11/17/2005

Economics in no lessons

Mark Brown’s Sun-Times column, “Cashier's nightmare doesn't need to get any more extreme,” is about Jewel-Osco’s unreasonable requirements in a merchandising scheme, one of probably thousands tried daily in stores and store chains around the country. 

Jewel-O has “a misguided program” in place, says Brown.  If you don’t think so, consider the “17-year-old cashier who literally [really?] has nightmares” about doing the wrong thing.  A less sensitive writer would have written, “who claims she has nightmares.”  Did she show them to Brown?

“A 62-year-old [Jewel employee] prays before she goes in to work each day that she'll remember each time without fail because she's already messed up twice.”  This is bad?

"If you're unfamiliar with the source of their anxiety," says Brown, "you may have missed Sunday's column [I did] about how Jewel-Osco cashiers are subject to losing their jobs if they fail to call each and every customer's attention to the Xtreme Value item that is being sold at the register that day."

“A dedicated, veteran employee” told him about it.  How does he know she’s dedicated? Or how do I know if I didn’t read Sunday’s column? I don’t know.

The deal is, if the checkout man or woman doesn’t make a certain offer, the alert customer gets an item at no cost, and the non-alert checker gets penalized.  Happens enough, they get fired. “Instead of a carrot, there's a stick,” says Brown, who apparently believes in one but not the other.

“We're talking about people's livelihoods, which are being put in jeopardy because somebody is willing to snitch to beat the system out of a dollar-bag of trail mix — the Xtreme Value item this past week,” says Brown, who is clearly caught up in this.

Look, if this were Ma and Pa on the corner, telling Susie Q to remember things or she’s out, he wouldn’t (a) know about it or (b) think it called for a column if he did.  But do companies like Jewel-O ever go out of business, leaving thousands jobless?  If you are going to focus on “a dollar-bag of trail mix,” you are going to miss macro-economics — what governs thousands of jobs and meets needs of thousands of households — completely.

Brown argues against the program in place, quoting the angry checkout people.  Having instituted hundreds of retail-store programs in his career, he is convinced this one’s a loser.  Furthermore, he says the corporate owner may want to cut back on higher-paid employees.  (I can’t imagine that.)

But the killer is that nightmare.  “Last night, it took me an hour to go to sleep,” the 17–year-old told him, “and I woke up in the middle of the night crying because in my nightmare I saw this random man that gave me the you-didn't-offer-me-the-Xtreme-Value stare. In my dream, this was the last time, and I would be fired because of him."

Brown asks, “Please don't add to the nightmare.”  Wait a minute.  A literal nightmare or the other kind?  And where’s that story about competing and staying in business?

1 comment:

Stephen V Funk said...

How about the fact that it's really another annoyance to customers (on top of the TVs at checkout and the long lines caused by the "convenient" self-checkout lanes)? And obviously just a way to unload undesirable stuff that most people don't want anyway? I've NEVER seen anyone actually buy these items at time of checkout. Sure, we could shop somewhere else, but lots of us don't have much choice about where to get groceries unless we want to drive 30 miles elsewhere. Hopefully Jewel-Osco will realize that nobody is taking advantage of these extreme "values" and understand that they can provide better customer service and satisfaction by NOT forcing the cashier staff to point out items to us that we don't want to buy.