Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Price is Right.

I was out running errands today and stopped by Target to pick up some toiletries and snacks. I made my selections and chose what looked like the best check-out lane. The person ahead of me paid and moved on, and the young man at the register began scanning my items. When he attempted to scan the antiperspirant/deodorant I had, something went afoul. No price registered.

"Not again," he muttered. It was obvious he'd had prior issues with his machine.

He tried scanning it a second, third, and fourth time, each attempt being as unsuccessful as the first. Undeterred, he squinted at the item, rubbed the bar code with his finger, and tried scanning it again. Nothing.

Now I'm not one to lecture other people about how to run their railroad, so I resisted the impulse to tell him to just type the numbers in manually. I figured if that was in his skill set or training he'd get around to it in good time. Instead, he offered a solution that caught me totally off-guard.

"You don't happen to know how much this was, do you?" he asked.

"No. Sorry," I said.

"Hrrmmm...," he thought for a second. "Do you want to take a guess?"

"You want me to guess how much it was?" I replied.

"Yeah. Sure."

Well I don't know about you, but this was uncharted territory for me. I'm familiar with the process of price checks, and I've seen plenty of employees use the PA to call for help. I've stood by as UPC numbers are typed manually into a checkout system and I've watched while sales associates consult all manner of binders and help screens. What I've never experienced is someone asking me to - in effect - make up a price.

To the contrary, all of my experience up to this point had lead me to the inescapable conclusion that determining the accurate price of an item at checkout trumps everything. It trumps my time, the cashier's time, and the time of everyone standing in line behind us. It trumps the manager's time taken to override an errant price, and it trumps the time of the person who has to go find the actual price. It's never mattered how much the item cost, or how much time it takes. The singular, exclusionary, and most important thing is that the price be accurately determined. That was until today.

Today we broke through all that to a kind of higher plane. Me and Clerk-Dude became co-conspirators operating in a brave new world; one where honesty, convenience, and ease of egress were going to trump penny-pinching, loss reduction, balanced cash drawers, and the litany of rambling corporate-speak they likely drill into cashier heads before giving them access to registers. He didn't want the hassle and figured I probably didn't want it either. It was a small moment to be sure, but a liberating one.

"I don't remember exactly. I think it was like $2.59," I offered.

"Cool," he said, and rung it up.

On reflection, I might have been charged too much, but I think it was worth it.

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