Supermarket Job Savvy

“A person buying ordinary products in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith, U.S. Economist

The observation that an ordinary task can be an emotional experience is a concept that anyone who works in a supermarket should understand about its customers. Developing empathy for and respecting customers is key to the success of all retail enterprises. But why is this especially so for a supermarket?

Understanding the Customer

First, of course, the supermarket itself and your job exist because of the customers.

Second, for most customers supermarket shopping is not always the most pleasant task. Consider the issues listed below that plague the supermarket customer, who:

  • Visits the supermarket more often than any other retail store.
  • Often must stop by on the way home from work, when s/he is already spent from a full day’s work.
  • Copes with infants, toddlers and children while shopping.
  • Deals with missing prices, mismarked or expired items and obsolete shelf signs.
  • Cannot find items s/he wants and must seek out a store associate or go to the customer service desk and wait in line to make an inquiry.
  • Cannot reach items on the upper shelves and must search for a store associate to help (unless another tall customer offers to help).
  • Cannot find a shopping cart at busy times.
  • Winds up with a shopping cart with a broken wheel.
  • Discovers the battery-operated carts for the disabled and elderly have not been charged, delaying or preventing one from completing his or her shopping.
  • Stands on multiple lines to be served, including the customer service, deli, seafood counter and checkout lines. In superstores, add the pharmacy and other lines!
  • Muddles through returning spoiled, damaged or otherwise unwanted items, or handling adjustments for errors on the cash register receipt.
  • Discovers someone else’s cart has crashed into her/his car in the parking lot.
  • Finds that the bottle return machines are broken or full.
  • Cannot locate the sale items listed in the weekly flyer (and gets to settle for a substitute or rain check).

Imagine after having to cope with any, most or all of these issues in a single shopping tip, the customer is then treated in a dismissive, unhelpful, unfriendly or downright rude manner by a store employee! Thus, putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and developing empathy are the first steps toward providing top-notch customer service, no matter what your job is. For example, I’ve seen employees who had menial jobs but were dependable, did them well and always smiled at and were helpful to customers move quickly up the ladder. For many, starting out in a summer job at the local supermarket has led to a long-term relationship that can help a student finance college or fill in the gap while searching for a permanent job. For others, it has led to careers in the industry.

Be a Team Player and Customer Service Expert

As a supermarket employee, you need to be both a team player and a customer service expert. So, to borrow somewhat from last week’s entry, following are the attitude and characteristics that every supermarket employee should adopt and practice daily:

  • Smile – At your coworkers, managers and customers. It will affect the way they feel about you, in a positive way.
  • Make eye contact – Show that you are paying attention to them and what they are saying.
  • Stay focused on the customer Making her or him happy is key to your success.
  • Be punctual and aim for a perfect attendance record.  Be known for your dependability.
  • Maintain a clean, neat appearance and practice good grooming.  People will respect you if you have a professional appearance, and that includes wearing uniform that is clean and pressed, and remembering to pin on your name badge, if appropriate.
  • Handle interruptions gracefully and smoothly. There may be times when you will be interrupted while working with a customer or performing another task; learn to juggle and balance tasks and speak up when necessary to avoid misunderstandings. Say something like, “I’ll be glad to do that; can it wait until I’m finished with this customer?” or “Sure, I can do that. Will you take over helping this customer?” Finish all tasks and clean up loose ends; if you become overloaded, ask your supervisor for help or to prioritize your tasks and assignments.
  • Be proactive in helping both customers and coworkers as you pass them in the aisles. Be alert to what is going on around you. Stop and ask the customer who has a puzzled look on her face if you can help her find something; then don’t leave her until you have located the item for her. Help the customer who can’t reach an item on an upper shelf. Assist a coworker who has his hands full.
  • Say “thank you” to the customer when you have finished checking her out and bagging her groceries.
  • Keep your work area clean. Take the time to tidy any area where you have been working, whether it’s a checkout station, customer-service desk, the front end, one of the departments or the stock room.
  • Don’t fidget. Playing with your hair or clothes, shifting your weight back and forth on your feet, jingling change in your pocket, clicking your pen, and so on, is not professional or attractive.
  • Cover your mouth if you have to yawn. But know that yawning diminishes your image and might prompt your boss to think that your performance could be better. It doesn’t impress customers either. But, if you’re burning the candle at both ends with your school studies, extracurricular sports and other activities, and home chores, try to squeeze in enough sleep.
  • If you have to sneeze, do so into the crook in your arm by your elbow or into a tissue of handkerchief.  Say excuse me, and wipe your hands off with a hand wipe before continuing to check out a customer or another task.
  • Do your very best with even with seemingly small, insignificant tasks.
  • Step up to help with extras.
  • Learn the store rules and policies inside out and adhere to them. Check with your supervisor if you have any questions or are unsure how to proceed.
  • Learn how to pack a grocery bag correctly! See next week’s entry for this important and fun topic!

Some well-known grocery and supermarket chains tout their strategy to put the “customer first” and that “the customer is always right.” But the proof of that is more than just low prices, coupons, premiums and services; the proof is when you, as the supermarket’s representative, are face to face with a customer and convince her that she truly does come first.

Until next time,


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