An Open Letter to My Customers, or a Rant in Three Parts

Dear Customers:

To the 99% of you who are pleasant, prepared, and flexible I send my deepest gratitude. At Fred’s, we have a customer service concept involving Swans and Ugly Ducklings; a Swan is a compliment, an Ugly Duckling a complaint (just FYI). Sometimes, I wish I could send in Swans for the customers who have their ID ready when writing checks, know to check SKUs to verify prices, etc. You are among the factors that kept me from hunting up a sledgehammer at some point during this past year. I really will miss you 99%-ers. To the other 1%… … … What is your malfunction?

The squeaky wheel might indeed get the grease, but the wheel that constantly makes a god-awful screeching sound gets pulled off and replaced. So it goes with complainers.  We don’t mind (much) when you complain that we don’t have a particular item in stock or don’t have it at all, but immediately demanding to see the manager only to ask her if we can order an obscure product for you will get you nothing but apologies and some barely masked eye-rolling. Yes, I’m very sorry we don’t have forty-pound bags of the lamb & rice dog food; I’m sorry to hear that it’s the only food your dog will ever eat and if you don’t find some soon poor Poochie-Woochie will starve. We still can’t order it for you. Corporate does all the store’s ordering, with only cursory attention paid to what managers have actually asked for each week. Sometimes my manager will request an item two or three weeks in a row and not get it. C’est la vie, peeps.

Same deal with pricing. Corporate sets prices, corporate makes us change them. Our printer is going through a Satan’s Spawn phase, which means it likes to print multiples of some labels and completely omit others. This means that we’re constantly relabeling and adjusting. If there’s no price on a product, wait an hour and chances are we’ll be along with its label. If you absolutely must know right now how much that set of tumblers is, bring it to a cashier and he or she will happily drop everything to price it for you. That said, complaining about a price won’t magically lower it…even if the item is in the clearance section. Corporate also sets the discounts, and it can be days—weeks, even—before we get the clearance price on an item, and the difference may not be very steep if the item only came on clearance a few days ago. Snarking, “That’s not clearance!” when a $16.99 item rings up $12.00 won’t change anything. Trust me.

Oh, and Fred’s, Inc. has rules. This means that you can’t just exchange a DVD and three two-liters for the shoes you want to return. An ” even exchange” is trading one item for its exact SKU match, not towels for a too-small shirt—or even one $9.99 item for another $9.99 item. To keep the store’s inventory straight, policy states that customers must fill out a return slip (you can refuse to write certain information, like address or phone number) and provide a driver’s license if the receipt’s MIA and it’s not an even exchange. Without a receipt or a driver’s license, I can’t process your return. Period.

In sum:

  • Telling me an item is $3.49 does not help. I need its SKU (basically, its inventory number) or its UPC to ring the item up for you to purchase. Without those, we’re both S.O.L.
  • Complaining and carrying on to the point that the customer behind you in line says, “Well, thank God!” when you swear never to set foot in Fred’s again—when you’re still in earshot—should be a major hint.
  • The system doesn’t store your driver’s license number. This means that I need to see your license every time you write a check. Every. Single. Time.
  • When I ask you for ID before a cigarette purchase, I mean it. I realize that you look older than 27. I realize that no other place in town bothers to card you. I have to; my managers tell each new employee that not carding results in instant dismissal—another cashier is called in to finish the shift instead. I need my job more than you need your cancer sticks. Your letter to the editor, no matter how scathing and witty, won’t get me my job back.
  • I can’t use your mom’s/wife’s/friend’s ID to sell you cigarettes. See above, about my job v. your cigarettes.
  • It’s much easier to get your $20 cash back changed into tens, fives and ones if you tell me before I close my drawer.
  • I can’t spontaneously open my drawer to give you change. I have to call a manager to open it for me with a key.
  • I can’t void an item off your ticket without a key turn. If you decide you don’t want an item after I’ve priced it and you’ve hemmed/hawed, we’ll both have to wait for a manager to walk the whole length of the store to void the item.
  • The only reason some of you are still among the living is that I’m currently unable to physically manifest the mental Uzi that blew you into a smoking crater in front of my register.

Signed (but not sincerely, since I’m never sincere when aggravated),

A Soon-to-be Former Fred’s Cashier


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