Thursday, March 5, 2009

Just a Question

We all realize that when most people ask us, "How are you doing?" they don't really want to know the details of your emotional ups and downs. It is a gratuitous question with only one acceptable answer - Oh, I'm fine, how about you? In fact most people don't even care to hear that you are "doing really well!" because then they feel obligated to ask you why you're doing so well and, once again, they don't care that much.

Well, low and behold, I've just stumbled upon another question that obviously has only one answer and is asked with no intent to follow through on other answers. Every time I go to the grocery store the clerk at the check out counter asks me, quite politely I thought, "Did you find everything you were looking for today?" Because I always find everything I've looked for and a dozen other items I wasn't looking for and didn't need, I've always answered a polite "yes." The clerk then smiles and says "good." Now, I'm no dummy. I know that every grocery story check out clerk in Sierra Vista doesn't just happen to be so polite that they all think to ask this courteous question. I've known all along that they are obviously required by their management to ask me if I've found everything I came into the store for. That does not shock me. What did shock me was the response I got this week when I gave an honest answer to the question.

I had gone to Fry's looking for several items but one of the main items I was on the prowl for was a bottle of Kraft sun-dried tomato vinaigrette salad dressing. I have several really good-looking recipes that call for this particular flavor of dressing and have been scouting for it for several months to no avail. I thought I'd give it one more try this week and I would have settled for any brand of such dressing. But, as usual, I didn't find anything similar to sun-dried tomato dressing. A little discouraged, because I really had my appetite set for this Bruschetta Chicken Skillet recipe, I gathered the rest of the items I needed for other recipes and headed to the check out.

As usual, the check out lady asked me if I'd found everything I was looking for. I thought just a second longer than usual and, surprising even myself, admitted that no, I had not. The lady looked at me like I had deviated from some script and simply said, "Oh." Thinking that she might give me a request form to fill out or seek a manager's help, I continued on. "I was looking for a bottle of sun-dried tomato dressing that is called for in a recipe I have," I said. She looked at me as though she wondered why I was telling her this then, after taking a few seconds to digest that I was still stuck on her question, she asked, "Well is it an old recipe you're following?" At first I couldn't figure quite why she was getting so personal with me then I realized the logic, if not also rudeness, of her question. I assured her the recipe is current and even based on this recently marketed product. Once again I got "Oh."

The woman finished ringing up my groceries at this point, handed me the receipt and a dozen coupons for things I never buy and said, "Thank you for shopping at Fry's. Have a good day." No request form, no manager, no I'm sorry, nothing. I was, quite frankly, befuddled!

So, the lesson here is that when the check out person asks if you found everything you were looking for, it is just as though they had asked "how are you today?" They don't want a truthful answer to either of those questions. Still, I was quite disappointed by this revelation because I honestly thought the woman would help me find the item I have scoured several stores for.

When I asked my son, who works at a Target, if this is normal practice where he works, he said no, but also offered a little more insight.

"It's a marketing ploy, Mom," said Daniel.

"Well, I know they ask me that question because they want me to think they care about me, but I also thought they truly wanted to know so they could help me get the product if it isn't available at the time," I replied.

Daniel shook his head and continued. "No, Mom. It's an odds game. How many times have they asked you that question in a year?"

"Probably a hundred."

"How many times did you say 'yes, I found everything.'?"

"Every time but this one," I replied.

"Ok. So ninety-nine times you've left the store thinking positive thoughts about how the cashier was so helpful and friendly. And one time you left feeling that she wasn't friendly or helpful. Ninety-nine percent of the time their marketing trick worked."

And, so folks, there you have it. That is what all that friendly banter at the check-out counter is all about. Just more marketing. And I thought they were so friendly and helpful. Nah. Just answer "fine" and "yes" to the cashier's perfunctory questions of "how are you today?" and "did you find everything you were looking for?" and you'll be fine. And, according to my son, you'll leave the store still feeling warm and fuzzy toward the store and their customer service.

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