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A High Price

A High Price

You never know how your words can affect another person.

by

Inside my neighborhood grocery store, with milk and bread in hand, I found myself at the end of a long, slow-moving line.

As the line inched forward, the man two people ahead of me finally put his items on the conveyor belt. The end was near!

I zoned out briefly, but the man’s angry voice interrupted my reverie. “Hey! Those noodles are supposed to be on sale! You overcharged me!”

The cashier looked at the register. “They rang up at regular price, sir. They’re not on sale.”

“That’s why I’m telling you to fix it, because they’re on sale!” he said, his voice rising.

“Well, if they were on sale,” she explained, “it would have been in the computer. Perhaps a different brand is on sale?”

“NO!” he shouted. “I know. There was a sign. You need to fix it! You’re deceiving customers!”

By now he had the attention of everyone in the vicinity. The line, growing longer by the minute, was twisting snakelike through the front of the store. Some shoppers sighed, shifting from foot to foot and checking their watches. I understood the man’s desire to get a fair price, but to berate the cashier like this? To hold up the whole line? I wondered how much the savings was anyway.

“I’m not authorized to change prices,” the cashier explained, pushing a stray hair away from her face. “I am only allowed to sell things at the prices listed in the system. If you’d like me to take the items off your bill, I can do so. Or, if you’d like to speak to the manager about the 50-cent price difference, perhaps he can resolve the issue.”

“The manager?!” he shouted, his face reddening. “Why, that’s a great idea. I think I’ll do that!” In a huff he stalked off to find the manager, leaving the cashier stranded mid-sale and the rest of us watching, waiting and praying for this whole thing to be over quickly so we could just move on with our lives.

He returned with the manager several minutes later, gesticulating and loudly telling the story. “And I told her it was on sale and she didn’t believe me. She wouldn’t help me. She refused to do a thing!”

A few of us wanted to defend her, but he grabbed the manager’s arm and tugged him toward the cashier, pointing a reproachful finger at her.

“I can’t believe the service I get here. First, your store deceives customers about the prices and next your stubborn cashiers won’t even listen or help. This is ridiculous!”

It was the store’s new manager – I go there enough to know who's who. Maybe he felt that he needed to prove himself, maybe he was having a bad day or had some negative history with this cashier, but what followed absolutely shocked me.

“How could you?!” the manager shouted at her. “You have an obligation to serve the customers! If you couldn’t authorize a price change you should have come to me! And now you’ve gone and humiliated this man?”

Her face paling with sheer embarrassment, she began to answer back. Her words were heated. Their exchange became a shouting match.

“Well that does it,” the manager said finally, one hand on his hip and the other pointing at her. “You’re fired! Get out of my store!”

I gasped. Fired?! For this? I couldn’t believe it. Several people started toward the manager, but he waved them away and headed back to his office.

The now jobless cashier, an older woman, reached under the counter, grabbed her pocketbook and ran out of the store in tears.

Did the customer get what he wanted? Was someone’s job worth the 50 cents he saved on every bag of noodles?

Another cashier came to take her place and somehow I made it through the line and back out into the brilliant afternoon sun. As I replayed the incident in my mind, I kept thinking about the angry customer who started it all. Did he get what he wanted? Was he still there when she was fired or had he already marched out of the store? Was someone’s job worth the 50 cents he saved on every bag of noodles?

The receipt I had never put away was getting sweaty in my palm. I looked at it. Milk and bread. And a startling reminder to think before you speak. Because those words just might cost a lot more than you ever could have imagined.

Published: July 31, 2010


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Visitor Comments: 21

(21) Temima Bracha, August 11, 2010 9:10 PM

Responses

To no name (#9) - Nobody said that we should accept bad service. However, there is a way to do things, and making a scene and embarrassing someone is not the correct one! Also, like the rest of us, whoever is in charge of marking sales is only human, and mistakes do happen. Even in America, where the customer is supposedly "always right," we still have to keep in mind that people have feelings; they aren't machines. To Joe (#13) - I agree with you, and I hope that I would have the courage to actually speak up. It isn't so simple for everyone; I'm guessing that you have a very strong sense of justice, and when you see injustice, it's no problem for you to speak up. However, the article was about not hurting people with words, so just be careful how you word your views... To Chava (#14) - Maybe she was new at the job? Maybe that isn't standard procedure at that store? Maybe she had had a long day, or was up with a cranky child (or grandchild) the whole night, or has a family member in a medical crisis? Etc, etc... (and if this story happend in Israel, then we - most probably - have an obligation to judge EVERYONE in this story favorably) Also, if you are able to accept every bit of mussar (rebuke) you get with your head bowed, and with an apology, instead of automatically fighting back, then kol ha'kavod (bravo) to you. If only I could reach that level someday. But for the rest of us, it is extremely difficult when being accused, especially when we feel it is unfair, and when in public, to just docilely say, "ok, I'm sorry." Most people, I think, will offer words in their defense, and the tenser the situation, the tenser the response. I'm not saying that the cashier did nothing wrong, nor that I know every detail. I don't. But no one does, and therefore, let's not be so quick to judge and take sides - it's Elul, everyone! Let's pay more attention to the very important message of the article, than to picking apart the details.

(20) Sally, August 10, 2010 10:47 PM

rude customer

this story made me so sad. I too, used to be a cashier for a very large retail store. There were many times when a customer would act just like the one in the story. The sad thing is that each time our manager would just take the word of the customer, with no regard to how the cashier was treated. I fail to see how rude people got this sense of entitlement and think it is okay to be so insensative and rude to their fellow human.

(19) Anonymous, August 5, 2010 11:55 PM

the cashier "did not provide ..."

(to #14) have you ever been a cashier-do you know what the day is like-maybe she was right maybe wrong -maybe she should have verified it-BUT is the customers attitude at all correct is that how we as people should act-I challenge anyone to watch what goes on at a customer service desk on a busy day & woe unto the service person when they don't agree with the customer,even when they are polite-I have only been doing it for 4 years-yes,there are nice stories but you really have no idea!!

(18) Anonymous, August 4, 2010 2:07 PM

I frequent a store that has a sign in back of the cashier that says "Because Nice Matters." I reminded the cashier that that sign should not only be for the employees, but for customers, as well.

(17) Mindy, August 3, 2010 3:24 PM

If only one person had spoken up

I too wonder why no one said anything. I was once in a dress shop, when a teenage boy came in and started yelling at his mother that it was time for her to leave. I was horrified. I wanted to say something, but was worried that this would embarrass his mother even more, although she was just ignoring him. Finally, another shopper spoke up and told him tho stop being disrespectful to his mother. . An He looked shocked and was about to start to laugh and say something , when I found my voice. I looked at him and said, You are not going to get any support in here. Every woman in the shop looked up and stared at him, and he ran out of the store. I don't know what happened in that family later that day, but I am grateful to the woman who did speak. It has made me braver to speak out and stop verbal abuse elsewhere.

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