In the past, it was not only wrong, it seemed close to a mortal sin to step beyond the invisible line. That line was the difference between the customer area and the shopkeeper area. Sometimes it was closed off by a little gate, but often it was just an imaginary line between where you could go and where you couldn’t. When you bought something at the corner grocery store, you put your items on the counter for the proprietor to add up. They had a little card near the register to determine the sales tax. Then the items were bagged in paper for the trip home. I doubt if many under the age of thirty know what butcher paper is. If you remember the butcher tying up your meat with string, you’re even older than I am. The paper tape used in the 70’s wasn’t even sticky — it came from a dispenser that wet the gummed paper by dragging it through a water tray. Sounds pretty primitive by today’s standards, but then again they used to carry your bags to the car for you and not expect a tip. Fast forward to now.
You pick out your items and cart them to the checkout area. There is no gate separating the customer area from the cash registers. You have become the worker. Then you drag each item over a glass counter and toss it in the bag — yourself. No proprietor. No checkout person. No looking up the tax on a little card with rows of numbers. No one asking how your day was or asking about the new baby in the family. The items are added up and a little disembodied voice asks if you have any coupons. If you have produce, you have to look up the price yourself and let the built in scale calculate the cost. It’s a little disconcerting if you ask me. And there are several reasons.
I don’t remember filling out a W-2 form for my taxes. I don’t remember talking about how much I get paid per hour for operating the cash register. I certainly didn’t receive any training on how to use the equipment or how to use the weight scales. And I darn well don’t get invited to the company Christmas party. Something just doesn’t seem right. When you get hired to handle money for a company, they usually go to some effort to determine if you are honest. I don’t see anyone being rejected from checking their purchases themselves, neither because they have shifty eyes nor because they have bulges in their clothing that weren’t there when they walked in the store. It just doesn’t make sense to me, but I guess they somehow trust me even though they don’t know anything about me. All I know is, now I’m supposed to do the work of weighing produce, add up my purchases, bag the items, pay, and carry the bags to the car.
I wouldn’t mind all this if I saw real value in doing the work myself. If they gave a discount to pay for the cashier work, that would be a plus. Maybe they figure that trusting customers gives them a boost to their self-image; raising the morale of humankind. Maybe forcing customers to work for their patronage increases their skills, making them future prospects as employees. But maybe I’m being too altruistic thinking that they are altruistic.
The real truth is that they don’t trust us at all. After all, there are cameras everywhere. One records your face as you scan your purchases as another records every hand movement. And there is still the employee at the door, asking to see your receipt. I think the response should be, “You trusted me to check myself out, so why don’t you trust me now? Go pound sand!”
I miss the days when you didn’t touch the cash register, but the storekeeper let you wait till payday to pay your tab. And when you weren’t allowed to weigh your pork chops, but the butcher gave you some extra anyway. And for Pete’s sake, when was the last time your grocer asked how your gout was? It all disappeared when chicken started coming in clear plastic wrap and you learned the phrase, “Please swipe your card.” Like gummed paper tape, those days are gone forever.