An Open Note to Supermarkets Dictating “Personal Policy”

Dear Safeway, Albertson’s, Lucky’s, and the Like:

While I appreciate the care and service of your cashiers trying to be “personal,” of which more anon, what gives your company the right to have these clerks address me by name when I haven’t offered so much as an introduction or a handshake? That isn’t exactly personal, is it? I speak of these Super Saver Cards that clutter my wallet and the transactions that involve swiping a credit card through a machine, thereby giving your clerk several pieces of personal information (and who knows what else) with which to launch an impromptu conversation entailing some three seconds of labor? When in fact it’s quite likely I’ll never see the clerk again.

Who was the marketing wizard who decided that this breach of privacy needed to go down just after I paid a fortune in groceries, with the “Thank you, Mr. Champion” timed as I am being handed a longass receipt that resembles a slightly wider version of 1930s tickertape? Is the implied message here that you not only know who I am, but that your stores are giving me a paper noose with which to hang myself? Is this some odd homage? Am I meant to leap out of a building like those unlucky businessmen wrangling with the ironic coda to the Roaring Twenties? Is the message here that I can never win? That even if I were to bring in cash you would, by some technological marvel, figure out who I am and still salute me with the invasive words? “Thank you, Mr. Champion.”

I mention this because sometimes I have come in with cash, and I have denied the existence of my Super Saver Card. This has resulted in a mystified expression from the clerk and often considerable alarm. I am then pressured to sign up for a Super Saver Card. I decline. I am asked again. I decline again, even when I know it will save me about $2.67 in my current purchases. This has happened several times, irrespective of the length of the line. What makes the decision creepier is that the clerk actually stops sliding items across his scanner just to ask me this pivotal question, which is apparently important enough to supercede all other service. Sometimes I fear that if I do not produce the Super Saver Card, the clerk will call management. Nevertheless, I hold out. After a brief impasse, the clerk then scans the final few items, but not without slamming a can of tomato sauce hard against the slick plastic surface, as if to suggest that because I have not exercised my Super Saver Card option, I have dramatically inconvenienced him, if not caused irreparable injury to his work ethic, pride and reputation.

Who was the madman that spawned this code of deportment? And why should “Mr. Champion” and Super Saver Cards matter so much? Most businesses would be proud to recoup an additional $2.67 that I choose to give to you out of a strange combination of laziness and concern for civil liberties. But your respective stores have actually taken umbrage because your profit margin is lesser.

Or to put it another way, what the fuck?

Confused and terrified of the American shopping experience,

Edward Champion

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  1. Glad someone else is starting to get annoyed by the distinctly East-German vibe going on in today’s supermarkets. “Ver are your papers? Ve must zee your papers if you wish to buy zees canned mushrooms!”

    As if that isn’t bad enough, just try to buy something at Radio Shack without giving them your phone number.

    I also agree with you on the name thing. Though I grew up in California, I recieved training in ettiquette from my grandpa, who was originally from Oklahoma. (He also taught me how to clean pipes and mix drinks.) Needless to say, this training conflicted with the directives passed down from the customer service management for whom I’ve worked over the years.

    I remember asking one of my supervisors, “Isn’t it a little presumptuous to call someone I barely know by their Christian name?” To which they responded, “Christian name? I’m not sure what you mean.” The Mr. So-and-so thing was just as bad when they switched to that (after several customers complained about being addressed by their first names).

  2. In NH the supermarket people all ask “How ya dooin tday?” and upon departure you are instructed to, “Have a GREAT day!”

    Now I see it could be worse.

    THanks again, Edward Champion,

  3. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been in Safeway with a girlfriend and have the cashier say “Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Adorador.” If anything, I’ve recieved my good laugh for the day!

  4. A few months ago, Radio Shack made a big stink about no longer asking for one’s phone number or address. I found that heartening, but not heartening enough to go in there for a three-prong adapter and a battery club membership. Reason mag has a big article this month on the whole “more efficient marketing vs. invasion of privacy” thing. I’ve not read it, but I’m told the thrust is that we shouldn’t be afraid of this stuff. Doesn’t sound very libertarian to me…

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