One of the most awkward, self-conscious incidents in my life occurred when I was shopping with a group, and one of my companions blithely continued browsing long after the store doors were locked.
I have done assembly-line work, junkyard work and freelance writing. But I also have punched enough cash-register keys and worked around enough clerks/sales-associates to know that the retail life isn’t all Skittles and beer. (OK, maybe there IS a lot of Skittles and beer, in the sense of “Cleanup on aisle 9 of all the Skittles and beer someone upchucked.”)
Life is messy and legitimate sob stories do exist, but some shoppers are habtually tardy. Twenty-something years ago, I worked in a retail environment where we (officially) closed every afternoon at 4:30. The same customers were always rushing in at 4:25 and getting finished around 4:40. When we extended our hours to 5 p.m., those same individuals suddenly, magically started arriving at 4:55 and staying until 5:10.
You might think the “five-second rule” pertains only to eating food that has been on the ground just briefly, but a large segment of humanity interprets it as “if you slip through the front door five seconds before the posted closing time, you have an infinite amount of time to window-shop.”
The late, great Jim Croce dreamed of saving time in a bottle. He should’ve tried saving it in a mom-and-pop store.
Savvy shoppers who know all the loopholes brainstorm ever more inventive ways to drag out the shopping experience. (“Yes, dear, I have verified the thread count on all the sheets in English, but what if your cousin from Quebec comes for a visit? Un … deux … trois …”)
For the sake of their employees (and for the sake of keeping overtime costs down), some stores do use the intercom to deliver reminders such as “Paperclips, Mucilage & Beyond will be closing in 15 minutes. Please make your final selections and proceed to checkout.” But to the hardened dawdler, that’s just ambient noise, like holding a seashell to your ear. (“Hey, let’s ask for a seashell in something other than the 137 colors they have in stock.”)
Returns are another aggravation. Apparently, most shoppers put all their receipts into a rocket and launch them toward the doomed planet of Krypton. And products are rarely in anything resembling their original condition. (“I didn’t realize until I opened it that it was a pickle barrel instead of a travel pack of Kleenex.”)
Pity the poor clerk who is badgered into honoring some pie-in-the-sky promise allegedly made by a conveniently unidentified co-worker on the customer’s previous visit. Of course, the increasingly irritated customer can never remember any distinguishing characteristics. And the timing of the promise can’t be pinned down any more accurately than “definitely sometime after the Mesozoic Era. I think.”
The name of the anonymous co-worker? Don’t make me laugh. Even if a store employs someone with a memorable name (like “O.J. Simpson”), the shopper never “catches” it. (“Wait … wait… it was something beverage-y. Do you perhaps have a Tequila Sunrise on the sales staff?”)
Don’t get me started on the hazards and indignities, like customers licking their fingers before counting money they have produced from deep in their clothing. (“This is my ‘mad’ money. I’m mad because my jock itch medicine quit w … hey! What do you mean you’re leaving to get a factory job?”)