when you shop in bulk so pay attention! When you get to the register and decide you no longer want your $40 bag of pine nuts, we can’t put it back in the bin. There is so much food waste this way it makes me sick.”

9. “Don’t mix your produce in a combined bag and then complain that I didn’t notice the difference between your peaches and nectarines.”

10. “I spend most of the time in my little box which means I probably don’t know if we carry your favorite brand of gluten free kosher organic sesame seaweed crackers but if you chill out for two seconds I can call someone who works in that department to find out.”

11. “If you are buying beer for underage kids, it would be advisable to not have them waiting out front in their letterman jackets….or better yet, behind you in line with an unnecessary amount of red solo cups.”

12. “Buying condoms at 16 is not embarrassing. It’s better than buying diapers at 16!”

On Unloading Your Cart/Waiting In Line:

13. “I don’t care about your opinion on paper or plastic. Bring your own bag because they both suck.”

14. “Bag your raw meats. Blood and chicken goo when drizzled on a conveyer belt can make people sick.”

15. “When people put their basket on the belt and don’t empty it while waiting in line — we hate that!”

16. “If you’re buying 5 12-packs of Coke, I only need one to scan. I’d rather not move every single one across the scanner.”

17. “There is a proper way of bagging items and the cashier usually doesn’t need help from the customer.”

18. “Leave heavy things in the cart. We have scan guns that can reach.”

19. “When you’re waiting in line, be considerate of the people around you.”

20. “Don’t leave your cart at my check stand and leave. Walk it to the door with you.”

21. “We used to have a company sponsored contest to see who could scan items the fastest. So if you see a cashier with a longer line it may mean they are faster than most. People would choose my line no matter how long it was because they knew I would get them out as soon as possible.”

On Paying:

22. “When paying with cash, unfold and straighten your bills before HANDING them to us politely. When you leave a clumped mess of wadded up cash for us to grab and sort it makes us want to punch you in the face.”

23. “If you’re planning on paying with a check, please have it pre-filled out, grocery shopping is not the leisurely activity you think it is, most people want to get out of here as quick as humanly possible.”

24. “Don’t get pissed when I can’t break a hundred.”

25. “Coupons aren’t just for poor people and if you don’t use them, you’re paying more than you need to. Just make sure you cut them out before you get to my line.”

26. “Food stamps does not equate to ‘free money.’ Additionally, if you offer to buy the groceries of the person in front of you with your EBT card in exchange for cash, that is VERY illegal.”

27. “You really can get a discount on dented cans if you ask.”

28. “The grocery store is not a bank so no, I can’t give you 2 rolls of quarters so you can do your laundry.”

On Common Courtesies:

29. “If you decide you don’t want to purchase one or two of the items you picked up along you’re way through the store ALWAYS hand them to the cashier. We have no magic fairies who blissfully fly around returning the items you stuff into random shelves or abandon on the magazine racks at the checkout.”

30. “Please stop your children from poking holes into the packaged hamburger. It creates more work for everyone and it’s really kind of gross.”

31. “Dogs are filthy animals that roll in shit and lick their junk. If you’re not blind or an epileptic, please leave it at home.”

32. “Please don’t follow me to my new place of employment when I quit.”

33. “We are not childcare providers. Watch your own kids.”

34. “Urine and excrement belong in the toilet. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Random Thoughts And Observations:

35. “I secretly enjoyed wearing a tie. And I took pride in being able to tie a better knot than most men.”

36. “*Me keying in the barcode on your canned peas after several failed attempts to read it over the scanner* You: IT MUST BE FREE! HAR HAR HAR! Me: I’ve never heard that one before!!!!”

37. “The self checkout is for your convenience. Therefore yelling “I hate these things!” while choosing to use them of your own free will just makes you sound like a moron.”

38. “Old people are really cheap and will complain if something was listed for 98 cents and they are charged 99 cents.”

39. “No one buys makeup at a grocery store, so when you need cover-up on the go, check the expiration date because it’s probably been there since the mid 1980′s.”

40. “This is a grocery store, not your bedroom. Leave the slippers and flannel pajama pants at home.”

41. “Just because I see you every day does not mean I am your friend or your therapist.”

42. “The greeting card aisle is reserved for me when Def Leppard comes on and I want to practice my breakdancing. Best stay clear.”


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The Hazards of Being a Cashier

There’s a post over at xoJane by a woman who used to be a cashier for Whole Foods and she’s telling her “tales from the trenches.”

In that article, she recounts some of the (terribly rude) ways that customers have mistreated her, and then she says this:

And I’m comfortable saying generally that Whole Foods customers are THE WORST.
Maybe the pervasive sense of entitlement is a product of their own economic insecurity. Maybe the pronounced class distinctions between the customers and employees make it easier to dehumanize the workers. Maybe shopping at Whole Foods makes customers feel so good about themselves that they forget it takes more than reusable bags to not be a terrible person.

I’m not here to dispute her experiences or get into some sort of contest over who has had the worse customer service experiences, but I am here to say that I don’t think it’s just pronounced class distinctions that give customers the false entitlement to treat store employees like the underclass.

I have this theory.

People are just so damn inconvenienced by having to be marginally polite to other human beings. It’s truly a burden to have to spend their day interacting with people in a way that’s considered socially acceptable, but there is one place where those rules can be broken down, and that place is the beautiful world of retail.

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Finally, an end to the madness.
I am sure that this is true of all retail. Waiters and waitresses are notoriously mistreated, but they also have the retaliation tool of doing something disgusting to your food. People who work in malls and clothing stores also take a lot of abuse, but people don’t usually have to go to those places and some people thoroughly enjoy the time they spend shopping for these luxury items. But grocery shopping is a necessity that happens often, and people hate it. I mean, truth be told, I hate it, too. It’s not fun. It’s crowded. The lights are too bright. It costs too much. You have to put all that food up when you get home. If you don’t have a plan, you’re scrambling around lost. If you do have a plan, then you had to spend time making a plan. Grocery shopping kind of sucks.So here, in the midst of this miserable experience, people feel the power to release their barely-adhered-to social norms and treat another human being like filth.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not every customer. In fact, it’s not even most customers. Most people are normal and fine and just want to pay their money and go away. Some people are not normal, but they’re chatty and happy and trying to make friends in the grocery line. That can be weird, but it’s not mean.

And I also understand that cashiers can be mean, too.

But I worked as a cashier/service desk associate/customer service manager for two and a half years during my undergraduate days. The interactions I had with people during that time were insane. They were crazier than the interactions I had with basically any other job I had before or since. (Those jobs include serving beer at a golf course, working with behaviorally-challenged kids, and serving fast food). Here is a small sampling:

  • “You sure are chipper, ain’t ya?” That’s what a man said to me, glaring cruelly, as I bagged up his groceries, smiled, and told him to “Have a nice day.” It was not a compliment. He practically spit it at me, as if my refusal to be miserable was a personal affront to his shopping experience.
  • The Fish Pick-Up: Ladies, let me tell you the secret to “hooking” a man. See, I was an incredibly friendly (some would say “chipper”) cashier. This is because being mean to people drags me down, and working an eight-hour shift as a cashier is enough of a drag already, so I had to balance it out. I was working the late-night shift when a man and woman came through with a bag of fish. The man is the one who sat the fish on the belt, so I guess he was sort of the one I was giving my “Did you find everything all right?” spiel to, but really it was mindless chatter they could both enjoy. As I handed him his fish, I told him that there was a 72-hour guarantee and if they died they could bring them back with a receipt. Then I told them to have a nice night. His wife leaned over the register at me, gave me her best “bitch, I’m gonna kill you” look and snarled “He’s married, so you know!” Apparently “Hey, if your fish die, keep the receipt” is the hot new pick up line. I was seriously worried that she was going to be waiting for me in the parking lot. And I’m not trying to be judgmental, but this was definitely not a man I was going to be trying to snag, married or otherwise.
Goldfish #115
  • I’m Going to Arkansas! As I was working the service desk one day, a man came up with a bag of raw chicken pieces. He slapped it down on the counter and said, “Give me my money. I’m filling up the gas tank and going to Arkansas.” I asked for a receipt and he said, “Just put it on one of ‘em little cards. It’s going straight in the gas tank anyway.” I calmly explained that without a receipt he could only exchange it for food (because of EBT rules). He started to argue with me, but then he gave up and wandered off toward the grocery section, leaving me with an increasingly-mushy bag of chicken. I felt like something was off and thought about calling a supervisor, but I figured he’d just go grab some food and life would go on. A few minutes later he appears doing what can only be described as a swagger carrying a case of beer. I sigh. “Sir, beer’s not food. You can only exchange food without a receipt for other food products.” The man–I kid you not–hoists himself up on the service desk counter with one arm and swings at me with the other. Another (male) cashier was behind the counter picking up returns and got in between us, telling the man he needed to calm down. I grabbed the phone to call a manager, and the guy saw me, grabbed his chicken, and ran off. I hope he made it to Arkansas.
  • Then what are you doing here? A guy came through my line and I gave him the usual “How are you today?” Instead of the expected but oh-too-rare “fine,” I got a (no exaggeration) three minute list of maladies ranging from a torn ligament in his knee to a cataract to work stress. He ended his monologue with a smug “but you didn’t hear a word of that because you didn’t really care how I was when you asked.” I was feeling snarky, so I repeated his entire list of complaints back to him, in order, and his jaw literally dropped. Puzzled by this turn of events, he took his receipt and said, “If you’re that smart, you shouldn’t be working here” and walked off. Creep.
These are truly just a sample. The stories go on and on and on and on. On a daily basis, people took the “How are you doing today?” question as an excuse to unload about everything from their deadbeat husbands to their dead-end jobs. During the holidays especially, people would complain about how they were buying things for ungrateful family members who didn’t deserve it. On more than one occasion, people got mad at me when their total was more than they expected and once someone even asked me to cover the difference. A man trying to buy a full sheet cake with a EBT card in a woman’s name with no ID tried to get me fired when I wouldn’t make the sale. A man cussed me out because I told him a copy of his driver’s license taped to the back of a Movietime card did not count as a valid ID. Three frat boys made me cry when they bought plastic cups, a bottle of vodka, and a bag of live goldfish and made me ring them up.
Again, this was not every customer. Many customers were wonderful people, but this was enough customers that it was not an exception to the rule; it was the rule. There is substantial subset of the population that uses retail workers as their own personal emotional release. All the meanness they can’t use throughout the day for fear of the consequences gets saved up for someone who has very little recourse. Every time a cashier is rude to me (and it happens), I remember all those days and cut him/her some slack. It’s tough to be on the receiving end of that kind of vitriol, and I don’t think it’s limited to upscale chains full of snobs.
Have you worked retail? Did it bring the reign of humanity’s worst behavior?
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It’s 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and I still haven’t eaten since breakfast (a Yorkie from the vending machine, if you must know). I’ve been standing at the front of the fitting rooms for three hours, and two girls have just run off without buying any one of the 12 items they’ve been taking selfies in.

A lady hands me back a white T-shirt with a slog of orange foundation around the neckline, as another customer suggests she purchase it at a discounted price. Still, it could have emerged with a much worse stain on it. So much worse. I am talking about shit. Yes, shit. But more on that later. Fancy a job in retail?

I’ve worked at a flagship women’s high-street retailer for two years now and still, every day, the general public find refreshing new ways to leave me without words. I’m certain none of my friends are the ‘general public’. Because I know none of them are the kind of people who don’t know to stand on the right hand side of the escalator. Or who’d ask me where the bikinis are while standing in the swimwear section.

They can’t be the people who refuse to see the clearly marked fitting rooms. I’m sure that nobody I know has ever attempted to try on clothes at a till point.

And I really, REALLY hope that they are not the kind of people who poo not once, but twice, in a changing room – or, as one of my colleagues once had to deal with, wrap up their turd in the clothes that they have just tried on and then brazenly hand it all back to a shop assistant, who will uncover it one minute later and have her day, if not year, ruined.

I hope they don’t include my friends, but but you just don’t know, do you?


To be honest, I can forgive this sort of naivety, or desperation if you will. It is customer complaints that I am not mentally equipped to cope with. I can deal with difficult situations, but I will never be able to fathom the insane levels of frustration that some shoppers feel over bits of fabric.

How happy I would be to have a day off work to peruse a shopping centre at my leisure. To even have a taste of what they are used to. Forgive me for pointing out that there is more to life than the correct size in a dress that you only knew existed several minutes ago.

When you grow old and reflect upon your life, you will not look back and think, ‘This was great, but I really wish they’d had those shoes in a size 6.’ Let it go, people. Stop shouting at me!

If you don’t have any complaints to make, but you do fancy some special treatment, I’ve got a fail-safe tip: Pretend to be from head office. When you enter the store, stand and look at the window displays for a bit first, but make sure to put your hand on your hip and nod at them. This will begin to incite fear in the staff.

Bring a well-dressed friend along and only ever converse with each other when facing mannequins. That alone is enough to make me radio a manager. Then, when heading for the tills or the fitting room, try to spy some mess. Give it a bloody good looking at in front of someone who works there. Et voila! Super-smiley staff and extra helpful service. Trust me.

Now that I’ve given you this valuable advice, do not give up the jig by asking why we don’t sell styles that everyone stopped wearing years ago. We do not sell fishtail skirts, elasticated waist belts or shrugs. Nobody is going to go to the stock room to look for them. ‘Do you think I could find them anywhere else?’ Only if you have the means to travel back to the ’00s. Soz. (NB: To the lady that asked where our bootcut brown corduroys are, I would not have let you buy them, even if we did sell them.)

If you do ever feel compelled to yell at a member of staff, please weigh up the circumstances and think about who has the most right to be frustrated. Yes, it is very hot in here, but I’m trapped here for nine hours and you are free to leave at any time. One particularly hot day earlier this summer, I had a delightful woman accuse me of trying to kill her mum because I had no control over the air con. No, I do not want your mother to die on the shop floor. No, that would not look good.

When I’m not on trial for attempted murder, I am accused of lying, false advertising (I am sorry you found it in the sale section, but the tag clearly shows it isn’t on sale) or the classic utterance of ‘bitch’ when I refuse a dodgy refund when it’s ripped to shreds.

If you do have a genuine complaint to make and wish to be taken seriously, I recommend looking like you’re going to spend a lot. Great leniences will be made, I promise. The best way to do this is pick up a ridiculous amount of items to try on, but make sure you leave off almost all of the hangers. Rich people HATE hangers. Try it.

When a shift finally ends, it’s nice to head to the closest bar. But no, I’m not quite free yet, because regardless of what genre the venue is supposed to play, they’ve managed to slip in at least one of the songs I’ve had to listen to at least 20 times today already. The closest place for me to get an end-of-shift cocktail has the actual real-life same album as my store. Awful. ‘Oh my God, I love this one!’ your friends shout. I did, a long time ago, before it induced mental images of bright lights and shiny white floors…

The redeeming thing about these frustrating occurrences is that a large team of people around you are experiencing the exact same thing. Regardless of the fact that it’s a forced environment for friendship and you aren’t sure if you’d be friends ‘on the outside’, there is serious bonding to be had over shared experiences of being shouted at and treated like crap.

Before working in retail, I didn’t know how close it was possible to be to another human being, while still only knowing each other by ‘babe’ (the general term among my fellow troupers, those shopping assistants too tired to remember names).

Sometimes it can be hard to deal with £68 in cash being thrust upon your counter instead of into your palm, leaving you to fumble around in the pennies and feel like trash. As you scrape up each coin, it’s nice to have someone standing by you with a sideways glance that just says, ‘I know.’

Anyway, I’ve got to go. There’s a customer begging for cash off that dirty t-shirt.


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