The Old Days
Maybe I’m showing my age, but when I first worked in a shop as a Saturday girl, tills were big old-fashioned things with buttons. Electronic cash registers (tills) were in their infancy and may have been around in the cities and some other chain stores, but the one where I worked was not upgraded until later.
We used mental arithmetic to add up the customer’s bill as we served them and rang the total through the till. If they paid with a note and needed change, we put the not on the ledge of the till (to be able to check what they had given us) and beginning with the total that showed on the display, we counted the change into our own hand up to the value of the note. We may then have put the note away and counted the change back into the customer’s hand so that we both knew it was right. (Sometimes we might leave the note on the ledge until the change was paid. Counters were much wider then where I worked, and angled. It would have been almost impossible for a customer to seize the money from the till.)
In my first full-time shop job I graduated onto the early electronic tills with push buttons. It added up the amount for us, but still used the same principle as the last figure shown on the display was still the total.
The problems began when the shops started installing tills that calculated the change for the assistant – which seemed to grow alongside the use of calculators in schools. It makes me feel really ancient to say this, but there were no such things as electronic calculators when I was at school. I can imagine here some younger readers wondering how on earth we managed in such dark ages. The fact is that we were taught to work things out in our heads and made to practice these skills over and over until it was second nature – for homework and in class. There may be mutterings here about how hard life must have been back then, but those of us who learned this way still have those skills. We could – and did – work through power cuts when electronic tills were out of action. Now shops have to close if the power fails.
I gave up working in shops some years ago because I began to struggle with these new-fangled tills and found myself giving the wrong change because my brain still interpreted the displayed final figure as the total rather than the change due. This system also makes the double checks much harder – or impossible if the shop is busy. It’s the wrong way round to count the change to the customer.
For a time I worked alone, in a small shop, and ignored the display, by taking the total from the receipt, I was able to count the change in the old way and found the customers appreciated it because they could see it was right.
The Modern Way
The modern way of customer service seems to mean taking the change figure from the display and thrusting it at the customer – sometimes without a word and as though it’s a hot potato – then expecting them to move on straight away and make way for the next person. Change is usually wrapped up inside a five or ten-pound note and/or the receipt. It is impossible to check whether it is right and some assistants give hostile looks it you don’t immediately move on – even completing the packing up of your goods bought has to be done at a scramble sometimes.
Most women prefer to keep their money and cards inside a purse, and the purse inside a handbag, or sometimes hidden at the bottom of a shopping bag, to keep it safe. Now, it has become almost impossible to do this, as you end up juggling. Even if you’ve managed to pack the shopping as it passed through the checkout, you take a note from your purse to pay and stand with purse in hand to put the change away. Then the assistant plonks the receipt and five/ten-pound note on your hand and puts the change on top… and suddenly you are stuck. The logical way to put the change away safely would be to put the note in its compartment and the put the coins away in theirs, but you don’t have a free hand to sort it – it can be difficult to even open your purse and then the coins are in the way of sliding the note(s) into place. (With the old counting back method, the notes ended up on top – easier to deal with.) Also, you don’t have a free hand to pick up the shopping and move. Even if you manage to put the change away, somehow there is no time to also put your purse away safely.
(From the looks on the faces of some young assistants I’ve dealt with, they don’t understand the situation they’ve created, they just expect you to disappear.)
So what usually happens these days, is that I put my purse away while the assistant finds the change and shove the change hurriedly in a pocket and as I grab my shopping and go. Then I have to either find a quiet and relatively safe place to sort it out, or more likely sort it out at the checkout of the next shop. Meanwhile, that change is in a vulnerable place.
Berwick High Street
Berwick is a place where you usually feel relatively safe from the threat of pickpockets, but thefts from pockets and handbags in busy places, in broad daylight, seem to be rising. A few days ago, a five-pound note disappeared from my cardigan pocket between Gregg’s the Bakers at the bottom of the High Street and the checkout of the Co-op, just off the top of that street. In theory, it could have potentially fallen out, but this is unlikely as it was wrapped around coins and they were all that remained when I looked for it.
To some people five pounds is chicken-feed, but to anyone on a low-income or on benefits, it could be a very big chunk of their week’s budget to lose. In fact, in the current economic climate it could mean a person having to go without food for several days.
My point is that if customer service in shops hadn’t deteriorated, as it has since the introduction of more sophisticated tills. If shop assistants allowed customers enough time to put their change/cards/purses away safely before expecting them to leave, there would be less notes/ cards in pockets for the opportunist thieves to take.
It is, of course, possible that the thieves are starving and desperate themselves. But if the poor are now stealing from each other, it’s a very sad reflection on the current state of our society.
What do you think?