Hannaford has made corporate decisions that play out in strange ways at the checkout aisle.
Having shopped for nearly half a century (and with a grandfather in the grocery business), when I’m ready to check out I put my groceries on the belt in easy bagging order. Heavy things, cans, bottles, and boxes go first, then the smaller, lighter things such as parsley or garlic. A cashier could simply scan and pop it into the bag. We worked as a team to keep things moving along.
Not too long ago, I realized cashiers were scanning and piling all groceries to the other side without bagging anything. Only after all items had been scanned would any bagging occur. It was taking almost twice as long.
The reason, ironically, turns out to be an effort by Hannaford management to be more efficient. Hannaford, according to employees I’ve spoken with, began to evaluate the time it takes each cashier to scan your groceries. Each cashier has a required number of scans per minute.
The scanning time starts with the first item and ends with the last item. If your times are too long and you are going too slowly, you’ll need to improve those numbers or face the consequences. Your work hours could be reduced, or you could find yourself out of a job.
This encourages employees to scan groceries more quickly, and in that minor goal it likely succeeds.
The problem is that while scanning speeds are probably up, the overall checkout times seem to be slowing down.
Cashiers now stand and wait until a significant number of items are on the belt before they begin. This makes sense if the clock is running. If they start scanning, but I’m slow taking things out of my basket, they would be penalized. To avoid it, they wait, even if I’m quick enough to keep up with them.
As a result, cashiers no longer bag groceries as they scan. They scan grocery items and quickly pile them near the bags. This again makes sense if you are a cashier being timed. Any time “wasted” by bagging will count against their scanning time.
Of course, this again wastes the time of the store and the customer. Rather than one fluid motion of scanning and bagging, a customer waits once while items are scanned and a second time while items are then bagged.
And helpful baggers are being phased out. Cashier job descriptions have been changed to include bagging and retrieving carts.
95 on Three
A third possible wait time is being 95’d.
Cashiers who need to scan beer or wine are not trusted to check a customer ID like employees at other businesses. Hannaford cashiers have special store rules that they must announce “95” into a microphone and broadcast to the store that a customer is buying liquor in their lane. Then the customer and cashier wait while another store employee walks over, stares at the customer, then approves the purchase.
There's really no good explanation why someone over 60 needs to be 95'd. There's barely a good explanation for why anyone over 30 needs to be. This all comes down to the store not trusting and training those they hire.
Fixing the Problems
I’m all for efficiency , but this isn’t it.
Here are my suggestions to improve things in the checkout lanes at Hannaford:
1. Stop using scanning times to evaluate cashiers. Instead, look at the time a customer spends in a checkout lane from start to finish. Looking at the just the scanning time is producing an unintended slowdown in your system.
2. Looking at the total time in lane would allow cashiers to start their work immediately and scan and bag in a single motion as before. This will save time for the store and customers.
3. Get rid of the “95” system. You need to trust the people you hire to check IDs. Stopping and announcing a purchase into a microphone is weird and probably uncomfortable for many customers, especially the majority who are over 30 and are in the store on a regular basis. Adopt a standard policy of training cashiers to check ID’s for everyone under a certain age, and fire them if they break the law. Stop penalizing clearly legally-aged, law-abiding customers for management’s lack of trust in those they hire.
4. Limit the number of managers hovering about. Often there are managers standing around near the check out lanes, chatting with one another and sometimes telling customers (with up to 40 items or half a cart) to go to the Express Checkout lanes. They are also available for the continual 95 checking. These managers could be much more useful by opening up another lane, or helping with bagging.
Hannaford could do well to concentrate less on “catching” employees and more on pleasing shoppers. This generally good store is losing focus, which is impacting customer service and probably sales. It's easier to go somewhere without hassles, even if they are small ones.