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Questions Customers Ask Other Customers

(Flickr photo by Uninen)

Every day it seems, I need something. So I find myself in some downtown business hunting for today’s particular need. During these exciting missions I often overhear comments customers make. Sometimes to each other, more often just to themselves. So I thought I’d put together some of my favorite questions and try to possibly provide the answers to the most common ones I hear. Let’s start with my personal favorite.

Why Don’t They Open More Check Stands??

We’ve all been there. Standing fourth or fifth in line while the “newbie” clerk is doing his or her best to dispatch people through the line as quickly as possible. This is usually the time a credit card is declined, an item has no price, or the register runs out of paper, and no one is quite sure how to reload it. Looking around the store I see multiple vacant check stands crying for an employee to open them. And this is the time that someone in line always says, to no one in particular, “Why don’t they open more check stands?”

As sure as the sun comes up in the morning, there are two hard and fast rules all customers should realize when you enter a retail establishment.

Rule One: If you are in a hurry, the check stands will be empty when you enter the store, giving you a false sense of security that you will be in and out quickly.

Rule Two: If you are in a hurry, all the other customers will decide to check out at exactly the same time, and they will do it before you find what you came in to buy, placing you at the end of the line. This explains why you were lucky enough to get a parking place so close to the store, giving you another false sense of security.

Due to intense competition, retail stores run on a very tight margin. Payroll is often a stores biggest expense next to inventory. Computers tell managers when store traffic is highest so they can schedule employees accordingly. Most well managed businesses will have a back up checker somewhere in the store doing other things that can come to your rescue. That’s normally enough to handle the small rushes that create the question in the first place.

But we, the loyal customers, sometimes throw a wrench into that prediction by shopping when we’re not supposed to – according to the computer anyway. So technically, it’s your own fault there are not more check stands open, because you are not shopping at the right time. So the next time someone says, “Why don’t they open more check stands?” – you’ll have the answer.

Why Does Every Price End In .95 or .99 Cents?

I suppose when you get right down to it, a $999,999.99 home is technically NOT a million dollar home. Montana has no sales tax. Instead of $19.99 wouldn’t the store be doing the customer a favor by pricing it at $20.00? Where did this idiocy come from?

It’s called “psychological pricing.” But it didn’t start out that way. One urban legend claims that Woolworth Stores started it. Not as a technique to increase sales but to keep employees from skimming money off the top. Woolworth discovered that if store items where always priced in even dollar increments, employees rarely had to make change and would often pocket a few bills.

Woolworth found that when employees had to manually add up prices ending in .99, .75, .95 it took longer and irritated customers. As a result, the salesperson was forced to use the cash register to add up the sale by ringing each item in, thus creating a paper record of the sale, making it much harder to skim money off the top.

Other stores followed suit in order to match prices, and the practice slowly evolved to such a point that, even though we know $19.99 is only a penny less than a twenty dollar bill, we have been conditioned, over time, to look at the numbers before the decimal point and ignore the ones following it. So, $19.00 seems much less than $20.00.

So you now have the answers to these burning questions that should greatly enhance your summer shopping experience. How does it feel to be the smartest person in your line?

Some Final Thoughts

Customers and retailers have sort of a love hate relationship in the economic process. Customers expect the best possible service at the lowest possible price. Retailers try to provide the best possible service and still be profitable. Sometimes those two philosophies lock horns and when that happens it’s usually the customer that comes up short by losing either time or money or both. The next time you’re in that checkout line, look around. Look at what’s being provided for you. How much would you be paying if every checkout were open all day long? Something to think about.

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