The Deciding Factor

The town I live in has a number of places to get groceries. There is a convenience store whose loss leaders are really good deals on basic grocery items, a Shopko that has a limited snack/drink/grocery section, a creamery that sells its own dairy stuff, a butcher, and a few convenience stores with snacks. When you’re going for a serious grocery-shopping session without leaving town, though, there are only two options.

There is a Fareway with a really good meat department and great service, but it doesn’t have a deli and isn’t open on Sundays. There is also a Quillin’s that is open 7 days a week and has a hot and cold deli, but the meat department is kind of questionable, and it tends to be more expensive on most items. The biggest difference in my opinion, though, is the checkout process.

At Fareway, you pull your full cart up to the cashier, who takes things out, scans them (or whatever), and then she puts them on a belt to her right. (And she always checks the eggs.)  They go to one of a small army of people who specifically bag and carry out groceries. They are unfailingly polite and friendly, gesture you out the door, and follow you to your car. (I think they might actually be required to make an attempt at conversation, because every single time I’ve gone in there, the carryout person offers a leading question like “How’s your day going?” before we even get out the door. Even the ones who seem like they’d be quiet otherwise.)

Quillin’s, on the other hand, has the more traditional checkout process where you put your own groceries on the conveyor belt, the cashier scans and bags them and sets them on a counter to her left, and if you’re lucky and there’s enough staffing, someone else will come along and put it in the cart, but not usually. You’re on your own for getting it to the car.

In their defense, there is a giant sign in the first aisle at the beginning of the store of a smiling retiree waiting under a notice to remind you that they would love to provide carryout service. There are also several copies of a typed and printed sign that says “We would be happy to carry out your groceries, just ask.” Or something like that. The words that stick in my brain are “Just ask.”

Why, in a store in a town where the direct competitor offers this service without making it seem like a special request, should I have to ask?

This disparity was highlighted to me a few weeks ago when I had the occasion to visit the two stores within a few hours of each other.

I went to Fareway in the middle of the day and bought two items. They were bagged for me, and I waved the bagger away, saying, “I can get this myself.”

He responded very cheerfully, “That’s all right, I’ve got it!” and grabbed my little bag anyway, walked with me to the van, set the bag in my passenger seat while making small talk about the nice weather, and then waved me off with a “Have a nice day!”

Later in the day, I took four small children to Quillin’s, where I bought six bags worth of groceries and two gallons of milk. I put my items on the belt and went through the checkout process while trying to keep my four children from doing any of the following: fighting, tearing the magazines, stealing the candy, pushing buttons in the next checkout station over, or running off into the parking lot.  After I paid, I filled my own cart with the bags and jugs while three employees stood there and watched me. And then, I rounded up the kids and pushed my own cart out to the parking lot, where I loaded both the kids and the groceries myself, and then returned the cart.

At any point in this process did I ask for help carrying out? No. Because I didn’t feel like I should have to. Even if it weren’t clear that I was struggling, or that every single one of the observers obviously had nothing better to do, if I had made that same seventy dollar transaction at the other store, it would have been a completely different experience.

Today, I decided to go to Quillin’s again because I wanted to get hot lunch from the deli. I also had a little bit of shopping to do, so I thought I’d do it there instead of making two stops. As I passed the sign encouraging me to “just ask” for carryout, I decided I’d do it this time, and see what happened.

I had one toddler with me this time, which is a minimum of chaos for my usual errand-running, but as I loaded m groceries on to the conveyor belt, I politely said, “I’d like help with carryout, please.” The cashier sighed, and gestured to an older man who was standing in the general vicinity of the checkout. He brought over a dour expression and a normal shopping cart (I had a toddler, so I had been required to take the fire truck shopping cart, of course…) and slowly loaded my groceries in, then pushed the cart out the door while I tried to extricate the toddler from her seat. She did not want to abandon her firetruck. Once I had separated her from her conveyance, I carried her out the door, wondering where my groceries had gone. I found the guy standing at the end of the portico, staring out into the parking lot.

“Sorry,” I said, hurrying up. “Mine is the dirty black van to the right.”

“That’s all right,” he said, and headed towards it. I happened to have gotten a parking spot directly next to the entrance, so we didn’t have to go far. I opened the trunk for him, and then went to put the toddler in her seat.

Once she was secured, I went back and said, “Thank you for helping me.”

He nodded, and pushed the cart back towards the store.

This is why I only shop here when I can’t get what I’m looking for anywhere else.

I shouldn’t have to ask.


What are your thoughts? Am I expecting too much? Have you had similar experiences?

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