Monday, August 23, 2010

Free For All @ Rhode Island Avenue Giant!

Since the opening of Columbia Heights' "new" Giant store a few years ago, the Brentwood Giant hasn't gotten much respect. But when it opened, it was the jewel of Northeast, the only full-service supermarket for miles around. I used to go by there now and then, if I happened to be going to Home Depot anyway. N. and I stopped by yesterday on exactly such a trip.

They've got these new self-checkout aisles there, and the configuration is a bit different than our Columbia Heights system. Instead of four self-serve terminals served by a single line, you've got four individual lanes with four individual lines. From the outset, this raised a huge red flag. As anyone knows, in the self checkout line, at least every other person either has no idea how to use the system, or has foolishly decided that they can check out an entire cart full of groceries by themselves before the store closes. Either situation can result in agonizing delays.

Either way, if you get stuck behind such a person, you might as well settle in, because it's going to be a long night. The "bank line" system at the Cohi Giant (and most other stores designed by people who posess even an iota of compassion for their customers) addresses this problem at least by ensuring that one slow person doesn't kill the whole line.

The other thing that's odd about the Brentwood system is that the self-checkout lanes resemble the baggage x-ray security lanes at an airport more than anything else. There are plastic barriers on both sides of the lane, preventing access to your groceries until the very end. I guess this had something to do with security, though I couldn't really understand what. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong.

Since all the non-self-checkout lines were enormous, we took a big gamble and got in line at one of these TSA checkouts. Someone was just finishing, and two other people were ahead of us.

The first person stared at the machine for a few moments and, in a bit of self-awareness as rarely seen by elderly, technology-impaired supermarket patrons, realized his error and recused himself. Woo hoo! One down, one to go. It looked like our gamble would pay off!

Things went downhill from there. The woman in front of us only had about 7 or 8 items, but she started by putting a half-smoked cigarette on the scanner. This was the first sign that things were about to go horribly wrong. But things just got weird from there. At a snail's pace, probably predicated by her state of inebriation as was evident from the occasional whiff I got, she scanned two items: a bottle of gatorade, and a bag of chips.

The, she took the rest of her items and non-scanned them by simply throwing them down the conveyor belt. As we watched, she bagged (in her reusable giant bag, bless her heart) enough groceries to fill the bag, including a big box of frozen chicken or something, some milk, crackers, and several other items. It was enough to fill the bag such that boxes were sticking out the top. None of this caused any alarms to be raised by the system, like the sort that we are all familiar with when the weight of the items doesn't match what has been scanned.

But rather than just pay the total of $3.05 that she had actually scanned before proceeding to leave the store with her ill-gotten gains, she sought customer assistance. Apparently because she was paying with food stamps or something. She turned to us briefly to apologize for the delay (now going on almost ten minutes) because she was waiting for the cashier.

The cashier finally came over, and in a roughly 90 seconds process, keyed in an incredibly long series of keystrokes to process our hero's transaction. Thoughout this process, I kept wondering:

What kind of person not only conducts a small-scale heist at the self-checkout, but doesn't leave well enough alone and just pay the tiny sum of money involved to avoid possible detection?

What kind of supermarket employee cares so little about their job, that they will happily conduct their manual checkout intervention without noticing or caring that someone's leaving the store with a full bag of groceries for 3 bucks?

Why didn't the woman just finish her cigarette before she went shopping?

I briefly considered getting involved, but frankly, I have been wronged by Giant enough times that I felt they had it coming to them. And by that time we were happy to finally be able to check out and any further delay just seemed unnecessary.

But seriously, Giant. If your staff don't even bother to stop a shoplifter when the shoplifter is going out of their way to involve your staff in their transaction, you've got problems.

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