HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
December 18, 2006, Herald Journal

The joy of shopping

By IVAN RACONTEUR

Shopping can be a wonderful experience. That does not mean that it always is.

One of the problems with shopping is that one usually has to deal with other people.

This can lead to all sorts of unpleasantness, especially at this time of year, when stores are crowded with stressed-out zombies who have left their Christmas shopping too late, and are in a mad rush to get it finished.

Don’t misunderstand me. I actually enjoy shopping. What I don’t enjoy is dealing with the clueless individuals who are unskilled in the art of shopping.

If everyone used some common sense while shopping, things would go much more smoothly. The problem is, common sense just isn’t that common.

For example, there is the traffic problem. I don’t mean the traffic in the street or parking lot, I mean the traffic within the stores.

Sometimes, it starts the moment one enters the store.

There are those who come to a halt as soon as they walk through the door. They block all traffic behind them as they try to sort themselves out. It does not occur to them that it might be better to step to one side and let others pass.

The problem does not stop at the entrance.

The layout of most stores is pretty simple. The merchandise is arranged on shelves or stacks along a series of aisles. One navigates the aisles to find the things one wants.

Unfortunately, some people cannot grasp this concept. They park themselves in the middle of the aisle and stare into space, presumably waiting for divine inspiration, effectively blocking traffic in both directions.

There are a couple of lovely variations on this theme that always make my day.

The first is the family outing. This happens when an entire family group, including parents, kids, grandparents, maybe an aunt or uncle, and perhaps even a few neighbor kids, head out for a day of shopping.

These people are intent on making the most of the experience, and they take their time analyzing each purchase, and studying each new item they discover.

Unfortunately, they have never heard of traveling single-file, and the whole group inevitably fans out to block traffic. They meander along, like a stream in August, taking no notice of the passage of time, or the crowd of other shoppers building up behind them.

The second variation is a fairly new phenomenon. Someone somewhere had the bright idea that kids should have their own shopping carts.

The concept is simple. The managers believe that the longer they can keep shoppers in their stores, the greater the sales will be.

Kid carts are a wonderful tool for preventing people from getting through stores quickly. They act as movable speed bumps, and reduce progress to a snail’s pace.

For those parents that aren’t able to get the whole family together to block store aisles, there are now ridiculously large carts made of brightly-colored plastic that are available in a variety of absurd shapes, such as cars or planes. They are built to exacting specifications to make it impossible to get around them once a kid pilots them into a narrow aisle. In this way, it is possible to impede traffic without needing to recruit 10 family members to help.

Some stores don’t have the big plastic models, but have settled instead for kid-sized versions of their regular carts. These can be just as effective if each kid gets his own cart, and they are deployed side by side along the parent’s flanks.

Another joy of shopping is the result of parents who let their kids run wild in public places.

Left to their own devices, they run screaming down the aisles, pulling things off of shelves and throwing them on the floor. Either the parents are completely oblivious, or they think it is somehow cute that their little angels are potentially damaging the goods, creating hazards for other shoppers, or at the very least, creating a lot of work for employees.

Some might argue that the employees are paid to clean up after customers, but anyone who has worked in retail can testify to the fact that they are not paid enough to have to clean up after slobs who deliberately trash the joint.

To be fair, kids are not the only ones who taint the shopping experience.

For example, there are the people who show up at the store five minutes before closing time, and expect to take all night to do their shopping.

They believe that, since they entered the store before closing time, they are entitled to take as long as they want to make their purchases. These people often become indignant when management asks them to move along because the store is closing.

Apparently these shoppers are convinced that rules do not apply to them, and others should accommodate their schedule, however unreasonable this may be.

Another example is the people who change their mind about an item, but instead of putting the item back where it belongs, or giving it to an employee so that it can be returned to stock, they hide it in another part of the store.

This is never a good thing, but when the item in question is perishable, the store is forced to throw it away, and the cost of this senseless waste is passed on to other customers through higher prices.

Eventually, one manages to run the gauntlet of aisle-blockers and sees freedom ahead at the front of the store, but the ordeal may not be over.

One still has to get past two more obstacles, the chatty cashier and the slow payer.

Friendly service is a wonderful thing. But, when a cashier stands chatting with a friend, pausing five minutes between scanning items in order to prolong the conversation, and ignoring the other customers who are waiting, this becomes a problem.

One is tempted to ask them to exchange phone numbers so they can catch up on their own time.

Invariably, the chatty cashier is coupled with the slow payer.

Slow payers are the people who wait until the cashier has rung up the entire order and given them the total, before they begin to look for their purse.

They act almost surprised that this is the next step, as if they had never been shopping before.

They take their time, first digging out a stack of coupons, half of which are expired. They haggle over the other half with the cashier, who then has to go back and check to see that the corresponding items were purchased.

The customer will then begin to look for a method of payment.

Sometimes, they will write a check. First they must find their checkbook. Then, slowly, they will find the right page. Next, they will have to find a pen before they begin slowly and meticulously writing the check.

Generally, they will have to ask the clerk to repeat the total about three times, and ask for the date twice, because they keep taking breaks to chat.

If they don’t write a check, they will pay cash. They seem to spend hours scrounging around in their coin purse to find the exact change. Some of the coins have not seen daylight in an awfully long time.

They cannot be rushed, and any distraction will cause them to lose their place, and they will have to start over.

Sometimes, it gets so bad that one is tempted to step in and pay for the person’s order, just to get them out of the way, so one might eventually get out of the store.

There is no doubt that dealing with incompetent shoppers makes shopping one of the true joys of the holiday season.