As a former retail employee with years of experience manning a cash register, there’s one thing I know for certain: if you want to have a pleasant shopping experience, it’s helpful to apply the Golden Rule to your interactions with those handling your precious goods and taking your money.
Why? Well, setting aside the fact that it’s simply the nice thing to do (after all, being a cashier working long hours with a strained smile on your face is no easy feat), a little bit of kindness and consideration might actually save you some money. “Politeness gets you really far when you’re shopping,” says Mark Ellwood, author of the bestselling book Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World. If you’re nice to cashiers, says Ellwood, they can do everything from providing you with coupons that they keep right next to the register to inviting you to “pre-sale” periods, when shops offer discount prices in secret.
But that won’t happen if you annoy them. And to ensure that every interaction you have with your cashier is respectful, we’ve uncovered the phrases that you should really, really try removing from your vocabulary—and even offered some choice tips how to steer clear of shopping behaviors that might lead to you dropping an unkind phrase or two. And for more tricks of the trade, don’t miss these 18 Secrets Retailers Don’t Want You to Know.
“I have more than 12 items. Can I still come through this lane?”
The express lanes are there for a reason—to save those people only buying two items from waiting behind others with cartloads of items. But if you’re attempting to cheat the system (or are just really bad at counting), you’ll have to answer to the five other customers in line behind you who have no patience for your 22 items holding up the line. Consider your cashier annoyed. And for more relatable retail rhetoric, check out these 30 Hilarious Tweets Every Retail Worker Can Relate To.
“Are you open?”
Trust me: Few things are more annoying than a customer asking if we’re open when the sign clearly states that we are. Asking a dumb question when the answer’s in plain site, when lines are piling up? Congrats! You’ve got one really annoyed cashier.
“Do you work here?”
Again—use your context clues. Chances are if they are wearing a uniform with a name tag while walking around the perimeter of the store, they’re an employee.
However, if you find yourself at a boutique establishment where employees don’t wear a uniform, it pays off to head to the cash register to ask for help—as you limit your chances of asking a civilian for help trying on a pair of jeans. And for more annoying quirks that we’re all guilty of possessing, check out these 50 Annoying Things Everyone Does.
“You look bored!”
While cashiers may force a chuckle when they hear dad jokes like this, the reality is that they’ve likely heard the same joke 17 times that day. Simply be polite and smile, and everybody will win.
“The ad says limit of 9 grapefruits, can I buy 27 of them on three different transactions?”
While cashiers understand that customers would like to save as much money as possible on items, it can be rather tedious to separate your order into a million different transactions just so you can save every last penny. If you want to really save some dough, don’t bother your cashier, and instead check out these 23 Clever Ways Retailers Always Trick You.
“That isn’t scanning? It must be free.”
Again, not a great joke. Sure, sometimes the scanner doesn’t work and cashiers have to enter the code in manually. In fact, according to several cashiers on Reddit, this inescapable question is so prevalent and lame that it really seemed to strike a nerve.
“Declined? It must be your machine!”
No, ma’am. While saying this out loud may make you feel better about a negative bank balance or overdue credit card, it doesn’t stop the cashier with the sophisticated payment system from knowing that you’re lying.
And, even if your bank account balance is in the positive, a multitude of other factors could be barring you from making your purchase, according to the folks at Discover: Either you’ve reached your limit, your card has been flagged for suspicious activity, you’re shopping in an area where you don’t normally make purchases, or there’s been a recent hold on your account that you’re not aware of. So, any way you look at this situation, it’s not the cashier’s fault. No need to take it out on them.
“Could you give me your employee discount?”
Even if you say this in a joking manner, it’s still incredibly uncomfortable for cashiers, since they can get into a lot of trouble (even fired) for using their employee discount on friends and family—and that especially goes for complete strangers.
During my career as a retail employee, it was often policy that you could only share your employee discount with your spouse, as the company could lose a large amount of money through the inappropriate use of these discounts. It’s a fact: with this seemingly simple request you’re asking for way too much.
“I was waiting in line for 20 minutes. Can you, like, hurry up?”
Trust me: they’re being as efficient as possible.
“Oh, wait! I have exact change. Can I have my money back?”
One of the worst moments for a cashier is when a customer who has already handed over their bills to pay suddenly wants to provide exact change.
Not only are they forced to do algebra on the fly, but you’ll also be holding up the line for those customers behind you while they figure out how to proceed. Just stick with your bills and keep the change for another time—please!
“Can I go back and get something I forgot?”
While this is a perfectly acceptable practice when the store is slow, it isn’t considered so nice when there are 19 customers in line behind you who have to wait while you search the store for that one missing item. If the store is busy, just pay for your items and then go back and purchase the missing item in a separate transaction.
“But this coupon only expired a day ago…”
Even if your coupon only expired a day ago, you shouldn’t assume that the cashiers can always make an exception for you.
In an article for Tough Nickel, former retail cashier Anna Marie Bowman shared that many shoppers neglect to understand that cashiers often don’t even have the power to override expired coupons, and often aren’t allowed to based on that store’s policy. So, even if they could override the price for you, they would be putting their own job in jeopardy—something that they won’t do in order for you to save an extra dollar.
Not saying “please” and “thank you.”
Bottom line: be nice to your cashiers. If you make the effort to treat them with respect, then they will do the same for you and your products.
As Cindy Post Senning, a director at the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont—the organization that literally wrote the book on etiquette—told NPR, using these simple phrases will make this simple transaction at the grocery store much more pleasant for everyone.
“We need to articulate these principles in all our interactions. It is respectful to make requests rather than demands, to show gratitude and appreciation, to greet others, to give our complete attention, to acknowledge appreciation shown, to acknowledge and show respect for age, standing, importance,” she said. Again, treating cashiers with respect will allow them to treat you the same way.
“I swear I’m old enough to buy this.”
No matter your age, a cashier is legally required to check your ID. So, before you leave the house to purchase liquor, be sure to have your ID on your person (though you always should, really). In fact, at certain stores, like Walmart, liquor laws are so heavily enforced that employees are not even allowed to sell alcohol to those shoppers who are accompanied by anyone under the age of 21. Furthermore, the employee has the right to deny the purchase of alcohol if the situation in which it is purchased seems suspect.
As a previous Walmart manager told the KLAQ Morning Show, they could not sell alcohol to customers if “they were with someone underage who even pointed toward the alcohol or if the underage person looked like they might be planning on drinking the alcohol.” So, in short, don’t attempt to fool a retail employee—they’ll be able to see right through you. And if you’re curious about other strict rules from America’s largest retailer, check out these 30 Amazing Secrets Walmart Managers Don’t Want You to Know.
“Of course you don’t have plastic bags. What is the world coming to?”
Don’t blame the cashier for your state’s plastic policy—we can guarantee that they had literally nothing to do with it. Currently, 12 cities across the United States impose at least a fee for those customers who would rather pick plastic over paper, so at least be aware of your city’s policy in order to prevent a holier-than-thou interaction from occurring.
Talking on the phone the entire time.
According to psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., talking on your cell phone during an interaction with your cashier is a bad move that can make you appear isolated, coming off as though you don’t consider him or her to be worthy of your attention. In other words: rude.
“I know that you’re closed, but can you still ring me out?”
If you walk into the store knowing that it closes soon, piling your shopping cart full of merchandise is not a way to befriend the cashiers who have to stay longer to check you out. As the Redditors on the aforementioned thread attested to, attempting to stock up on items after a store has already closed only puts unneeded pressure on the closing staff, who won’t be too happy to spend extra time ringing your items up when they could have already been on their way home.
“I just printed this 100-dollar bill this morning!”
Sure, it may be just an innocent joke, but, according to the United States Department of Treasury, there are currently an estimated $70 million in counterfeit bills in circulation—and, if you’ve got a particularly touchy cashier, they’ll reject your money.
“Over there it said it was $10, not $15.”
Even if what you’re saying is correct, you still might want to check the expiration dates on the sales to ensure that they’re still in effect. While the cashier will most likely be happy to change the price for you, it always pays (literally) to check the expiration dates on the sales tags.
“They sell this at [other store] for $5 cheaper.”
Most cashiers can do nothing about this.
“What do you mean I can’t return this item without a receipt?”
At most stores, you can return items without a receipt and receive store credit. But before you return your items, educate yourself on the store’s return policy to avoid creating a headache for yourself and the store’s employees. As a former retail employee, I can attest to the fact that most stores cannot alter their return policies for shoppers. Breaking the rule could threaten the cashier’s position at the company.
“You better not charge my card twice.”
Swiping your card twice will not charge your card an extra time—especially since they asked you to swipe (or, rather, insert) your card again because it did not work the first time.
In fact, if your card is denied on the first try, it could be the result of a number of issues with the card, like unknowingly spending past your set limit or failing to swap out your expired card for a new one, according to the Clarion Ledger. And, in most cases, swiping your card a second time is only required when your first try was declined—meaning that you can’t be charged twice. Simply put, the cashiers are not trying to steal your money.
“I left my wallet in my car.”
Then go get it, friend!
“Could you bag it this way?”
Remember: cashiers are professionals. Many stores—like Whole Foods Market, for example—actually train their employees on best bagging techniques. Let them do their job. And for more ways to make the most of any retail experience, steal these 25 Genius Ways to Be Much Savvier Shopper.
“I only have change.”
You’re paying for an item worth ten bucks with… quarters and dimes? C’mon, really?
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