Tips From A Grocery Store Employee
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Tips From A Grocery Store Employee

I can look in the back, but more likely than not what you want is not back there.

Tips From A Grocery Store Employee

For those of you who do not know, I work for a grocery store as a clerk. With my job, I handle the majority of the items that can be found in what is considered the "center of the store" — in other words, the aisles you walk up and down. I have also spent my fair share of days packing out product in the dairy and frozen department. So bottom-line, I have a pretty good sense of what is going on throughout a majority of my store for the over two-and-a-half years I have been there.

Working in a grocery store really changes the way you look at one when you have to go shopping elsewhere. I find myself critiquing displays and ends at other stores when I need to make a quick stop at the store that is five minutes from my house. I shake my head when I see an insane amount of air space between shelf in product for all of a store's ends. I question why a certain shipper (those annoying displays in each aisle that you have no doubt knocked over at least once) is where it is.

Along with this newfound perspective on grocery stores, I have an abundance of stories. Combined with this knowledge and these stories, I would like to share a few tips with the likes of those who have never had the experience of working as a grocery store clerk.

"Where is the beer?"

I get this question every few weeks. So let's make this clear — grocery stores in New Jersey do not sell alcohol. You are going to have to go to a liquor store to buy your beer, wine, tequila or whatever adult beverage you are looking for.

No, we are not hiding it all in the back. No, I am not lying to you. We do not sell it. It is as simple as it sounds. So next time you are looking to have an adult beverage at home, the grocery store is not going to help (in New Jersey at least).

"Can you get that from the back for me?"

Customers often think of the backroom as this magical place that has every item known to mankind. I am sorry to break the bad news to you, it is not all that magical. It is also not a warehouse, so not everything is back there.

As a matter of fact, more things are not back there compared to those that are. If it is a sale item, your odds are greatly increased. Most of the products in the back are items that are on sale. If the shelf is currently empty for a sale item, it certainly does not hurt to ask. There is also a possibility that said item is on an end or a display somewhere in the store as well.

Now let me walk you through an item that is not on sale. You are going to the store and are looking to pick up a box of your favorite cereal that is not on sale. When you arrive, you see the shelf is empty. Now you can ask an employee if you wish, but odds are there will not be any in the back. I will gladly go look for you, but I am going to the back with a pretty good idea it is not going to be there.

Most likely it will be arriving on the next grocery truck, whether that be later that day or the next day. So now that you know it is out of stock, the right question is when is the next delivery. If there is a delivery that day, the product should be on the shelf by the next day as long as the count is correct in the system and it was ordered.

Then there is the scenario where the truck is in for that day already. There is a decent chance that product you are looking for will be on one of the pallets that are now in the backroom. These pallets have a common theme to them every day, so I can pretty easily identify one or two pallets that it could be on. But I cannot just magically locate it, unless it is on the outside. In this scenario I will tell you our truck is in, but I will need to search to find it, and even with that, I cannot guarantee it is there. So you can wait if you want to, but it will be easier for both of us if you just come back the next day or day after.

"The prices here are so high."

If I had a dollar for every time I had someone say to me, "This place is so expensive" or, "These prices are ridiculous," I would not have to work. I am sorry you do not like the prices. I do not make them. That is a corporate decision. I am just there to fill the shelves.

So if you think complaining about the prices to me will get me to magically lower them, I am sorry, but you are out of luck. I do not have that authority. I am just a college kid who is trying to help make your experience shopping a little easier. But that does not include the ability to snap my fingers and have the price of cookies drop by two dollars.

"Is (Insert product name here) any good?"

Just because I work at a grocery store, it does not mean I have tried every single product that we sell. So I could not give you an honest answer as to which tire wipes are right for your car. Or if the purple Swiffer wet jet liquid is any better than the orange one. Fun fact: I got asked both of those questions within ten minutes of each other without even leaving the aisle I was in.

So if you have a question about a product, I recommend researching it before you get there. If you have a question about how something tastes, preface your question with "Have you ever tried this before?". That way I can give you an honest response on if I have or not. This avoids the awkward pause that consists of me deciding if I should just tell you I am not sure because I have never used/tried the product or if I should have a little fun and make the product sound like the best thing on earth despite never using it before. Another fun fact: I have never actually done the second one, but it gets more tempting each time I am put in that situation.

"The sale is 5 for $10. Do I have to buy 5?"

Another popular question. While I cannot speak for every store, I can speak for Stop and Shop. If the sales tag does not specify "Must buy (insert amount)," there is a good chance you only need to buy one. So just take a good look at the tag with the sale price. If it specifies you must buy all five, then yes, you obviously do. But more often than not, it does not say that and you are fine buying just one.

"Oops, I knocked over that display. I guess I'll just pretend nothing happened."

Those annoying displays in the aisles and around the store are known as shippers, and we hate them just as much as you do. So if you knock one over, or any kind of display, I only ask one favor. Just tell an employee. I do not expect you to pick it up, but do not just walk away, especially if there is broken glass involved.

Think about yourself at your place of work. Would you like someone to come and mess something up and not tell you? This leads to you coming upon the disaster without any warning. A heads-up is a nice gesture, and it will allow for the mess to be cleaned up faster.

I tend to remember customers who give me a heads-up. If I see that customer in the future, I will go the extra yard in helping them if they have a question. So it will benefit both of us in the long run.

Do not be the person who knocks over a table of delicious cookie buckets, only to leave the cookies all over the floor, as well as the table laying on its side without informing anyone. Not only is it a waste of good cookies, but it is leaving a mess for all the other shoppers until an employee comes across it (like myself and former fellow employee Doug, encountered above).

"Where is the bathroom?"

For whatever reason, customers like to assume the bathroom is in the backroom. You would be surprised how many people just walk into the back and look around all confused. That confused look that comes after countless turns of the head is often followed by, "Where is the bathroom?"

Let's start by saying, it is certainly not back here. There is a sign outside the door that says "Associates only beyond this point." No, we are not hiding the bathroom from you. It is in the front of the store around the corner of the little cafe area—a place that every customer has access to. It is most certainly not in the area of the store that is only for the associates.

"Can you tell me about the pork chops?"

No, I cannot. Why, you ask? Simple—I do not work in the meat department. I also do not know anything about the produce. Or the seafood. Or the bakery. I work in grocery, and I will gladly answer any question related to the many things I deal with.

So many people just figure employees at a grocery store know everything about everything in the store. But if you want the best possible answer, ask a person who is working with what you are interested in. If you cannot find someone in that department, go to customer service and they can page whoever can give the best answer.

If you need help with apples or corn, look for someone packing out fruits or vegetables. If you need to know about pork or beef, someone with a white coat or packing out some meat is your best bet. Need to know what aisle breadcrumbs are in, look up and down the aisles for someone packing stuff out.

A cashier standing around is not the best bet to ask. It is not their fault—they do not deal with the product much besides checking you out or blocking a section. So if you need to know where the string cheese is, find the dairy section and look for the person packing things out. He/she should be able to give you the best possible answer.

"Oh, these employees are all in my way."

One time I was working in the frozen department, and I parked my U-boat (the thing I use to bring all the product out on the floor) in the middle of the aisle so I was not blocking any of the freezer doors. This allows for the most flexibility for moving around for both me and the customers for this given aisle. My point being, I park my boat in the best possible spot to try and stay out of people's way. I left the aisle for a minute and came back. As I walk back I hear the customer in front of me say, "I hate when they park their carts in the middle of the aisle." Her husband then followed up with, "Why? It is not in the way at all." Thank you, sir! That is my goal.

If you think we are in your way all the time, just know it is a two-way street. There is nothing worse than going down an aisle to pack something out in a particular area of the aisle only to have a customer stand there for over 10 minutes reading every single ingredient only to not buy it. It happens more than you would think. My point, be mindful of your surroundings. If you are going to be standing in the same place for a good amount of time just make sure no employees are packing things out in the aisle. If you annoy us, we may not be as helpful when you have a question and you will likely be the topic of conversation in the backroom.

"You should carry this product, it is the best. Why don't you carry it?"

Like I mentioned earlier, I am just a college kid who is here to pack things out. I have no say as to what we carry. So feel free to rave about your favorite product that we do not sell. Maybe it will be a suggestion I can take advantage of, but it is not going to make the product appear on our shelves. I do not have that much pull as a part-timer, even if my bosses like me.

A manager may have enough pull to make it happen in the future, but even that is no given. So if you really want to know why we do not carry something, have customer service call for the manager. Do not think it is a guarantee, though. The only guarantee I can make is that by asking me why we do not carry said product is not going to make it appear on our shelves.

"Why are there no more Snapple six-packs and when will you get more?"

Something the average customer may not know is that store employees are not responsible for packing out every single product you see. There are countless vendors who come in to fill their products. Coke, Pepsi, Snapple and Polar are some of the big name products that are filled by vendors.

This means if we are out of a vendor product, I may not be as helpful. I am not kept up to date on the orders for these products. While I do not do any of the ordering for regular products either, I at least can give you an idea of when it should come in as long as the count is correct in the system. I do not know the delivery days for vendors, nor do I know when they do their ordering. Therefore I honestly do not know when we are getting more in. So if you come across one of these products, just know the information and answers may not come as easily as say a store brand item or box of cereal.

"Can I stop you from moving that large pallet to ask a question?"

From time to time I need to haul a large pallet of 24-pack waters across the store. These pallets are not light and can be a pain to start and stop. So if you have a question and see someone coming with one of these pallets, they may not be the best person to ask at that particular moment.

If you can ask a simple question while moving along with me, that is perfectly fine. But if you walk right in front of me and cause me to stop just to ask where the coffee is, do not expect me to offer to show you like I normally would.

If I am coming down the aisle with the pallet, parking your cart smack dab in the middle may not exactly be the best spot at the moment. If your cart is along one side of the aisle I can fit through. Do not worry, I will not knock into you or your cart if that is the case. I have plenty of experience moving those things around. All I need is the required space and you can continue on with shopping without any worries or me knocking into your cart, and I can continue on without having to stop. It is a win-win for both parties.

If you really need to ask a question, I will gladly answer it for you once I reach my final destination. So if you follow me to where I am going, I can be more helpful in whatever you need, as now I can actually offer to show you where the coffee is.

"Can you check in the back for this and then come find me?"

This is a true story from just a few weeks ago that prompted me to write this.

I am in the soda aisle and a gentleman asks me if we have any diet cherry soda. He said he usually gets a brand called Waist Watchers, and I see we are currently out of stock of that particular item. He said he would be open to any kind, however. I do a quick scan and do not see any, so I tell him I will go look for the Waist Watchers one in the back as I knew that day's truck was already in, so it may be back there. I say I will be right back, and he says, "I will be by the baked goods."

And that brings us to the moral of the story. If an employee is going to the back to check something for you, please stay in the aisle or area you asked the question. If I find the product you are looking for, I know I can get it to you if you are in the same spot. If you go wandering around, there is a chance I will not find you. If that happens, it is a lose-lose situation.

You can tell me you will be by the "baked goods," but that could mean several areas. In this situation, I assumed the customer meant the bakery. So of course after I found some diet cherry soda, I checked the soda aisle as well as the bakery. The customer was nowhere to be found. So the gentleman did not get his diet cherry soda and this entire situation was for nothing. If he had just stayed in the aisle for the minute I was gone, the result would have been different.

So there you have it, some helpful hints for the next time you go grocery shopping. I am sure anyone who works in any kind of retail business can relate to some of these on some level. At the end of the day, we both want the same thing—for you to have a good shopping experience. If you apply these tips to your next trip to Stop and Shop, Shoprite, Acme or whatever grocery store you are in, I promise you will find things a little easier on yourself and the employees.

Do you have any tips for your place of business? Tell us in the comments!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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