It has been awhile since I actually had a social setting observation, so today’s topic is just that. Admittedly, this a bit of a rant, but it still calls into question whether there is any such thing as altruism when it comes to the shopping experience. Having just completed listening to the Super Freakonomics I am now curious to see if this “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others” is really a human trait and more to the point, whether I can actually witness this trait in action. By the way, I did enjoy this book (although, maybe not as much as their first one) and would recommend it for those who have similar interests in understanding how micro economics impacts our day to day lives.
One thing is for sure, this trait was not evident the last time I went to WalMart to pick up some quick snacks for a ping pong party I was having that night. I was running late at work and needed to get to the store and all the way back home before the designated start time of the party. Figuring WalMart was close I ducked in there to pick up some needed items. With about 5 items in my hands I made my way up to the registers. To my surprise, all the checkouts were busy (well, at least the ones that were open, but that is a story for another time). An internal assessment was initiated based on years of line analysis – cashier age (especially if you have alcohol to buy), clerk gabbiness (less talk, more scanning), product count (estimations based on cart quantities, container sizes etc.) along with a host of other key indicators that are continually tuned to give the best chance of getting out of there as fast as possible. After a few seconds, the choice was made and the line position taken. One of the attributes of this line was that it was the express line and MOST of the people seemed to be in an express frame of mind. I say most, but about two customers from the checkout (I was 6th) was a mobile cart with a basket full of merchandise. I quickly confirmed the express limit, which was an unusually high 20 item count, and decided to amp up the observation. One guy was actually sitting in the mobile cart and another lady was standing in front of it. Thinking this could work in my favor in the sense it would really make me 5th and possibly allow me to add a critical new criteria to the selection process. When they approached, the lady began pulling the items out of the mobile cart and I spent the next 7 minutes counting items. This was definitely hampered by having to wait for the cashier to scan items in order to make room for the new ones. 46 items later they had scanned all the items in the cart. By my quick math this is over the stated express limit … and not by a few. My selection process was hampered by not seeing the full size of the cart basket in front of the mobile cart. They finally paid for their purchases and the cashier turned to attend the next in line. Still focused on the same two customers, I was completely surprised when the guy in the mobile cart quickly rose from the seat, grabbed up all 7 of their bags and started walking to the door with no apparent hardships. I let my impression stay at the surprised level because it did not fit my original expectations – rarely do I spend any additional time reviewing those particular situations since medical conditions can be tricky. What did catch my eye and warrant further observation was the lady informed the guy she had forgotten something and was going back for it while he proceeded out the store.
She ended up going a few aisles away and eventually I lost sight of her. In the meantime, the line progressed quite well to the point where I was putting my items on the counter waiting for the customer ahead of me to pay. As the cashier reached for my first item, I noticed the lady coming back from the aisle, but not at the expected angle for the line had actually grown to about 7 people behind me. Sure enough, she walked directly up to the individual behind me who, by the way, was also in a mobile cart but definitely under the 20 item limit. She threw her item in his cart and said hello. That guy was somewhat surprised and actually said “I haven’t seen you in a long time, what have you been doing”. Meanwhile the cashier had finished my order so I drew my attention away in order to complete the transaction. Okay, now I am officially intrigued enough to stand back out of the way and watch this come to conclusion. The lady grabs her item out of the cart and puts it on the register and takes out her billfold. Yes folks, she simply paid for that item said goodbye to the guy behind her and headed out towards the door. That, in my opinion, takes some balls. Not only did she inconvenience the line with her original order, she has the nerve to simply jump in front of everybody else. I am pretty sure if I was standing behind the second mobile cart guy I would have had to say something. In contrast, the guy that was in that position said nothing (but did look outwardly annoyed).
Needless to say, this was not one of those times that proved altruism is a true human trait. In fact, it seems the aggressive are bound to dominate the meek (at least when it comes to groceries). So the next time you see that WalMart greeter – you know, the one with the “How may I help you?” on the back of his blue vest, tell him you would like him to patrol the express lanes so you will not get screwed on your way out by inconsiderate customers… and then show your altruism when he stares at you blankly by smiling and telling him to have a nice day.
By the way, Happy Pie Day!