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It’s Time For A National Conversation About Grocery Store Etiquette


I had my first economics lessons in a grocery store. Growing up homeschooled, simple outings turned into school lessons, and my mom’s weekly trip to the grocery store was no different: it turned into a lesson of determining costs, saving money, conducting myself appropriately to the shoppers and store employees around me.

I learned that wearing my pajamas to the grocery store was frowned upon once I passed the toddler stage; friendly conversation with the employees working around me was encouraged; and that we couldn’t always afford the “elite” products that sat on the top shelves of many stores.

These themes were only reinforced when I grew up to work in a grocery store, and I discovered the reality of a certain etiquette specific to those stores that, when practiced while grocery shopping, maximizes the positive atmosphere for all involved. My experiences both in front of and behind the cash register have convinced me that it’s time for us to have a serious conversation about grocery store etiquette. Certain practices need to be eliminated or adjusted as soon as possible for the good of the entire grocery-shopping population.

Stop Saying ‘It Must Be Free!’ When an Item Doesn’t Scan

If you’ve ever entered a checkout line in any grocery store, you’ve most likely encountered the person who chooses to infuse humor into the otherwise frustrating event of an item failing to scan at the register. On behalf of shoppers and cashiers everywhere, I beg of you: please don’t do this.

This situation is already stressful because of its time-consuming nature and the anger building up from other customers behind you. Your attempts at lighthearted humor, while appreciated, don’t exactly speed up the process of resolving the issue. Cashiers have heard this joke thousands of times, and it only bugs us at this point.

Also, the UPC code’s failure to scan does not lead to your eventual possession of the store’s merchandise for free. Please just sympathize with the hindrance and don’t make any of us pretend to be amused at comment.

Don’t Enter the Express Lane With More Than The Number of Items Listed

We’ve all had those days of attempting to run into the grocery store for a couple of items, only to leave with a cart full of groceries and a couple of candy bars on top (I’m convinced that diets die in the checkout lines of grocery stores). This is understandable, but I have one favor to ask: please choose your checkout line based on the actual number of items in your cart, not based on your intended item count when you entered the store.

While we all appreciate your need for speed and desire to get on with your day as soon as possible, you only make shopping less pleasant for all of us by jamming your cart into the express line. Odds are that there are many more regular checkout lines than express lines, and everyone would be better off if you graced one of those lines with your purchases rather than showing them off in the express line, where your fellow shoppers have only a few items and are, with few exceptions, not amused by your massive purchases.

Please Don’t Use Your Cell Phone at Checkout

I realize it’s very difficult to abstain from some habits for any period of time, but one in particular should be outlawed from checkout lines everywhere: checking your cell phone. While I understand answering a quick text as you wait in line, it is vitally important that for the sanity of everyone involved, cell phones be concealed and out of use during the actual purchasing encounter with the cashier.

Americans check their smartphones an average of 35 times per day and combined spend more than three hours each day looking at that tiny screen, so I understand the struggle. But I promise, setting it down to say hello to the checker won’t rob you of too much excitement in those brief seconds apart. You’ll help the line continue moving efficiently and you may even—surprise!— have a pleasant human interaction.

Don’t Leave Items You Don’t Want in Random Places

Has one of your purchases ever failed to ring up at the price you saw listed on the shelf? It’s a frustrating moment for all involved, and usually occurs because someone left an item on the wrong shelf in front of the wrong price tag. I totally understand rethinking your decision to purchase those BOGO cookies and the need to get them out of sight before you change your mind again, but please, don’t leave them behind in a random spot.

I’m guilty of this one myself, because it’s much easier to leave an item in whatever spot I happen to be in at the time rather than keep it until I reach the register or return it to its original location. But to save us all from the resulting confusion of attempting to determine price in the wrong location, please just keep that item with you until you can hand it to the cashier.

Employees in many stores have an area for “go-backs,” the items customers chose not to purchase, and we have a system for returning the items to the shelves as promptly as possible. You (and I) would help everyone out if that unwanted can of soup remained in your cart until it could be passed off to the appropriate location.

Ditch the Pajamas and Exposed Lingerie, Please

I fully understand the devastating feeling that comes when you sleepily wake up to find no coffee creamer in the refrigerator, and I can even pardon the desperate trip to the grocery store that will inevitably follow in your hysteric attempt to function at the start of your day. I can understand this happening a couple of times. I can’t, however, understand it when you become a local icon because of the entertaining clothing in which you frequent the store.

When your outfits become a topic of conversation among other shoppers and employees (although we do appreciate the laughs), and some even cause parents to cover their young children’s eyes, on behalf of all of us I’d beg you to reconsider your choices before leaving the house to pick up your bread, strawberries, and candy bars. Recall that the grocery store is a public place, and your choice to wear at-home clothing forces a more personal interaction than most other shoppers desire. Prioritize other people’s comfort over your own. It’s a good rule of thumb.

You can see the best and worst of humanity all together in one place simply by entering a grocery store and taking a quick look around. Everyone is most likely represented somewhere within those four walls, and improving the environment of your local grocery store is likely to bleed out its effects to the rest of society.

The suggestions outlined here are from the perspective of someone who’s seen from both sides of the cash register, and I (along with the rest of the grocery-shopping population) would love to see small aspects altered to provide the most pleasant shopping experience possible. For the good of humanity, we’re begging you: let’s have a conversation about the grocery store etiquette in this country.