Thursday, November 02, 2006

The tale of Sir Valiant of Grocery Towers

Once upon a time there lived at Grocery Towers a good knight, bedecked in shining armour, strong of limb and pure of heart, ever ready to enter the lists on behalf of the realm and all those who found shelter within. Steadfast and true was this gentle knight.

Yeah, right.

The story begins, as so many do, with a querellous middle-aged woman approaching customer services to complain about the lack of a particular product. Upon investigation it emerged that this woman, who has a track record of making our lives miserable and then telephoning Head Office to massage in a bit of salt, had been able to get one box of whatever product it was she wanted - but she'd wanted two.

Oh, dear.

Notwithstanding the fact that she'd been able to get some she was unhappy at our manifest failure to keep the shelf full and she wanted the number of head office so that she could lodge a complaint because "they'll give me boxes for free".

The person who had the misfortune to deal with this creature dutifully provided the telephone number for Head Office (though we all harbour the suspicion that the creature knows it by heart or has it programmed into her 'phone). She also checked the stock holdings and ordering and made sure some would be on its way to us with the next delivery.

Then she called Sir Valiant to forewarn him. She laid out the woman's history, complaint, her own actions to ensure supply and finally the claim this woman had made to be able to extract free goods from Head Office.

From the other end we received grateful thanks for the warning and an undertaking that under no circumstances would the freeloader be getting her boxes from him.

The following day the same staff member received a call from our heroic Knight: the boxes were being sent to us by internal transfer, they'd been sourced from the local store and would arrived in the next day or two.

She asked Sir Valiant to repeat what he'd just said. After he complied she asked him to repeat the message again. At the third telling he added something along the lines of "so could you please get them delivered to her."

The response was an exceptionally restrained "I hope you don't bloody expect me to deliver them" followed by much "how could you?" which is polite speak for "you spineless, gutless chicken-shit!"

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wringing wet

Spare a thought for the grunts who slaved so ineffectually over that dud £20 I pulled from the bundle during the week:

Edward Elgar is to be rubbed out and replaced by Adam Smith.

New notes are on the way, and you can be sure that the counterfeiters are already preparing to find out design, specifications and any new security devices ... or perhaps not if the quality of the dud I had in my hands in recent days is anything to go by.

One thing that is certain is that at least some of our operators when at last they are presented with the first of the new notes will cry out for assistance and present the note as some kind of mystery and possibly forgery. You'd think we didn't go to the trouble of:

(a) briefing new operators in the days running up to the launch of the new note.

(b) put a copy of the new design on each till

(c) put a copy of the new design by the clocking in machine

(d) put a copy of the new design on the notice board in the staff room

(e) harbour faint hopes that our operators are sufficiently engaged by the world about them to take on board the copious press coverage that no doubt will accompany the launch.

Time will pass and the darlings will become familiar with the new note (that is to say stop accusing everyone presenting one of attempting to pass off a forgery.)

The real difficulty will come when the old notes are withdrawn from circulation. The time will come when the old notes are no longer totally legal tender; businesses will no longer be obliged to accept them - though banks will.

For months and months and months and even years we'll get the old ones coming through the tills, unless they notes are radically different - bright yellow perhaps? We won't be able to pass them back, we'll have to extract each one and bank it separately.

And it won't stop the bloody forgers for longer than a nanosecond.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Re-programming is Such Fun

And if I say that often enough I just might believe it.

Our Under Age Sales training has been deemed inadequate relative to the climate we operate in and so every single one of us will have to sit down and wade through new, revised, updated or whatevered training material and complete an answer booklet and woe betide anyone who can't remember exactly how many painkillers we can sell at a time and what age the customer has to be.

We've got marmalade that contains a wee, wee dramlet of whiskey ... mustn't sell that to anyone under 18 and must ask for proof of age of anyone attempting to purchase the stuff who appears not to be 21 or older. The reason is of course that anyone setting out to get bladdered on whiskey-laced marmalade would die of orange poisoning long before he or she might otherwise have begun the slightest bit merry.

The same goes for boozy chocolates and the like.

But we've got solvents all over the store for the hard cases to purchase and take down to the fields or where ever it is the bored and disaffected 'yoots' go to put their lives on the line. I wish they'd hurry up and do it though because fireworks are the current bane of my life. I do understand why we keep the explosives (not to put too fine a point on matters) under special security, but why we're selling the damned stuff is beyond me.

They're going off tonight, of course and they'll continue to menace pets, livestock and wildlife for a good three weeks from now and if we're lucky nobody will be killed or seriously maimed in the meantime.

How peculiar the English are with their obsession for excessive alcohol consumption and an annual back-yard bomb detonation festival. It's not all gentle summer afternoons nursing a pint of warm beer and watching cricket here, let me tell you.

Behind the scenes things have been relatively quiet which is to say that nothing catastrophic has happened. This current offer period has been no more of a disaster than usual, no higher than usual proportion of the merchandised lines are not scanning or scanning incorrectly. That means I've largely avoided contact with the higher life forms at Grocery Towers.

The notable exception to this has to be The Uber Peasant who made a visitation without taking the trouble once to acknowledge me by name. And there I was pondering a new soubriquet after he took the trouble and care to announce himself last time he phoned. It just goes to show a tiger never changes its spots, or something

Sadly someone (possibly actually the culprit) has removed "The Attack of the Killer Apostrophe's (sic)" from the memory so I can't share it with you.

Then this afternoon Sex Pest (I'll blame him for a reasons set out later*) launched a bit of a spectacular: a fake note turned up in one of our tills. The note was put in with a bundle of notes of that denomination for signing, counter signing and sealing to be collected tomorrow. Fine.

Due to someone pulling a sicking I got roped into helping with the cash. I passed the initiative test with flying colours, by spotting and pulling the fake at my first pass through the bundle. After taking on board that three people already knew that it was a fake and were in on it's being included in a bundle to be sent to the cash depot I countersigned without giving much thought and for a few hours got on with my actual job.

Later this evening I had to go back in and finish off the cash and at that point the little lingering doubt about what I'd done resurfaced. In effect I had put my signature to a fraud. I had the chance to go back into the safe and re-jig the notes so that the fake is now isolated but a number of bundles of that denomination haven't yet been counter signed and sealed. Quite easily someone could come along tomorrow and take that note, which I've isolated, and put it back into one of the bundles bearing my [first signatory] signature. In retrospect I might have been better off as just a counter signatory, in which scenario the expectation that I'd actually scrutinise each note is rather lower and I'm really confirming that the correct number of notes is present.

*It was Sex Pest who authorised returning the fake to the bundle I counted shortly after I arrived this afternoon.

Damn it. And what a charming thought to try to go to sleep on.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Damn, damn, damn

I had hoped to serve up more splendid gibberish ... I've found something wonderful but I've misplaced the copy I printed out. I promise you though it will be worth the wait. Due to a re-jigging of the shifts I'm now not at work until Monday so it won't be before then.

Three whole days off ... shall I go shopping?

Grand Theft Auto

The town we're in is almost but not quite an overgrown sea-side retirement village. It isn't quite Frinton : it is possible to buy ice-cream or which ever frivolity it was Frinton pursued a one-town crusade against.

On the other hand the footpaths can upon occasion be a place of hazard for pedestrians, thanks to the geriatric Sterling Moss-types who get about in electric-powered sit-on scooters (mobility carts), like golf buggies or lawn mowers without blades.

Some days the footpath outside the store is almost impassable for these cumbersome vehicles parked up haphazardly by the entrance, often with some yappy creature on sentry duty in the basket or on the seat.

Recently we had an incident of buggy theft ... the mother-in-law of one of the town's best known characters could be seen on footage from one of the external camera to drive up and park her buggy under the canopy. In the final frame all that could be seen was the very last traces of the string bag at the back of the buggy. We could see her on the store CCTV wandering up and down the aisles and then coming to the customer service desk to report that her buggy wasn't where she left it.

The external camera also captured a notorious drunk (and known buggy user) reversing out from under the canopy; knowing where he lives he was pursued and he insisted that the buggy in his possession was his own; we've no grounds to assert otherwise.

Pointless post really except that running about after the old dear and reviewing CCTV footage and running after the suspected thief and getting the police in and reviewing the CCTV footage with them took up an awfully big part of that day.

Once again we were more 'drop in centre for the aged' than hard-nosed commercial outfit.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Can you guess what we are yet?

My fellow retailer blogger over at Retail Record (see Blogroll, right) recently vented after an encounter with a windbag customer who monopolised his attention one busy Saturday (see Life Story). That post provoked a response from someone called George and Retail Record has now responded at length.

The whole saga and things that happen all the time have got me thinking about how people perceive the store. Clearly some customers regards us as their corner store ... never mind the queue building up behind me, I want chapter and verse on the progress of my favourite check-out operator's latest grand-child.

George is quite right in saying that "The poor woman probably has nobody to talk to." and Retail Record has responded.

For my part I know I'm not employed as a social worker, counsellor or Care in the Community Officer, but at least once a week I give an hour of my time to help a regular customer with cerebral palsy negotiate our aisles and complete his big weekly shop.

I keep the way clear while Mad Basket Kicker is in the store, put up with her rants and comfort anyone she upsets. I neither say nor do anything when Stinky Lady comes in, even though she drives other customers away, makes me want to heave and reduces which ever unfortunate operator has to serve her to something close to tears. I help the illiterate and the dyslexic negotiate their way through the blur of messages with which we bombard visitors

I carry round in my head the full medical history of every member of staff so that I don't ask anyone to do anything they 'can't do' and the full emotional history of every member of staff so I don't unless absolutely necessary ask anyone to do anything they don't want to do.

I remember customers, their foibles and do my best to meet their quirky demands.

I take crap from the Uber-peasant and his ilk in Grocery Towers, operate the shop on decrepit hardware driven by obsolete software.

We, the staff clean up the urine, faeces and vomit regularly deposited about the store by the incontinent, mop up the breakages left like a trail of wreckage by the uncoordinated. We deal with thieves, drunks, bullies and con-artists.

Thanks to the perverse approach to alcohol (and certain other age-restricted products) prevailing in the UK we act as the nation's police force in respect of the sale of these items. And when we don't do that job properly we lose our day job.

Last night a dear old lady suffering either from early senile dementia or some other deterioration of her faculties was in at about 17:30 and left her debit card behind in the card reader. There was some confusion involving the purchases being made by the next customer and by the time that was sorted out he'd forgotten he intended to pay by cash. So the operator said something about the card and he responded in a way that effectively confirmed he'd be paying by card and she proceeded on that basis.

He entered a PIN number and for some reason rather than responding with Card Declined (which is what should happen when the incorrect number is entered) it [the software] responded with Pin Pad Failure and generated a docket for signature. The customer even signed the slip before either he or the operator realised the mistake. She then endeavoured to cancel the transaction (rather than simply respond NO on the keyboard to the Confirm Signature question) and our software blithely processed the transaction.

I have mentioned that we labour with crappy software, haven't I?

Red faces all round (the second customer is also a familiar regular) and a largely wasted evening. She has a common surname and the operator gave me misleading information about which road she lives in. Then she suggested another member of staff might know her well. But that staffer didn't recognise the name. Eventually we established that the little old lady's name isn't X, it's Y and she lives next door to so-and-so. I found so-and-so's number and called her. She went round to her neighbour who will come in and collect her card, to which we'll refund the amount of the transaction.

We did our best and finally achieved a happy ending all round.

First impressions

(After the foyer where we sell news/mags, fags, sweets, snacks and lottery) ... the greengrocery is the first area of the store for customers coming in through the main entrance.

That's one reason why the situation we've found ourselves in since Sex Pest decided to take the cheap option and give responsibility for that department to the young lad who previously had been responsible for filling shelves and fridges with soft drink is SUCH a problem.

I've got nothing against young lads per se, particularly when they're personable and very passable looking - in fact I believe we should employ more young lads with such qualifications. But we've got a kid of about 20 in charge of a critical department. Does he know his beets from his greens, his swedes from his brussels? One would like to think so. One would also like to think that he grasp such basics as presentation, rotation, date and quality checking, accurate reduction, waste control and responsible ordering.

The other burden placed on his shoulders in consequence of his 'promotion' is staff management.

SO this week (again) we've had screwed-up orders, ineffectual rotation (date control, linked to reduction and waste control), mess and uncleanliness on the shop floor, squalor in the prep room, generally shoddy presentation and NO staff in the evenings.

I hate picking on this kid, or seeming to pick on this kid. How on earth could he respond to an offer of what was put to him as a promotion, but in the way he did which was to say Yes, Please? He was promised all kinds of support, but they haven't materialised. He's risen above a particularly challenging start in life that included being sent (rightly or otherwise) to a school for children with special educational needs.

He isn't the brightest bunny, he isn't as quick on the uptake as he might be, but he is loyal and willing a diligent to a fault - and certainly has the potential to assume the full responsibilities of a department head, but not at twenty, not without having put in some time in an intermediate level role and not without more support initially than he's been given.

And that's down to Sex Pest.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A-; not quite a perfect piece of work

A brief panic but I've found it now; a fine missive from one of the uber-peasant occupants of Grocery Towers.

The subject is 'plans' - which is to say the schematic layouts for sections of the store, determined within Grocery Towers rather than by anyone at the coal-face with some grasp of what customers want. The practitioners of the dark art of store design have faith in the 'science' of grocery selling the way the Pope has faith in the Roman Catholic church, ie it is total, unswerving, unquestioning and absolute.

Thou shalt not deviate from The Plan.

And so I unearthed the following gem when trawling through deleted emails:

"I have looked /checked plans today that the TradeMark reps did yesterday in some of are stores and have not found any of them to be planed correctly.
These plans will have to be done again Managers need to check what the reps are doing to your store and ensure the plan is completed correctly.
Check line by line that it complies to the plan before they leave the store.
There is a £X fine for none compliant stores. It's not going to be us."

So much splendid gibberish, here reproduced for your delectation in all its glory. Almost all the hallmarks of a sterling piece of work are present, so this has been down-graded to A-.

There are examples of eccentric, incorrect and effectively obscurantist punctuation, spacing and line breaks, mis-spelling and use of words strongly suggesting that the author is an illiterate typing what he thinks clever people are saying. On the other hand the piece is sadly lacking examples of long words used inappropriately (I briefly considered marking this piece down to a B on these grounds alone.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

The shift from somewhere quite warm

It started so well, no dramas reported during the hand over, all physical faults reported and with response times attached, check-outs fully operation, fully staffed.

Then over the course of the evening I lost a key worker to dental discomfort. I failed to convince either of the two obvious replacements to stay and cover for her. I lost two shelf stackers to a car accident and a third to training. A fourth staffer had been given the evening off by someone other than me. Yet another was an hour late because she's started a college course and can no longer get in for the start of her shift.

At some point during the evening we were notified that the delivery scheduled for tonight would be late, but no indication of when it would be arriving.

Then we discovered that the evening greengrocery manager hadn't bothered to turn up or call to say that he wouldn't be in. No cover could be drummed up at short notice. We discovered that the total muppet who is our HOG* had entered the wrong order for our deli counter so the order needed to be re-entered and re-sent. The order had previously been checked and sent by Hairdo, which didn't provide any comfort whatsoever.

I went into the Greengrocery prep room and found a sign indicating that all waste had been 'done' which suggested that all greengrocery had been 'date checked' and anything now OOD had been removed from the shelves, and that anything shortly to be OOD had been reduced for quick sale EXCEPT for the cauliflowers which were in the main fridge to be reduced in the evening.

I dutifully trotted them round to be marked down. Then the dairy girls got bored.

The dairy girls were waiting for their delivery which was on our non-appearing lorry. They drifted into the greengrocery section and started turning over things.

Half an hour later we'd removed for reducing stock from among the spuds, salads, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, cabbage, courgette ... the stuff dated tomorrow and therefore to be ruduced today as well as several items that should have been reduced yesterday.

Ricky Ratshit was in again. He was part of the gang of four that threatened to kill me some weeks ago; he was at the door yesterday but stone cold sober and therefore easy to deal with. Today his eyes were like twin snooker reds and he was slurring and weaving; on the other hand he was perfectly willing to be shepherded out the door while his mate (who was less well away) queued to purchase their bottle of wine.

Sadly his spotty-faced mate could not produce ID confirming that he was old enough to purchase the alcohol so after a short slanging match across the till which I won he slunk off to try his luck(Presumably) at Tesco.

Romeo was in, too. But he's responded to being told off for pestering S. by looking chronically hang-dog and bewildered and pointedly avoiding which ever check-out she's on so I've relaxed a bit when I spot he's in the store.

What else? Er, that's it. I'm knackered.

*Head of Greengrocery