What Makes Cashiers “Associates”

Most stores refer to their cashiers as “sales associates” or “retail associates”. I use the term “cashier” here because those names sound vague and a little pompous. They border on “sandwich artist” territory. Besides, half of a sales associate’s job does fall under the definition of “cashier”. As for the rest, I’d say 25% is customer service. Selling store credit cards and reward cards made up 5% of the job at Sears; at Macy’s it was more like 0.5%. Then there’s that other 20-24.5% that many shoppers don’t know about.

A common customer complaint at Sears and Macy’s was that she or he had to search to find an available cashier. Thing is, store managers do not want their cashiers to stand behind the registers and wait for customers to come. They want to get the most for their money like everyone else, so cashiers have additional duties which require leaving the register.

These include:

  • Cleaning up after customers. This means returning all the stuff you dumped next to the price checker after you saw it wasn’t on sale. It means returning all the things you left at the register because you decided not to buy them. It means throwing out your food court boxes or your kid’s sippy cup or your empty bottle of Patrón. (Yes, that happened to me. Kids’ section. No, not at Christmastime.)
  • Inspecting the dressing rooms, i.e., more cleaning.
  • Processing damaged and outdated merchandise and putting it in the stockroom.
  • Fulfilling online orders. And not just in-store pick ups. If you buy something from macys.com, odds are that a cashier had to look for it on the sales floor at his or her store before it was sent it to the nearest fulfillment center. I liked doing fulfillment because it’s like going on a scavenger hunt. You print a list of orders, track them down, process them at the register and print out their shipping labels. The drawback is that the orders have to get filled by a specific time. It can be tough to manage that if there are a lot of customers in the store and the ordered merchandise is at the other end of the department. If you have to wait an extra five minutes for a cashier to appear, that may be because she or he had been frantically searching for the last Minnie Mouse suitcase a five-minute-walk away.

I used to be one of those Macy’s customers who wondered why it was so hard to find a cashier. It was one of the reasons why I avoided shopping there before it employed me. Same thing with Walmart; I avoid it simply because every Walmart I’ve ever visited, no matter which state it’s in, seems to have a checkout lane-cashier ratio of 12:1. It’s a very real problem for the chain. (For what it’s worth, that was not the case when I worked at Sam’s Club, which is a subsidiary of Walmart. On the other hand, that was back in 2005.)

So have some patience the next time you’re in a store and seemingly every cashier has vanished. The customer always comes first. You just aren’t the only one.

Image credit: Didit Putra/Flickr.

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