Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A million-dollar idea yours for the taking

By choice and consensus, I’m the grocery shopper in the house. I’ve been doing my own grocery shopping for a long time, through several moves to different parts of the country, and in all those in all those places I’ve observed a phenomenon that I have never seen documented anywhere: In the checkout line, the majority of men have the drill figured out: Have your discount card or keychain card out and ready to scan before you get to the register; have your credit card in your hand and swipe it as soon as the clerk starts scanning your groceries; be ready to sign the credit card slip. This is not rocket science. In most cases, though, a woman will wait until the clerk is ready to start scanning before she fumbles in her purse for her wallet and then fumbles in her wallet for the discount card; then she returns the card to the wallet and the wallet to the purse and waits until the total is rung up before again opening the purse, retrieving the wallet, pulling out a credit card, and beginning the transaction.

I have no idea why this difference in the of men and women has come about, and I do not particularly care. It is not even that big a deal in terms of personal annoyance, as I am merely bemused by it and am rarely in much of a hurry.

But look at it from the store’s point of view. I figure all the fumbling adds an average of twenty or thirty seconds to every checkout transaction. On the one hand, this gives the checkout clerk a few seconds to relax between customers, which is probably good for her health. On the other hand, it is costing the store money. As a result, stores are installing more and more self-service checkout lanes (which I detest); and this cuts the number of human checkout clerks (the reason I detest them). If customers would behave a bit more efficiently, they could help save jobs for clerks, right?

So here is your assignment: Figure out the best, most customer-friendly, most effective way to gently educate women to approach the checkout lane with discount card and credit card in hand, ready to scan or swipe—without annoying the customers. Should it be a sign? Probably not, as people do not generally read signs. A flashing display on the credit card machine or register? Maybe. I don’t know the answer. But if you can figure it out and sell it to supermarket chains on the basis of how much money they will save, you can make a bundle. Send me ten percent when you do.

P.S.: I did not say, above, that all men behave one way and all women behave another way. I was careful to say that in my experience most men behave one way and most women behave the other way. If your observations vary from mine, I would be interested in what part of the country you are in. If you wish to disprove my hypothesis, I would be delighted to read the results of your study after it is published.


Anonymous said...

I have no specific hypothesis to share, simply observations that never cease to amaze and befuddle me. Based on your observations, however, I'll have to be more aware the next time I whiz through the checkout line.

My observations, however, are somewhat in agreement with yours, noticing that many buyers are totally unprepared for the impending transaction about to take place.

I've often asked myself (and diligently control my urge to ask the idiot ahead of me) why it is that they wait for the absolute last minute to begin searching for their checkbook or credit card.

I hate having to wait for others to get their act together, so I make it a point to retrieve my checkbook the second I get into line. Leaning on the grocery cart or an adjacent shelf, I write in the date, store name, and my signature, waiting only to write in the exact figure appearing on the cash register.

Does that make me an unusual woman? Perhaps. But time is money, is it not?

J.M. Simmons

Anonymous said...

Not directly related but I've noted that one can wander around the grocery store for an inordinate amount of time (a couple hours, perhaps?), but as soon as it's time to check out, we become incredibly impatient.

Dick Margulis said...

Dear anon,

I'm not sure about that. It seems to me that the real Type A shoppers pretty much zoom through the aisles, too, not stopping to pick up items or people they knock over. They're impatient (and rude) all the time. There is a milder impatience we all feel, though, when lines are backed up six deep at the three out of fifteen registers that the store deigned to open.