There was a time when we went to the grocery store, handed the clerk our list, and waited while he gathered up the items, added up the prices on an adding machine and wrote out the bill, then we paid for our groceries while he packed our purchases into a bag or box and, if there were more than a few, carried them out to our car.
Then came the early supermarkets with their shopping carts and we were allowed to browse the aisles, picking up our own groceries, being able to compare brands and prices. For several years, the check-out counter was just that– a counter– and, while we waited, the clerk lifted each item from the cart, entered it in the cash register, printed out the total, packed the groceries into bags, and we paid for them, then we waited while the carry-out boy took them to the car for us.
Eventually, check-out counters with conveyor belts put in their appearance and we were asked to take our items from the cart and put them on the moving counter, then we waited while the clerk punched each item into the register and handed us the bill. We paid while the courtesy boy packed our groceries into bags, put them back into the cart and wheeled them out to the car for us.In time, the check-out counter acquired scanners and after we unloaded our groceries onto the moving counter-top, the clerk dragged each item across the scanner, the cash register did its thing, we paid for our groceries while the clerk bagged our purchases and put them back into the cart. We pushed the cart out to the parking lot and put the groceries into our car ourselves, then returned the cart to the store. For a while, there were numbered tags on the carts and we could leave the cart in the store, drive up to the door, show our numbered tag, and someone would put our groceries into the car for us. Eventually, the tags were replaced by a number written in crayon on the back of our cash register receipt. Sometimes we had to wait in line to pick up our groceries, as nearly everybody took advantage of the drive-up service. This amenity has apparently become uncommon to the point that no cart number or cash register receipt is necessary– because there are so few customers who request it?
Then cart corrals made their debut and we were expected to push the cart out to the parking lot ourselves, unload the groceries into our car, and take the cart to the corral. We no longer waited for someone else to do all those things for us. But, have you noticed that it is now the clerk who waits for us? He waits while we unload our groceries onto the counter, while we write a check, dig out the correct amount of cash, or scan our credit card in the scanner mounted right there on the counter. The conveyor belt, scanner and sophisticated cash register do the clerk’s former job in a flash, while the customer must pick out his own groceries, transfer them to the counter, and deliver the groceries to his car. The division of labor seems to have gone too far when the customer, who once upon a time waited for (and presumably paid for) service, is put in the position of having no choice but to perform those services himself. While the clerk stands and waits.
And, probably the most uncomfortable thing about this new situation is that the next person in line must wait, not for the clerk to do his job, but for the customer to do what once was the clerk’s job, even though I’m pretty sure the clerk could do it much more quickly and efficiently. Can you guess who gets blamed for the delay?
These observations were made at the risk of antagonizing the good and helpful people who work at the grocery store where I do ninety-five percent of my shopping, I don’t blame them for the extra burdens of loading and unloading my grocery cart, or for the problems of wrestling the heavy bags of groceries into my car, (I realize this is a corporate policy and they probably didn’t have much to say about it), but I do wonder if they realize just how much of the work has been transferred to the customer during the past twenty or more years.
You see, at age seventy-nine, I find it enough of a problem just to get those bags of groceries out of the car and into my kitchen once I pay for them and get them home, without having to do all that lifting and reaching in the store before the items even belong to me. And speaking of reaching– why is it that so many of my favorite products are relegated to the very back of the very top shelf where I, at just a tad over five feet tall, can’t possibly reach them. In an ideal world, all my favorite products would be shelved between waist level and eye level, and the courtesy boy would follow me home and carry the groceries into the house for me.