There I was, with 32 minutes to run into the grocery store for a few items before I had to pick up my son from an appointment. I knew better, but I headed into the nearby Safeway despite my doubts. It was close, and it has a great floral department (I needed flowers for a friend).
My ‘few items’ soon turned into 20 items. The fruit tart that I grabbed to take to a friend’s house for my contribution to the evening ‘s dinner was super sticky and kicked off my lovely Safeway experience. All of the tart packages were sticky, but Safeway’s fruit tarts are good, and I needed one, so I grabbed it anyway. Then the rotisserie baked chicken with the crumpled packaging had me wondering if it would leak all over my car. But I placed it in my basket anyway and powered on.
After I grabbed some peppers and cantaloupe, the last item I picked up was a small flower arrangement. Notice anything in common with these items? For some of us, these would be classified as items that are tricky for the sellf-check-out lane. No problem, you say? Just use the human check-out line, you say? This is what I would do at my normal grocery store, staffed with at least two or three human checkers at all times of moderate shopping traffic. Nope, not this store.
This Safeway is consistently staffed with only ONE live human checker, a cobwebbed “Express Lane” and a sea of I-Robot self-check-out stations eager to high-jack your grocery shopping experience at any time.
I was cutting it close on time, and the single live human line was far too long. (Maybe because there was only ONE CHECKER and it was 5 pm on a Friday. But I digress.) I took a deep breath and headed over to the self check-out lanes, which send me off the rails with even the smoothest of transactions. I can do this, I told myself. I can use the self check out without having a blackout rage moment or cursing loudly like a woman with anger management issues.
I pressed start. ‘PLEASE START SCANNING YOUR ITEMS,’ a curt and condescending female voice directed me. I scanned the first few things without a hitch. ‘BEEP, BLIP, BEEP.’ I was on a roll. This might work.
Then the baked chicken with the sketchy packaging was up. After many attempts… ‘PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE,’ I-Robot chirped. ‘PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE.’ ’PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE.’ I took a deep breath. Here we go, I thought, as I looked over at the snarky captain of the I-Robot fleet. He headed my way. He proceeded to peel off the greasy sticker wedged into the side of the packaging, then scanned it without a word and began to walk away.
Before he walked away I picked up my bell pepper and told him I wasn’t sure how to scan vegetables. (I know …. “Help me, I’m poor.” comes to mind from the Bridesmaid movie. But I did not have the time to flip through the operations manual). He silently pointed to the tiny sticker with the itsy bitsy, tiny, microscopic (did I say they were small?) numbers on the side of the pepper. ’Seriously?’ I chuckled in a creepy way and said, ”Whaaoooh … There is not a chance that I can even read that without my glasses.’ He briskly punched through fifteen screens and found a category to enter the peppers, without another word.
At this point I couldn’t help myself and explained to him that this is precisely why I dread coming to this store, because it is never staffed with enough checkers. I was confused in thinking he might show some concern and maybe call more checkers up front. Nope, he simply pranced back to his command post with full smirkitude in tact. I tried to picture my happy place but I may have gotten light-headed at this point; the rage was coming on.
I had five more items and eight minutes to pick up my son. I looked to my right and saw the insanely long line of angry, equally hostile looking customers waiting for a self-check-out station. I knew they were waiting for me to surrender or pass out so they could brush me aside and use my self-check-out station to quicken their own escapes. I thought about aborting the entire mission, but I had so much time invested at this point and I could almost see the end.
“BEEP.” ”BLIP.” ”BEEP.”
The last item was a greeting card. ”BEEP.” Suddenly I-Robot started demanding, ‘PLEASE PLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA.’ I had already placed it in the bag but she did not believe me. I took it out and tried again, attempting to please her. Her rampage continued; she was calling me out like I was stealing the greeting card. ”PLEASE PLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA.’ ’PLEASE PLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA.’ ’PLEASE PLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA.’ My chest was tight as my flight instinct kicked into gear.
Just as I started to black out, I-Robot began her refrain ”PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE.’ ‘ PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE.” PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE.’ Oh my god, not the snarky I-Robot captain, I’ll lose it.
At that moment, I lost all self-control and cursed at the machine loudly and crudely. Since that would definitely help matters and certainly prove a point. I-Robot was not amused, nor was the line of survival-of-the-self-check-out- fittest behind me. Suddenly I felt like the character in the movie Friends with Money played by Frances McDermand who yells at an Old Navy employee for helping a person who cut in line and stomps out of the store only to break her nose on the glass door. (Rent it if you haven’t seen it.)
My head hung low as my blood pressure spiked, but I pressed on. Snarky self check-out captain pranced over and reset the machine and stepped back up his two plastic steps to stand guard at his command perch. Thank god this ordeal was almost over. I frantically pressed any button I could find to facilitate my payment and escape.
As I broke through the doors and into the parking lot the sunlight stung my eyes and I gasped for air. I had made it out. I looked down to find that the sticky fruit-tart juice had spilled all down my favorite winter boots. And I felt confident that the baked chicken juice was ready to douse the cargo area of my car in an equally awesome kind of way.
Will I return to this Safeway, you ask? Probably.
Why, you ask? It’s close-by and I am a glutton for punishment.
Am I surprised that in a recent American Consumer Satisfaction Index study Safeway ranks among the very lowest of retailers and the brand has under-performed in customer satisfaction every year for the past 10 years?
Will I complain? I already submitted a complaint through the corporate website.
Will that save anyone from a black out rage with sticky boots in the future?
Do I realize that my age may have something to do with my aversion to self-check out lanes and the statistics back that up to a certain degree?
Yes, but I’m guessing I spend way more on groceries than those under age 35. So there.
Have you ever lost your mind at a self-checkout station?