Service of Good and Bad Surprises at a Cash Register

February 23rd, 2017

Categories: Cosmetics, Department store, Retail, Service, Supermarket


You find rudeness and grace in unexpected places.

I giggled at an outrageous comment a friend shared because it caught me by surprise. It was made to her by a snarky makeup sales associate for a major brand at a world-famous department store. She approached her counter with a friend and prospective cosmetics customer. In greeting, the sales woman turned to her and said: “I know you. You buy a lipstick from me once in three years.” It was rude and inappropriate and it sounded so New York-y yet it happened in New England.

Cosmetics in dept storeSeveral years before my friend asked this sales associate for a product she’d run out of. It was part of the brand’s new, luxurious line that she clearly didn’t carry. The saleswoman insisted on arguing that it didn’t exist, insulting her–even screaming. My friend concluded: “And the saleswoman has remained entrenched in her position for years.”

In a far less elegant place dealing with items at much lower price points–a supermarket—I had just the opposite experience. On either shoulder I was balancing two giant tote bags filled with my usual zillion pounds of stuff and my handbag. I’d come in for cider and noticed Bonne Maman jams on sale, two for $6. There was a “Closed” sign at one register so I stood in line at the next counter, juggling my heavy cider container, apricot and blueberry jams with my belongings that began to slide from my shoulders.

supermarket checkoutThe cashier on the “Closed” line, who had just finished with a customer, smiled and waved me over. I thanked her profusely, commenting that she was probably worried I’d drop the juice and jams causing a huge mess. “No,” she said, “I liked your face.” Made my day!

Don’t you wonder how the nasty woman in the department store keeps her job? The cashier at the supermarket had been standing all day in far from glamorous circumstances and was cheery nevertheless. How does she do it? Have you similar experiences to share?



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10 Responses to “Service of Good and Bad Surprises at a Cash Register”

  1. hb Said:

    For some reason your post brings to mind Gilbert and Sullivan’s ditty, “I am the very model of a modern Major-General…,” which in turn brings to mind a recent rerun that I saw of a Charlie Rose’s ca. 1997 interview with Donald Trump who came across as being every bit as crude, obnoxious and dishonest then as he is now. This in turn led me to think back to my 1956 training at the army’s military police “boot camp” in Augusta, Ga.

    I was a snotty, newly minted college graduate and future diplomat who had already passed his Foreign Service exam. Military service was then something to “get through.” Supposedly, you didn’t learn anything from it. Of course, I was all wrong, and one of the most important and lasting things it taught me was that people learn far more and better from watching images than from reading words or listening to lectures. One film clip was worth a thousand words at that training camp.

    Just look at what is “in” and “modern” on TV and the movies and you will have your answer as to why the saleswoman was obnoxious and the cashier was not. (I suspect the latter is just too busy working and surviving to have had time to watch TV and absorb this behavioral message.)

    I don’t argue that the communications industry foisted some sort of code of nastiness, “Trumpism” for short, off on us. Those patterns of feelings and behavior have been with us since at least the “Know Nothings” of the 1850s and well before, in different guises. Rather that it found them profitable to propagate.

  2. EAM Said:

    My friend just posted on Facebook that she was charged $211.01 for two bottles of red wine (instead of $21.01). The guy did apologize for the error but told her it would take up to 72 hours for the refund to post on her debit card. Honest mistake but a pretty big one at that.

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    I must say that I don’t find the behavior you describe as untypical especially for New York, even in the many years prior to the current era of Trump with rudeness and inappropriate response elevated to high art! During the years when the Japanese were omnipresent and very generous spenders in affluent Manhattan boutiques that ignored me yet they could not do enough for me when I stopped by with my Japanese husband. If he was wearing a navy blazer and a tie the desire to wait on us was even more intense. I have wondered for years at that kind of behavior.

    It must work for some sellers and some buyers although I will forgo the purchase and not go back to someone who is rude and more. I did hear there was physical combat when the formerly terribly important customer Ruth Madoff tried to return 14 Chanel handbags to a luxury store after her fall from grace.
    I have worked briefly for an independent designer and with luxury clothing in a famous store. My first day I was polite to 2 women whom everyone else ignored. The result was a totally unexpected significant sale (although we were not on commission) and an invitation for 2 to the world famous performer’s show. (She went unrecognized in elegant but casual clothes.) My brilliant boss who became the first female Vice-President of the company always stressed service above all else. She admitted that she juggled her staff of “barracudas” eager to sell with “diplomats.” No one would ever have thought to act in the manner described in your post.

    As for unexpected, extremely helpful service I have to refer to Market Basket, the Tewksbury, MA based supermarket as the most outstanding example. The family feud between diametrically opposed relatives resulted in an amazing customer loyalty, a success story, a Harvard Business School Case Study, and a commercially released documentary film called “We the people: The Market Basket Effect”! The employees at all levels, (ranging in age from teenagers to very senior citizens} in all departments and various locations are gracious, well-informed, eager to help and interact as a team with their fellow workers. It is a delight to shop there.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It sounds as though some kind of required public service–military or otherwise–might knock some civility and sense into a lot of people brought up to think so highly of themselves that 1) there’s nothing more for them to learn although they may be only 20 and 2) there are more people to consider than themselves.

    As for the supermarket cashier, I’m sure she confronts as many arrogant, thoughless customers as the next person though maybe the woman in the department store meets more of them. That’s no excuse, though. I know my long-time friend. She bends over backwards to be polite and greets all with old world charm and kindness. Her approach should not inspire rudeness in a sales associate. It sounds as though the snarky approach is what makes this salesperson feel superior to others. To be kind, though I don’t feel kindly towards her, maybe she thought she was being funny with the lipstick remark. Yelling at a customer who happened to be right but even if she wasn’t, is unacceptable.

    You are probably correct about the cashier. She doesn’t have time to watch TV and pick up bad habits. She works so hard during the day; no doubt has a long commute home where she may be responsible for an elderly parent’s care in addition to keeping a few teens in order, must clean her home, do the laundry, run errands, fix dinner and clean up….I’m exhausted thinking about her. All the more reason for her to be grouchy, which, remarkably, she wasn’t.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Please advise your friend to keep an eye on this. In my “conversation” with customer service, where the person confirmed I was correct about no tax for items under $110, I was assured that the tax wouldn’t be posted on my final bill once the package was ready to ship. I looked anyway…and it had been. It was hard to tell because with the shipping update, I was sent the total of my bill, not a breakdown. But I made a point to remember what the original total had been.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your experience with the shopkeepers who were dismissive of you when you were alone and falling over themselves when you came with your husband reminded me of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman!” Grrrrr. Similarly I fume when two women are treated poorly in a place that has treated me and my husband with kid gloves.

    Good for your boss in the luxury department of a famous store. She knows what she’s doing. I have heard of countless examples over many years of sales people treating badly those who don’t meet their idea of wealthy-and-worth-it. Makes my blood boil and is one of the reasons I founded this blog.

    I am enjoying envisioning the scene where Mrs. Madoff tried to return her Chanel handbags! The old “be nice to the people you meet going up because you’ll meet them going down” comes to mind as I suspect she may not have been that gracious a customer and didn’t heed that saying.

    NYC doesn’t need another drugstore or supermarket, but were it to get another supermarket, may it be Market Basket! What a wonderful place it seems to be. I notice that Trader Joe in NYC hires older and younger people alike. I admire that. And I’ve met only lovely people there as well.

  7. Deborah Brown Said:

    That’s why I love shopping at Trader Joe’s, even though the check out lines are often interminable . However, the staff invariably seem to really like their job whether restocking shelves, dropping what they’re doing to help you find something or checking you out. They smile, they often engage customers in a conversation and the beat of the store is “fun to shop.” My pet peeve in stores like Duane Reade, where you are in line and they call out: “Following.” That’s it. Not “Following Customer” or “Next!” Or the grumpy, non smiling, rude staff at Fairway. Thanks for listening!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    They are nicer at CVS I’ve found. Plus Duane Reade/Walgreens is much more expensive for most OTC things than CVS. I am on a strong antibiotic and was told to take a probiotic. A small box of Culturelle at CVS was $23 something and the same box at the Duane Reade near me was $28.

    Trader Joe’s is a gem. Like you, I can’t say enough about it. I’ve found some giant grouches at Whole Foods. I asked one woman behind the bakery counter to slice a bread and you’d have thought I’d asked her to clean my entire apartment in 12 minutes she looked so annoyed and overwhelmed. Was she busy when I asked? No. After a snow I was on the upper east side and to return to the subway I passed a Whole Foods and ran an errand at Fairway. Staff at the former had done a lousy cleanup job making it treacherous to walk along the stretch of 3rd Avenue they were responsible for. Fairway’s sidewalk on 86th Street was snow/slush/ice-free.

    I think that Trader Joe’s staff is well paid. Fairway is failing and the staff must feel the stress. All the more reason to bend over backwards so customers return and tell their friends so the place thrives once again but some employees don’t get that.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    The reason screaming salesperson keeps her job is that she either terrified shoppers into not complaining, or that they simply don’t have the time to bring this to the attention of a manager and/or customer service.

    Most salespeople are decent, with some going out of their way to help. Positive incidents far outweigh nasty ones.

    Having worked as a salesperson for over a year, I can testify that bad behavior may be inspired by shoppers from hell. Impossible to forget is the man who tried to get a manager fired because he was unable to produce the version of a book that didn’t exist. Equally horrifying was the bad behavior of an elderly mink-clad harpy in Saks Fifth Avenue at Christmas time. She would have put Scrooge to shame! Sadly, both human gargoyles got away with it……Oh yeah, the customer is always right…..That so?

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Like you, a friend who works in a gift store in Grand Central and for years worked in sales for luxury goods could write a book about nasty, arrogant, entitled customers. The parents who resent her gentle reminders to children to please not touch thus and such–a fragile gewgaw for example–and huff out because she dared restrict the little genius from exploring before damage was done are an increasing category of nightmare customer.

    Anyone who is abused should speak up regardless of their job but to punish polite customers by throwing the first verbal punch in the event they turn out to be one of the nasties isn’t a workable approach. I think that “the customer is always right” is a good way to start the sales-customer relationship until one or the other takes advantage and creates an imbalance.

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