Stories Of A Supermarket

Stuart Debar
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Working in a supermarket isn’t just about stacking shelves, nor is it about making items go beep through a till. For the thousands and thousands of people who do so, it is more than that.

A job in a supermarket for many, is just a job. They come in, do their work and leave. For others, it turns into their career and acts as a stepping stone. I honestly believe that most people who end up working in a supermarket are there because they just needed a job. As with every job, you need to have a laugh with your colleagues. For one it makes the day go quicker, but also if you do work in a supermarket, it’s hard not to have a giggle at many of the weirdos that pass through its doors on a daily basis.

I have been at this supermarket for five years now, and it still amazes me what people want from me, and how people treat retail workers.

Working on the fresh produce department, Fruit and Veg are flown from all over the world to this one location. In this day and age, people expect far too much. They want top quality products, the reddest of tomatoes, the curviest of bananas and the roundest of melons. In England, people like to moan. I mean really moan. I don’t think I’ve ever done more than ten minutes on the shop floor without hearing ‘oh these peppers aren’t big enough’, or ‘these carrots are massive’. Some people actually believe that I’m the one who grew the stuff. One woman said to me ‘these grapes look lovely today, think you picked them at just the right time’ and gave me a pat on the back. Spending around 40 hours a week in the same place for three years, you get to know it. Just like you get to know your home, the streets around it, and whose car belongs to which neighbour.

So for me, just like many others it can be very frustrating when customers think they know what you sell. For instance, an elderly man comes up to me, very polite at first and asks where the fresh Jerusalem Artichokes are. I say to him in a nothing but a friendly manner that we don’t sell them and offer him the tinned variety.  ‘Oh’ he said, ‘I got them here last week’. I politely tell the man that it’s a line we have never sold. ‘Oh, well you probably don’t know much then do you.’ I say to the man politely that I’ve worked on the department for three years and not once have we sold the product he is looking for. ‘I think you’re wrong’ he says, ‘I definitely bought them here last week’. He gets louder telling me I didn’t know my job. This would be the millionth time I’ve wanted to slap a customer in the face today, but I remain calm and tell him he must have bought them from another supermarket. He yells at me stating he doesn’t shop at other supermarkets, demands that I show him where the product is, and then, like a light bulb has just been switched on says to me ‘ahh I remember I got them from Waitrose, I’ll be off then.’ He walks out of the shop without an apology or even a hint of shame.

I also work in the coffee shop, where most people come to have that milky brew and relax after purchasing their box of cereal and a packet of custard creams. Being in the coffee shop, a small place within the store with about 10 tables, you get to know the regulars. You even hear their life stories as they ask you for a frothy cappuccino with skimmed milk and a couple of sugars. Now I’m the sort of person who will just talk without thinking. An elderly man walks up to the counter and asks me for a tea. I take his money and ask if he wanted a pot of milk. For some unknown reason I say to the poor bugger ‘do you want a semi or a whole?’ , obviously meaning semi skimmed or whole milk. Me realising what I had said struggled so hard to hold back on the laughter. He looks at me with a weird smile and said out of the corner of his mouth ‘I’ll have a semi please’. He walked off with not just a semi in his cup of tea.

I also work on the customer service desk, at the front of the store, where 99% of angry people tend to wander towards. The other 1% just chatter to themselves as they leave. All supermarkets and most customer serving companies are measured secretly on customer service, this is why nearly 100%  of the time, no matter what is said to you and in whatever tone, you still have to be as polite as you can whilst grinning like you’re on speed. The less than 1% of the time when it’s allowed to be rude, and say what you feel. This rarely happens, but it does, and only happens when customers are so rude and obnoxious and clearly aren’t measuring you on your service skills. They’re just irate because they were overcharged by a matter of pence, or because they’ll have to go without their favourite packet of biscuits for a few days.

People bring back things for refunds, which is understandable. Some you accept, and some you have to refuse, whether it’s a branded item with no receipt or they just picked up the wrong flavour of Walkers. But when a gentleman is in front of you, showing you pictures of his dead dog to prove he doesn’t need the dog food anymore, you really can’t refuse can you? A fact of life is that people have sex, and people have protected sex, therefore causing a demand for condoms. Now it’s awkward enough when you can’t get the beggars out of the security case, and you’re holding up the queue, but it’s even more awkward when a gentleman asks for a refund on them, and says to me his wife is having an affair so he won’t be needing them.

Working in such an enclosed environment, it’s like being inside a pressure cooker about to blow. Relationships tend to happen, flings take place, and apparently a gay man gets a woman pregnant on occasion. And yes this was about me. Me and one of my colleagues were quite close, we didn’t have ‘a thing’ or anything like that, we attended a works Christmas party and after a few days the whole store thought we were together and she was having my baby. Rumours spread like wildfire, and 99% of the time they are untrue. But there is however, that 1% chance that whatever secret you are hiding, whoever you have slept with in the workplace, eventually everybody will find out. I’ve learnt that the hard way.

Retail workers get treated like dirt and get spoken to as if they are utter scum. Sometimes things are out of your control, such as a national bank just halting all transactions due to a security breach, therefore causing utter mayhem for about 10 minutes. Workers in supermarkets get blamed for everything. I got blamed for the Volcanic Ash disruption back in 2010, apparently it was my fault that a volcano in a different country had erupted causing flights to be cancelled, therefore I was personally responsible for not getting any supplies of fruit or veg in.

So there you have it. If you work in retail, be expected to be blamed for everything, and I mean everything. Pin your ears back, stick on that fake smile and just get on with your day whilst smiling like you haven’t a care in the world. Because no matter how screwed on that smile is, I guarantee there will be someone out there wanting to rip it from you like a free coupon for tea bags from a newspaper.

About Stuart Debar

Having spent his childhood in Blackpool, Stuart moved to Hertfordshire to persue a better career. An aspiring author and TV personality who currently sits in retail management. A big love for life, quirky, unusual and it's rare to see him without a smile. Follow him on Twitter at @sdebar