Customer service

I do most of my grocery shopping at a store near my house. It has most of the stuff we eat and use, and the prices aren’t exorbitant—pretty much all I ask from a grocery store.

I’ve been going there at least two or three times a week for a couple of years. The checkers are a friendly bunch, and shopping there was a reasonably pleasant experience. Until lately.

My first problem was the long lines. One can find long grocery lines anywhere, depending on timing. Some days and times are more likely to produce long lines than others, but I understand that and try to avoid the after-work rush, especially on Fridays and before holidays. That’s a basic consideration for a grocery shopper.

But lately my primary store has lines whenever I go. I suppose it’s trying to save on labor costs, a common approach to increasing profit—not necessarily a good approach, mind you, but a common one nonetheless.

Working stiffs like me tend to get used to poor or mediocre service, because that’s usually what we get at the stores we frequent. Not being valued highly seems to encourage us not to value ourselves or our time much, and waiting in lines is part of the deal, whether at the grocery store or the clinic or the unemployment office.

The older I get, the more I value my time, having finally realized that time is all I ever had, and not having much of it left. So I don’t like waiting in long lines, not that I ever did, but my patience for such things has about run out. I don’t spend all my time productively, whatever that might be, but I don’t want anybody else wasting it for me. Now if I have a few food items to pick up, I go where I know they don’t tolerate lines, where when more than two or three customers are queued up, they open another lane right away. My primary grocery store is still primary, but my loyalty is weakening.

Now the store punishes me for being a regular customer. I write checks for most purchases, including food, and for several weeks I’ve noticed that after I’ve waited in line and finally gotten to the cashier and handed over my check, the computer system often requires the checker to call a manager over for a special OK.

I thought at first that I’d gotten a bad box of checks, that maybe the encoding was bad. I’ve never given the store a check that was returned, and eventually I asked a cashier what was up. He explained that it was just “the system,” that if a customer writes more than some unknown number of checks in an unknown period of time, the transaction is flagged, and a manager’s approval is required. Because I write a lot of checks, it takes me longer to give that store money than it does an occasional buyer.

I can fix that.