Post Title: Vision Impaired | On-the-Job Training as a Cashier

I’ve always been a curious, people-person. The curious part is me. The people-person comes from my dad. He loved meeting with people and shooting the breeze, whether it was his tree customers, antique car or dog lovers or a man in the doughnut shop.  But where Dad was unflappable, I am a little anxious. That comes from my mom. She wanted things to go smoothly and when they didn’t, she “flapped” like a fish on the end of a line—and so do I.

When I first started out as a cashier, I wore the store cap. That suited me fine. I needed a haircut and it drew attention away from it. But I was promptly told, “We don’t wear caps up front.” But by then, the cap had flattened my hair so I had to keep it on until my shift ended. With cap and mask combined, one customer joked, “Where is ‘Amy’ in there?” reading my name tag. The cap nearly covered my eyes and my cloth mask, the rest of my face. I guessed the cashiers were an open lot.

Early Days

My first day of ‘working alone’ turned out to be easy—as the coordinator worked alongside me! I might have radiated an unconscious ‘I’m-not-ready’ look. Or perhaps I was doing a little flapping like that fish after the first couple of transactions.

On the second day, the coordinators stayed away but must have kept a close eye on me. I didn’t even need to call. One came immediately.

On the third day, I was then ‘on my own.’ But the next day, they sent someone to be with me again, and I had a couple of people the following day at various times. Customers would also say “Oh, is this your first day?” Then I confessed, “No, it’s actually my third day.” (I had lost track).

My friend Julio, who called each evening to hear my stories, joked, “You’ll still be there six months from now saying ‘No, it’s actually my third day.’”

I hoped not! But Julio had his doubts. He wasn’t surprised when I had to initial a paper acknowledging I had made too many voids.

I protested. “The scanner is tough. You have to get the item on and off or it can double scan. And sometimes the next customer doesn’t put the bar before their order. So my current customer will say, ‘that’s not my butter or eggs … or leeks…”

“Leeks?”

I laughed. “Yes, leeks.” And the story came out. That next customer had tried to warn me by pulling the four thick-stemmed vegetables away from the register. But when he took his hand off them, and I asked him, “Yours?” my current customer responded for him. “Yes.” So I was confused. I picked up one of the leeks—they weren’t in a bag—and rang it up. “Mine,” the next customer erupted, snatching it out of my hand. “Julio, you can see why that void happened, can’t you? It wasn’t my fault.”

“Not at all.  Are there any vision-related problems going on?”

The Produce Keys

He knew there was. Even with my magnifying glass, I could not quite read the words on the fresh produce. The procedure is to go to Item Lookup and then Picture Lookup. Several rows of pictures appear with the name of the produce under each one. The cashier presses the correct picture key and then Enter. The next step is to either add a quantity or receive a weight. This brings up the price.

Tomatoes, green peppers, sweet onions, celery and cabbage are some of the most frequently purchased produce. But being new, I didn’t know where the pictures would be. Some produce appeared at the end of a row and others in a difficult-to-find position, like the third from the right in the second of four rows.

This task stressed me. Sometimes, no, most times, I went through every picture with my magnifying glass and puzzled through the names, not quite catching them. I knew I was being slow but I had to find the correct key. Every once in a while, I called the coordinator in desperation.

In trying to make decisions, on occasion, I pressed the incorrect image.

“Coordinator, Coordinator!”

A thin, nervous elderly customer piped up from his side of the register, “What’s this Napa stuff? I didn’t buy anything Napa! NAPA? What’s this? Na-pa! No, n-n-NO! No Napa!”

“Yes, it’s a … a mistake.”

“I would guess so! Take it OFF!”

I had not learned how to void produce. “I will. At … at the end.”

He glared at me. “Coordinator! Coordinator! Aisle 12. Coordinator. Aisle 12.” He projected his voice so the coordinators could hear it from their stance at the front of the store. No need for an intercom.

I wanted to sink into the floor. It was my job to call the coordinator—on the phone, politely. I imagined all the customers and cashiers craning their necks from their registers to find who had made such an error with something to do with Napa. I had never heard of Napa either. But I will never forget it.

My customer held a finger in the air, and then it turned into a wildly waving arm. It seemed like a scene from a movie and he played his part to the hilt. When the coordinator arrived, he expostulated, “Napa! She…” he pointed an accusing finger at me “rang it up wrong.”

I cringed.

The coordinator took it off. “There. It’s correct. Green cabbage,” she said sweetly.

I’m sure she knew I had suffered enough embarrassment and did not add to it.

But throughout the coming days, the same thing happened to customers with their tomatoes. I pressed a strange kind of tomato. And the sweet onion turned into a white onion. Before I was done, I had turned the produce topsy-turvy.

It seemed like the only one I knew for sure were the bananas. It’s pretty hard to miss the shape of a banana. Thank goodness!

The coordinators must have had a pow-wow about my dilemma with the produce because the Customer Service representative called me into her office to chat with me. She asked me how I felt the job was going.

“Well, pretty good—except for the produce. I just can’t quite see…”

She must have been waiting for that response because she said right away “You can memorize the code.” There is a four-number code for each produce item. But when I had mentioned this to one of the coordinators, she said, “It goes against you if you use the code.” They like you to use the picture so you don’t make a mistake.

I laughed at the irony.

“I think we can make an exception in your case,” the Customer Service Rep said, a little too quickly. “That will fine.”

Relief flooded through me—until I saw the list! It must have been four pages long.

In the end, I brought in a magnifier I had dropped in the bakery. The glass had remained whole when it came out of the case. Turns out I could use it without the handle. I’m guessing its strength was 3.5x or 4.0x, which enabled me to see the images a little better. Ironically, to date, the only code I’ve learned is the one for bananas!

Pulled the Mat from Under Me

A coordinator came to me at the start of one shift. “We’re going to have to pull that mat. I hope you don’t mind.”

Mind? 

For some reason, when I move from the register to put the bags in the carts, I trip over the mat. Well, I don’t actually fall. But the mat does cause me to stumble. Other cashiers and coordinators noticed this right away. Safety comes first at my store.

So, no, I didn’t mind.

Except when they remembered to move it after my shift started. A coordinator announced. “I’ll have to take your mat away. And turn up the volume on your scanner.”

When the customer heard that, she lifted a brow. She seemed to be mulling over possible causes.

“It’s funny,” Julio said after that story, “You can see people’s brows but not the produce.”

“Julio! I can!  That’s the way my eyes work.”

“I see…. “(pun intended, I’m sure). “And why are they turning up the scanner full volume?”

“I miss scanning some items. You know my hearing. They’re trying to help me.”

I expected Julio to start singing, “…Can you hear what I hear?” but he didn’t. Probably because he knew I couldn’t.

Life continues to be an adventure at the grocery. In fact, I have to get ready for work right now.

Tune in for more customer and cashier stories where what you see may not be what is really there …

You have read “Vision Impaired | On the Job Training as a Cashier” by Amy L. Bovaird. © December 15, 2021. All Rights Reserved.