by David Herman
We shop quite regularly at our local Walmart store. We try to frequent our local stores, like Grahame’s Bakery, Albert’s, B&H, Independent, Food Basics, but we do find our way to Walmart more often than I feel comfortable. The economic reality for many families on fixed incomes or limited incomes today forces bargain hunting. I do not see anything wrong with this. With all of the stores above, except Walmart, we are able to form a relationship between us and the staff, especially the checkout clerks, and, in many cases, we are on a first name basis. I like the human interaction and personal touch this adds to the transaction. This is what we have at the local stores mentioned above, and is one of the redeeming aspects of life in a small town.
At Walmart, I do not use the automated checkout, because it would remove any feeling of personal contact, and I do not work for Walmart, so why should I do my own checkout for them? Walmart trains their cashiers to push their Walmart credit card. During the after Christmas rush, a clerk in the Express line asked if my wife had a Walmart card and she said “no”. The Clerk then convinced her, somehow, to sign up. She did not think she had actually signed up, but brought home an application…wrong. She cut up the card, as she had no intention of ever using it, so we thought the issue was dead.
Later that month, the bill arrived. We were a couple days late paying it, so next month another bill arrived for .45 cents, interest. I paid that right away and thought that, as long as we never used the card (which no longer existed), that it was finally over. Later that month, we got a bill for $0.01. Yes they sent a bill for one cent. It cost a lot more than that to mail us the bill.
I went to Walmart and let them know how impressed I was that they would spend that amount of postage to collect one cent. The clerk in the Customer Support got rid of the 1¢ and told us how to get through the maze they call an automated answering system so that we could have the account deleted. There was no option that I could find to actually talk to somebody, but she told me to just keep pressing 0 and eventually they would have a live person take my call. Through this, we eventually did get the account closed.
Today, I was there to make a small purchase while picking up some medication from the Pharmacy. I have to say that dealing with the Walmart Pharmacy is a completely different experience from dealing with the store. The staff are pleasant, helpful, and most of them know us by name and we know them by name…the way it should be when you shop somewhere continuously over time. I then picked up the item from the grocery area and went to the express checkout, and I made sure I had my cash in my hand and visible to her. But still she asked if I have a Walmart credit card and if I want to apply for one? I answered “No” and then pointed out that she must recognize me and that I always say no, and that I would appreciate it if she would stop asking. She said very machine-like: “That is my job. I am just doing my job”.
I thought having human checkout clerks meant that there was a capacity to use common sense and discretion and to treat the customer with respect and to understand that No means No. I was starting to really understand how Jody Wilson Raybould felt, because the pressure to apply for their card was ongoing and inappropriate. I then went to Customer Support and was lucky to have a Supervisor of the checkout clerks at the counter. I explained my frustration and he confirmed that they did train their checkout clerks to push the Walmart credit cards.
He pointed out a chart on the back wall with the names of clerks and an ink daub for each card they had signed up. The clerk on the Express lane that I mentioned had almost a full line of ink daubs. The other two or three names only had one or two daubs. He also pointed to the four certificates on the adjoining wall with which the store had been presented for signing up the most new card holders in the region, and that that one checkout clerk was mainly responsible for those awards. He did say that he would try to tone down the aggressiveness, but, when regional staff came prowling around the store, that was one of the things they were looking for.
I am hoping that my talking with him today will have his staff show a little respect for customers who have answered NO in the past, to accept that answer as our right, and not continue to harass them. And also to use common sense: that if a customer has cash in his hand when they present their purchase, to recognize that is how they want to pay for their purchase.