The Seeker

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A 21" Receipt

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I may never understand how the world of retail works. I’m not saddened by that thought– I have very little idea how the worlds of business and finance work and am still a pretty happy person. But retail, at least I’ve worked in that world. I count 4 summers of shelf-stocking from age 17-21 as some of the worst, stupidest, thankless, meaningless work I’ve ever done. It started badly, too, at a brand-new K-Mart in my hometown where I worked 21 years ago. Part of me is still mad about how horrible the experience was. And still, I don’t understand how the world of retail works and how some stores even stay open.
Maybe that anger from my K-Mart experience in the summer of 1988 was working on me at some subconscious level Tuesday when I stopped by the Super K-Mart in Round Lake to buy a bag of flour. First, Super K-Mart is a misnomer. There’s not much Super about the K-Mart corporation, other than the level of ignorance of K-Mart suits who once decided to place 2 Super K-Marts within 5 miles of each other near where I lived in Mt. Prospect, IL. One of stores closed a year after I arrived, but not after I experienced an episode around the holidays in 1999 that has come to define what K-Mart is to me as a consumer. I was there to buy my girlfriend what she most wanted for Christmas: a GameBoy. I was in line behind about 7 people. It was 5 o’clock on a weekday afternoon in the thick of the shopping season, and none of us in line seemed in a good mood. 3 people stacked up behind me as soon as I queued. There was but one register open, and the cashier at one point called “Price check, Snickers… Price check, Snickers.” I’ve never been so close to a possible mob action in my adult life as I was then. The K-Mart corporation hit the skids shortly after that, and that store in particular was closed. I thought about that GameBoy episode every time I drove past that pit of despair for two years and how much money was pissed away because of poor planning, market oversaturation, poor employee training, and whatever other idiocy went into the K-Mart collapse.

It doesn’t seem K-Mart has learned too much in the last ten years, even though they’ve been bought out by Sears since then. I walked past one of the stockboys yesterday in the parking lot (we were known as “01s” when I was thanking people for shopping at the particular K-Mart where I worked). He was barely out of the store and already had his iPod blaring loud enough for me to hear what was coming through his headphones as he prepared to gather carts. I didn’t know which was more ignorant: rending yourself deaf to traffic in a busy parking lot (especially when cars are driving all over at every oblique angle imaginable), or not enforcing some sort of store policy against rendering yourself deaf in a busy parking lot while executing store duties.

To the right of the front doors, around a small corner and behind a concrete pillar, several younger employees were puffing on cigarettes. One had untucked his regulation K-Mart shirt; the wrinkly lower half hung almost to his knees. Collectively, they looked sullen and angry. I was thankful I wouldn’t need help from any of them as I was shopping for my one item. Their disposition would have been unpleasant enough; the stink of cigarettes would have made things unbearable. And I wondered if they were even of age to smoke.

I quickly found the bag of flour I was looking for and headed to the checkout lanes. There were 4 open, including the nearest express lane. Each lane was at least 4 customers deep, and I had no sooner settled in my spot (again, about 7 people back) than I heard a woman 3 lanes over lament what seems to be the perpetual situation at the Round Lake Super K-Mart: “This place is always like this. They don’t never open up more lanes. I swear I don’t know why I shop here.”

I stood for 4 minutes without moving. The man at the front of the line was counting pennies, and the cashier appeared to be ringing and reringing items and counting change. There were audible sighs from people who had been standing too long in what was supposed to be the fastest check-out lane in the store. The man in front of me was examining the ingredients of an energy drink, and I quipped that I should probably just shoplift this bag of flour, the logic being that I’d be out of jail in the same amount of time I’d be through this line. There were still 6 people in front of me.

Half-way through the line (3 minutes later), the 01 from the parking lot burst through the front door with a rolling stack of carts. It appeared that he had been on the asphalt long enough to pick up a sunburn, and he was sweating enough for me to see perspiration marks on his shirt.

I finally made it to the front of the line. By that time, I had picked a Thingamajig off the candy gauntlet you have to run before you reach the cashier (it struck me as curious that when I read the ingredients on the label that Thingamajig was almost identical to Whatchamacallit and both were Hershey’s products, but hey– maybe some of K-Mart’s executive twits were hired by Hershey’s to do their marketing and product development). So I had two items for purchase; a total of $4.25. I handed over a $10 bill, got my change, and then had to wait for the longest receipt I have ever received in my life to snake its way out of the cash register. I even thought that very thing: Jesus Christ, this has to be the longest receipt I’ve ever received in my life. I estimated that it was two feet long. It seemed long enough to rival the paperwork I signed for the condo I bought 3 years ago. Hell, I’ve bought used cars that had less paperwork than that bag of flour and Whatchamacallit knock-off.

Why the hell would I need 2 feet of receipt? What was so important about my two items that I needed the retail version of War and Peace in my plastic bag as I walked to my car? The actual length of the receipt was 21″. I measured it when I got home.

The first 7″ detail the K-Mart location, my purchase, the receipt number, and a reminder of how long I have to return my items. The last 7″ of the receipt are a coupon for 3 free 70-count themebooks. The coupon is followed by a 170-word paragraph about the terms and limitation of the purchase, should I decide I need those 3 free 70-count themebooks (it turns out I don’t). Who reads that crap, and why does it need to be printed on the receipt when it can be posted in the store and online? And who understands all that? The thing was written at an 8th grade reading level (most newspapers are at the 5th grade level). Why does K-Mart need to waste so much per customer? I’m curious about the cost of the receipt per customer and how much K-Mart is again pissing away. And I only bought 2 items!

But here’s where it gets ridiculous: The 7″ between the details of my purchase and the coupon remind me that “the bluelight is back this Saturday!” (I’ve already cleared my calendar and can’t wait to gobble up the bargains… hopefully those will include bulk-quantities of Thingamajig). They did a fine job of wasting ink on the receipt, too, by printing out 7 thick stripes of black ink, minus the white areas where the special message in printed, for a white-on-black effect. Below the special announcement, I am being urged to log-on to to fill out a survey about my experience. I do, hoping that I can get answers to some of my questions.

The first question of the survey asked me how satisfied I was with my experience. I rated it a 3 out of 10. I gave the same rating for how likely I am to shop there again in the next 6 months and how likely I am to recommend it to a friend. Truthfully, I hardly ever shop there anyhow because it’s nowhere near my condo, only near a Panera I sometimes go to when I’m writing. But they don’t ask about that.

They ask me to check any amount of 18 reasons for my dissatisfaction with my experience. The first two were ringers: “Check out handled in an efficient manner,” and “Amount of time you had to wait in line to check out.” It strikes me that the first statement should say “inefficient” instead of “effecient” since most people don’t get pissed about efficiency. But maybe the survey designers were distracted by the striking similarities between Thingamajig and Whatchamacallit.

I rated the store highly in other areas, like cleanliness and product availability, but not in cashier efficiency. Later on, they asked me if I shopped in the grocery section. It seems they wouldn’t have to ask that since I entered my receipt number and they can likely see exactly what I purchased. I checked “yes” regardless.

I finally signed off by leaving my phone number so they can contact me (they promised to do so within 48 hours).

To be continued…

Written by seeker70

August 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm

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