When it goes wrong at the checkout counter

This is one thing I study every time, because there are many things that can go wrong when you check out. After checking my receipts, I have found that in general, about one in every six has a mistake that is the store’s fault, not mine. Sometimes I can see it happening while the cashier is ringing me out, sometimes I don’t catch it until after I’m back in the car.

If there are people waiting in line behind me, and I catch a mistake while the cashier is ringing me out, I might point it out if it is something simple – such as, at Bi-Lo, they have “Hot Price” stick-on coupons on the items they are clearing out. The cashier is supposed to tear those off and scan the coupon right then. VERY OFTEN they miss these, so I try to group my “hot price” items together on the belt at the very end of the transaction so I can watch them. If you have them scattered on the belt, you’re going to have to watch everything, and it’s just easier to group things that are alike together so you can be sure you get the right discounts.

If there is a mistake such as a price ringing up incorrectly, I’ll point it out if there is no one behind me, because when they have to fix a price problem, it can take a little while. Someone – the cashier or someone they ask – has to go to the shelf and match the item and verify the price, then come back to the register and fix it. If there are people in line behind me, I make a note of what I need to fix, and I wait until after I ring out, go to Customer Service, and have them fix it.

Cashiers at any given store, in any particular shift, have all been trained differently and may not understand the policies of the store. With that in mind, it is usually of no use to argue with a cashier about coupons, discounts, or anything else like that. It is something that I didn’t understand at first and made a few mistakes that cost me money, but I get it now. If you are certain you understand the usage of a coupon or discount, yet it does not ring up the way you expect, it won’t hurt to just ask the cashier “Is that coupon supposed to double?” or “Wasn’t this one supposed to be buy one, get one free?” or whatever. Just ask politely. It is possible that the cashier missed something or is supposed to type in a code or something to fix a coupon or discount. If they refuse or don’t understand what you are asking, be nice, smile, say “That’s okay, I don’t want to hold up the line, I’ll just ask at customer service.” Just let them finish, make a note (you ARE keeping a notebook and pen with you, or at least your list) and get it fixed at Customer Service.

I’ll give you one quick example … Ingles. Their coupon policy, which is posted at every store, plus I believe it is on their website, says that for every $10 in groceries you buy, they will double 3 coupons up to $0.50 each. Seems simple enough. Yet somehow, I have been to different Ingles at different times of the day and seen different cashiers, and I have seen it done differently every single time. I have asked questions, I have had this explained to me over and over, yet it NEVER rings out the same way twice. Some cashiers will get very jumpy and defensive if you just ASK about the coupon policy, others clearly do not understand it themselves, others will tell you that means you can ONLY use three coupons per $10, whether they double or not. After losing money a few too many times at Ingles, I never go there any more, unless I am only getting a few things. I’ve actually walked away from a cart full of groceries before because a cashier once refused to ring up my coupons AT ALL. She said I was only allowed to pick three coupons … and this was for a cart full of probably $100 worth of groceries … and I made the mistake of getting in an arguement about it. She said she had been working there 40 years and had NEVER been asked to ring out more than 3 coupons, and that was all I could use, and I could pick 3 coupons and that was it. She asked the manager to come over, he was very new, and he said she knew what she was doing and he’d have to go along with her. I was so frustrated and angry, I walked away and never went back to that Ingles.

Then there are simple electronic mistakes – sometimes, the price that rings up is just plain wrong. I frequently see this on the items that they have on clearance, or that the price was just changed that day. Again, try not to hold up the checkout line to fix this. Note it, and take it to the customer service counter, they will always fix it. Some stores, like Publix, have a policy where they will give you the item for free if it rings up wrong. With that in mind, you really can only get something like that fixed if you have already rung out and paid.

There’s another level of support that I haven’t mentioned yet and that I rarely use – you can also call the customer service line at the corporate office for any given store. If it is a chain, they have a customer service number, and they can often fix things over the phone. Time is important here. You need your receipt, and if possible, wait in your car or at the front of the store, explain the problem, and how you would like it resolved. If it is something they can resolve for you, they will call inside the store and explain to the manager what to do, then you go back into the store, and they fix the problem. Of course, if it turns out that you had made the mistake and it’s all a misunderstanding, they can explain this to you over the phone also, and you won’t have to feel embarrassed about having a store manager and possibly other customers hear how you goofed up. Some stores, Rite-Aid is a good example, will not want you to go back to the store to fix the problem. I’ve caught problems many times on Rite-Aid receipts and every single time, without exception, I have been able to get it fixed by calling the 800# and they will mail me a voucher for the money difference. I have never been given an arguement, they always fix it if it is their mistake.

Short answer – trying to fix things at the cash register level can be embarrassing, whether it is your mistake or their mistake, because you will be holding up the line and stressing out the cashier. Fixing things with the customer service counter is effective almost all the time, but if you don’t get the answer you want, calling the corporate office is effective every time.

Email me if you would like a list of corporate phone numbers, I keep one in my folder with me every time I shop.

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