The Lights Were On But Nobody Was There

WalMart checkout lanes
WalMart checkout lanes

One Saturday, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I needed to go grocery shopping. I managed to get someone to drive me to the local Wal-Mart to pick up what I needed. When it was time to go through the check-out lines, I noticed that the lights were on at every register, which is supposed to mean that the customer can use any register to check-out. So I found a lane where there were no customers waiting in line, and unloaded my very full cart onto the conveyor belt. I noticed that there was no cashier standing at the register, but that has happened before, and within a few moments of my arriving at the counter someone has always magically appeared. My assumptions were that the cashier had simply been speaking with another employee nearby.

After unloading my cart, I saw the cashier had not yet arrived, so I started to look around to see where the cashier could be. At that time I noticed that there were a LOT of cash registers with their lights on, with no employee standing nearby! That started to make me wonder what was going on. After waiting about five minutes, I decided to turn on the switch that is on the post beside the cash register that makes the lights flash, to get the attention of management that someone at that register needs help.

After about another five minutes, the front-end supervisor responded to the flashing light, and demanded of me “where is the cashier?” I responded “That’s what I’d like to know – I have been waiting for ten minutes and no one has shown up. The light is on, showing the register is open, but there is nobody here at the register, and I would like to check-out!”

A nearby cashier heard me talking to the front-end supervisor, and she called out “I can take you here at my register!”

I replied “no thank you, I have already unloaded my cart and am not interested in loading it back up again and then unloading it at another register! This register is supposed to be open, and I came here in good faith to check-out. I want to be checked-out here!”

The front-end supervisor frowned for a moment, and then explained “we have all of the lights on to fool corporate headquarters into thinking all the registers are open, but we are short-handed so there are a lot of registers that are unmanned right now.”

I replied “that’s a shame, and I feel badly for you, but if that is the case you should have a sign here on the conveyor belt indicating that the register is closed and to please choose another lane. I want to be checked out here.”

The front-end supervisor nodded her head, and then said she would ring up my order. She did a fine job, up until it was time to give me my change. I had paid cash, and she gave me less change than what I was supposed to get. Fortunately for me I caught that error and called it to her attention before she closed her cash drawer, so she corrected it. Interestingly enough, that was the fourth time that week that I had gone into a local business and paid cash for my purchase and was short-changed by the cashier.

I found myself wondering if the cashiers were trying to take advantage of the customers that pay cash, and short-changing them on purpose, thinking that during this busy holiday season the customers would not bother to count their change. One of the instances was at a restaurant, where a tip was appropriate. The service was bad, but I normally tip anyway. I normally tip 20%, but because I was short-changed, (by several dollars, not just loose change) the waitress got a much smaller tip (15%) than I was planning to give her! I figured that the money she had short-changed me more than made up the difference.