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Authors: Anna Sam

Checkout

BOOK: Checkout
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CHECKOUT
A LIFE ON THE TILLS

ANNA SAM

Translated by Morag Young

 

For my brother, Gwenael. I wish I could have shared this book with you.

And for all those men and women who have worked on the till.

Contents

Title Page
Dedication
My name is Anna.
WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF RETAIL – AND YOUR DREAM JOB 
THE TOP 3 QUESTIONS ASKED AT THE TILL
AN HAUTE COUTURE FASHION SHOW 
CASHING UP: THE SEARCH FOR THE MISSING COIN 
THE JOB INTERVIEW
YOURS STATISTICALLY 
‘HANG ON A MINUTE, I’M AT THE CHECKOUT!’
ENTERTAINING THE SUPERMARKET 
I’VE SAVED A PLACE 
KISSING COUPLES 
‘EMBARRASSING’ ITEMS 
I’M HUNGRY! 
MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE – A VERITABLE GOLD MINE!
THE WONDERFUL LOYALTY CARD IN ALL ITS COMPLICATED SIMPLICITY
CLOSING TIME AND OPENING TIME – WHAT FUN!
WHAT A COMEDIAN 
A HEALTHY MIND IN A HEALTHY BODY
SIT DOWN IF YOU CAN 
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL
I’M THE BOSS!
YOUR CONVEYOR BELT: FRIEND OR FOE?
HOW TO HIDE YOUR FORTUNE
I’M PAYING
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES
CHECKOUT GIRLS: THE FAIRER SEX
‘YOUR TILL IS ON A BREAK’
DO YOU HAVE 10 ITEMS OR LESS?
PRIORITY? DID YOU SAY PRIORITY?
CAN I SEE SOME ID PLEASE?
BLESS YOU!
£19.99 PLEASE!
MY TILL, MY LOVE
GAME OVER
DID YOU SAY BAR CODES?
STRANGELY STICKY
DRUNK CUSTOMERS
THERE WILL BE BLOOD!
J’ACCUSE
CAN YOU GO TO THE NEXT TILL PLEASE?
WILL IT SCAN OR WON’T IT? THE SIX STEPS FOR GETTING PRICES
ROLL UP, ROLL UP: IT’s SALE TIME
THE WEEKEND SHOW
THE BIG CHRISTMAS RUSH
COUNTDOWN
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT 
MURDER ON THE EIFFEL TOWER
THE PÈRE-LACHAISE MYSTERY
THE MONTMARTRE INVESTIGATION
CHECKOUT A LIFE ON THE TILLS
Copyright

My name is Anna. I’m twenty-eight years old with a degree in literature and a life story that is both completely ordinary and a little bit unusual. I’ve worked for eight years in a supermarket. I started out there just to fund my studies and to have some financial independence. But when I couldn’t find any work using my degree, I stayed on and became that stalwart of modern life, a checkout girl.

The till. Not a great conversationalist, unless you count the beeps it gives when you scan the produce. As a result of listening to that robotic noise I felt frankly that I was becoming a little like a robot myself. The fleeting interaction with the customers was not enough to make me feel human. Happily though, contact with my colleagues did just that.

One day I decided to write about my working life and record the little incidents that fill the day of a checkout girl. Suddenly I was looking differently at the customers filing past my till. I was seeing the world of retail with new eyes and discovering that it was a lot more varied than I had thought. There are the easy customers and the more challenging ones. Rich ones, poor ones. Nervous customers, boastful customers. Customers who treat you as if you were invisible and customers who say hello. The ones who are always champing at the bit for the store to open, and the ones who always come just as the store is closing. There are customers who flirt with you and customers who insult you. Who says nothing happens in the life of a cashier?

I wanted to share my experiences. I have put together here a few of my stories, the ones that affected me most. So it’s time to take your trolley and come into the supermarket. Look, the shutters are already going up!

Happy shopping!

Congratulations! You've finally managed to get an interview and actually been hired. Welcome to the retail family. You are now a checkout girl … sorry, checkout
operator
. That feels much more important, doesn't it?

The interview only lasted a couple of minutes, long enough for you to repeat what's already on your CV and give them your bank details. No IQ tests? Or a bit of mental arithmetic? Come off it – you'll be suggesting they analyse your handwriting next. You're going to work on the till, you know, not being called to the Bar.

 

It's only your first day – but you still have to prove your worth. So let's get cracking, time for training. Don't worry
though – an ‘old hand' will take you under her wing for at least, I don't know, a quarter of an hour? A morning if you're lucky. Or two days if your manager is nice. There are some nice managers, I promise. It's just the luck of the draw.

Let's start with a tour of the store. It won't take long (and besides there are other things to be getting on with). There's only the locker room, the staff room, the waste disposal area with the bins where all the produce that's past its sell-by date ends up – you'll find you spend a lot of time here – the Office where you'll be given your float and … well, that's it.

 

Now you know enough about the store to get down to work. You'll have plenty of time to explore your new workplace further during your breaks. It will make them more fun.

The first time you approach the tills in your wonderful Chanel or Dior uniform, or your hideous overall (depending on the store and the kind of customers they want to attract) with your float under your arm (the equivalent of several days' salary no less) you are bound to feel a bit intimidated. Take a deep breath. That feeling will pass.

Right, you've found your till, organised your float and settled in. You're really concentrating and really
motivated. The ‘old hand' is beside you and you're all ears. You're ready to work. Not a moment too soon.

The main things to remember are: scan the items (with a quick glance to check that the price looks right), add up the total, tell the customer, ask for a loyalty card, take payment, give the customer their change, ask for ID if necessary and give them the receipt. All with a nice sincere smile. Of course. And then ‘Thank-you-have-a-nice-day' and on to the next customer. Shall I go through it again?

To begin with it might seem that you have to work fast, too fast – especially if you start on a busy day. But it'll soon become automatic and you won't pay too much attention to what you're doing. Within a month it will be as if you and your till were one.

 

Time has flown by and the ‘old hand' is already giving you less and less advice. It's all sinking in. You're becoming expert at scanning items and giving change. Well done! It's really not that complicated – you just need to know what to do when and the rest comes of its own accord.

Right, now the ‘old hand' is leaving you to manage on your own. You'll be able to scan your first items independently. Hurrah! What a treat that will be.

Actually, apart from the
bee-eep
of the scanner, it's not very exciting … fortunately there's lots of interaction with
customers (but be patient, more on that later).

Oh yes, I almost forgot. There's a part that's not that easy but, strangely, it's quite interesting. You have to learn all the code numbers by heart for items that are sold by the unit: lemons, peppers, garlic, artichokes, etc. Don't panic. There aren't that many and if you forget there is a prompt sheet on the till. And you can always ask your colleagues, Jessica, Emma, Kate, Sarah, who are never far away. Best not forget their names – not easy when you have about a hundred colleagues.

 

Your first day is almost over. The last customers are leaving and the store is closing. So what are your first impressions? Actually, it's quite a fun job. You scan lots of items (and discover things you didn't know how to use or even existed), you chat with people, you have pleasant colleagues, you listen to music all day and it's nice and warm.

A dream job. Well, almost. You have to come back and do it all again tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that. And, as time goes by, getting up in the morning to go to your dream job won't be quite so appealing.

Believe me.

Pay attention please. This store’s exclusive welcome gift to you is a set of the top three customer questions:

– ‘Where are the toilets?’
– ‘Don’t you have any bags?’
– ‘Are you open?’

Out of context they’re not so bad. But wait until you’re behind your till. By the end of the day these questions will make you want to commit an act of violence (or, at the very least, have a good scream). Judge for yourself.

The most urgent question: ‘Where are the toilets?’

C
USTOMER
(
rushing up and usually quite flustered
)

Where are the toilets?

 

C
HECKOUT
GIRL
(
obliged to interrupt her conversation
with another customer
)
Hello!

 

The customer does not reply.

 

C
HECKOUT GIRL
(
sighing but only inwardly
)

Over there.

 

And she points at the big glossy sign saying ‘Toilets’ hanging just opposite the tills. The customer rushes off. No ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’ or even ‘damn it’. Takes too long. When you’ve got to go …

The most aggressive question: ‘Don’t you have any bags?’

One of this millennium’s greatest revolutions is the disappearance of the complimentary plastic bags offered to customers by supermarkets. Some people find this very irritating, especially the first time they come across it.
They see it as a money-making scam. Their reasoning is as follows: ‘If the store doesn’t provide free bags any more, they can sell them to customers and boost their profits.’ That thought had occurred to me too. But I also have the urge to say to my customers, ‘Think about the future and all the beautiful countryside there will be without plastic. Isn’t the sea a nicer place without bags floating in it?’

Now the disappearance of plastic bags is pretty much accepted. You no longer see irritated customers abandoning their overflowing trolleys at the till. Yes, that did used to happen. But you might still be lucky enough to experience the following:

C
HECKOUT
GIRL
(
who has scanned the customer’s
three items
)

£2.56 please.

 

The customer pays by cheque (yes, really – he doesn’t have any cash, you see).

 

C
USTOMER
(
who is looking about at the end of the
conveyor belt for bags for his pre-packaged tomatoes,
his pre-packaged salad and his pre-packaged apples
) Don’t you have any bags?

C
HECKOUT GIRL
(
for the thirtieth time in less than
two hours
)

Supermarkets don’t provide plastic bags any more. There are boxes in the storeroom or we have recyclable bags for 10p, which can be exchanged when they wear out.

 

C
USTOMER
(
furious, his eyes almost popping out of his
head
)

Couldn’t you have told me before I paid?

 

C
HECKOUT GIRL
(
sighing deeply but again only inwardly
) Sorry, but we haven’t provided bags for several months now.
(Smiling at the customer)
Why don’t you just carry your shopping as it is? Everything is already wrapped in plastic.

 

Even more furious, the customer takes his apples and his salad … and departs minus his tomatoes. After all, he only has two hands.

The most annoying question: ‘Are you open?’

So you aim to be the best, most polite, and friendliest checkout girl? OK, that’s your right and it’s very admirable (although don’t forget how little you’re paid). But promise
me that you will never let anyone address you as if you were your till. You are a human being, not a machine that beeps. It’s not only customers who have rights. Here are a few suggestions as to how to deal with confused customers:

C
USTOMER

Are you open?

 

T
HE POLITE CHECKOUT GIRL

I’m not but my till is.

 

T
HE SARCASTIC CHECKOUT GIRL

Beeeeeep!

 

(If the customer is really good-looking)

Try me and see …

 

T
HE CHECKOUT GIRL WITH HER BEST SMILE

Are you?

I can’t guarantee what reaction you’ll get to any of the above.

 

Over time, you’ll find that some customers vary the question:

– ‘Are you closed?’
– ‘Is she open?’
– ‘Are you available?’
– ‘Can I come over to you?’

It’s up to you how you interpret them …

BOOK: Checkout
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