This is less a story submission, more a curious question based upon my time in retail, as to what the correct etiquette is in this situation.
I work in for a retail chain in England, and most of our stores are have between ten and fourteen tills available. Customers join one queue, and when they reach the front, they are called down to the next open till and it flashes up a number and an arrow to point them along the way. So far, so simple.
My question is regarding correct etiquette for pairs of people queuing. To explain my query better, I will offer an example from last Saturday. I happened to be serving on till number eleven that day – the first customer is the queue will be level with till number three. I have pressed the buzzer to call down a customer to my till, and two women have begun to walk down to me. When they are level with about till number nine, the customer at till number seven walked away, and the lady operating that till hit her buzzer to call down a customer – a gentleman left the front of the till to approach her.
At this point, one of the two women who had been approaching me broke away, saying to her friend ‘Oh, it will be quicker if I just go here’, and her friend came down to me to be served – however, the gentleman also arrived at this point, and was put out to find that he’d been called to a till that was already occupied. The member of staff on this till tried to ask the lady to continue down to me, explaining that she had assumed the two of them were together, and therefore called this gentleman and would now be serving this gentleman. The woman then got very shirty, arguing she had been ‘first’ in the till, and became extremely argumentative.
I’ve had situation happen like this numerous times, and sometimes been quite worried by how confrontational customers will get about being told that since they started to go to one till, they need to continue to that till, rather than grabbing the next free one regardless of if another customer has been called – and I wanted more of an opinion.
My personal thought, and indeed, my company’s policy, has always been if you walk toward the till as a pair, you have effectively signaled you are paying together, either as one transaction or two separate ones put through at the same till. If you were that concerned about getting through quickly, you ought to have one of you go to the first till, while the other stays at the front of the queue and waits to be called – but if you walk away together, effectively leaving the queue, you cannot though split up after another customer has been called. But I have had, on many occasions, people get very angry at being told this is the message they’ve been sent, to the point where I have feared violence – and indeed, sometimes the people behind them, who have walked down to the till and found somebody else there, have often been extremely angry.
So – are we out of line with our policy? 1216-11
In the US, we have a similar set up inTJ Maxx/Homegoods stores and I am sure other stores as well.
What is happening is that a pair of customers have agreed to expedite their payment time by going together to the same till/cashier. If the intent is to check out at one cashier’s till as a twosome then by all means, they should have the integrity to carry through with their original intent regardless of whether some new opportunity arises. Their body language assures the cashiers and the waiting customers behind them that they are moving in the direction of one till in order to finish their purchases. But if midway to the intended till they separate, one to the originally targeted till and the other to the newly opened till, the intent all along was to exploit the situation to their best advantage, i.e the fastest method of checking out possible. They broke the unspoken contract observers assumed they were committed to doing.
When caught in their selfishness, is it really surprising that the reaction is a tantrum? The only recourse to firmly direct the person to the originally intended till and carry forth with the transaction with the appropriate customer.