Paying for Cheerfulness

When we first moved to Virginia Beach, finding a grocery store was not a problem.  Within a three-mile area, there were no less than six food stores.  Shortly thereafter, Trader Joe’s moved in and now we have Whole Foods, bringing the total to eight food stores within three miles.  All but two are a mile or less away.  So, as I said, I have plenty of food stores to choose from.

Of course, they all differ from each other in certain ways, by what products they carry, how expensive they are, and customer service.  The store that has the best prices by far is Krogers.  It also has just about anything I need.  If I shop there, my grocery budget will go a lot further.  But if I go there, my self esteem plummets. I feel as if I’m invisible when I’m in that store.  For example, a few days ago, I decided to give Kroger another chance.  They’ve been doing some major remodeling (funny how that happened just after Whole Foods moved in across the parking lot), and even though my last trip to their store was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, I thought they might have developed a new attitude along with their facelift.  No such luck.

I stood by the deli for a full three minutes before anyone noticed me, even though I was the only customer at the counter. The man who waited on me made it quite clear with his sour expression when he finally came over to wait on me, that he had better things to do than deal with a customer. He filled my first order, and when I asked for a second item, he sighed heavily and passed me over to another person to wait on me. She didn’t seem any happier to help me. When I checked out, the cashier never smiled, and when she finished checking out my order and said, “Have a nice day,” she never even made eye contact with me. I went in the store in an upbeat mood but left with my shoulders sagging. Believe it or not, this experience was actually better than the incident that made me stay away from Krogers in the first place.

When I go to the gourmet market or Whole Foods, every employee, without exception, is friendly and helpful. They look me in the eye, acknowledge my presence, and strike up conversations. They smile and joke and remember me when I return. Yes, I’m sure they were trained to go out of their way to serve, but they seem to do it with genuine enjoyment.

So, here’s the thing. Do I go to the store that is by far the best value, or do I go to the high-priced stores where the employees make me feel important and appreciated? Do I just swallow my pride to save my money, or do I forget about the money issue and go where grocery shopping is a pleasant experience? I choose the latter. What about you?

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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52 Responses to Paying for Cheerfulness

  1. freshnewblog says:

    I definately pick my grocery store for the cheerful service. I live in Montpelier, Vermont. We have 2 Shaw’s, Hannafords and Price Chopper. I have shopped at Shaw’s for 10 years, because of how respectful the employees are to my son and I.

    • Coming East says:

      It does make a difference, doesn’t it! It puts me in a good mood all day when I shop at a p,ace where people are pleasant. And when they’re not, it drags me down. I’d rather spend a little more and be in a good mood.

  2. Robin says:

    I have often wondered if the employees at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are paid better or get better benefits or if it’s just a so much nicer place to work that they can’t help be cheerful. Do they put something in the water there? Is it the wheatgrass juice? Whatever it is, I wish all stores had it. I’m with you. I’d rather shop where the people are friendly than save a few dollars.

    • Coming East says:

      When I shop at Trader Joes’s , Robin, I get both. I’ve wondered about the pay and benefits, too, but I think it’s more than that. I agree with others that the manager sets the tone.

  3. Kroger drives me CRAZY! But there really isn’t any other choice for us here. I tend to address people by their first name. After all, why wear a name tag? I say hi when I check out and they look at me like I am the rudest person around. And half the time even the manager is clueless as to wear things like Velveeta cheese is shelved! UGH!!!! OH! And if they ask “paper” or “plastic” what they really mean to say is, “You better take plastic because I don’t want to bag paper”.

  4. Our local Kroger is awesome… of course its a small town and I know almost every employee. But Al was right when he said its all up to management. We have a great manager who cares about community causes and his attitude rubs off on everyone around him. Customer service is so important. I avoid Walmart because of it, even though I could save a bit more money there.
    I am also NOT in favor of the megastores. I do not want to walk 5 miles while shopping. As I get older, that is just as important to me.

  5. Al says:

    Our Kroger is the only store we have within 3 miles! Fortunately for us, the management is excellent (it’s always about management) so we’ve have good experiences. We particularly like the points for discounts on their gas.

  6. Jiawei says:

    I am with you, Susan. My pride is worth something, too, or so I think. Every time I shopped from Whole Foods, I heard myself saying ouch! But somehow I kept going back, until now that is …

  7. d33pti says:

    Customer service is pretty high on my list. So definitely the latter. I suppose you would surely prefer to go to a place where employees make you feel jmportant whether you end up buying anything or not.

  8. notquiteold says:

    Although I usually refer to it as “Whole Paycheck”, I love Whole Foods, and the quality is great.

  9. Whole Foods is just a great place to go. Of course, we call it whole paycheck, but it is wonderful! DAF

    • Coming East says:

      Trader Joe’s is great, too, DAF, though it doesn’t have nearly the variety of items. But the prices there are terrific and the customer service is outstanding. I do love Whole Foods. We used to go there when they were just a little market in Austin.

      • I like Trader’s also, but I don’t like the store they opened here, it’s small and the staff is like the Kroger you wrote about. Every other Trader’s I have gone to, I love though.

      • Coming East says:

        I’m surprised at your Trader Joes’s, DAF. I bet their headquarters would be appalled because they pride themselves in good service.

      • I was so excited when they opened a trader’s here, since I went to the ones in San Diego often and I go to the one in Old Town Alexandria when I am at my daughter’s. I have tried to go several times here and I usually end up walking out because I am in such a foul mood after a few minutes in the store. I then just go to the next block and hit whole paycheck!

      • Coming East says:

        I don’t blame you, DAF. I know people say you should go talk to the manager and let him or her know, but you can’t change people’s attitude and make them nice. It would be fake and you would know it. It usually is a management problem anyway, so why talk to management?

  10. Mark says:

    And did I mention that I’m a romantic?

  11. Ah, well, at least you weren’t stalked by a security guard who clearly felt that we were the most suspicious customers, for some reason, in our local mini supermarket. It’s not exactly mood-enhancing. I hate confrontation too but that really does deserve a complaint. If they’ve got a reward scheme, she should always ask for it, stroppy so and so. 😉

  12. pattisj says:

    I shopped at the same store for YEARS. The employee morale went downhill over time, and the cashiers bickered with each other over who had to ring up the next customer. I went to Harris Teeter for a change, and that’s where my loyalty lies. We may pick up milk at the other store since it is more convenient, but that’s it. I’d rather use the self-checkout than feel I’m inconveniencing the cashier there. At Harris Teeter, the cashiers actually converse with customers. What a concept! If I had not found everything I was looking for, they actually send someone to look for it, unlike the other store that shrugs it off. Why do they bother asking at all? Getting off the soapbox…

  13. Shary Hover says:

    I’ll definitely pay more for good customer service. I’ve also found that stores with more empowered employees (who are usually happier & more cheerful) are much better about returns and special orders, so sometimes you actually do save money even if the prices are a little higher to start.

    • Coming East says:

      I never thought about that, Shary. Good point. I’m sure there must be other Kroger stores who are friendlier than mine, too, so I don’t want to pick on a particular chain.

  14. To be honest, I have probably only been in a Whole Foods three times. I just can’t afford to shop there for anything more than a salad at the salad bar. And I’ve never been in a Trader Joe’s. It’s funny – I guess I can ignore a lack of service to a point (as long as I’m not waiting at the deli counter, like you were, which I find inexcusable). I don’t mind a lack of outright friendliness as long as they’re not rude (like at the deli counter – maybe they ate some bad bologna?) Fortunately, the two stores where I shop have the best of both worlds: great, friendly service and good prices. One of them is pretty bare bones in stock, but the other has everything I could possibly need – if I have time to drive an hour round-trip.

    • Coming East says:

      One of the other big grocery stores, SC, has good service and friendly sales associates, but the prices aren’t quite as good as Kroger’s. if I need to go to a big grocery store, I’ll make sure I go there. I can’t afford Whole Foods very often, either, but it is just so pleasant shopping there. Since there are only the two of us, I can rationalize about spending more for good service. I couldn’t when the kids were growing up, and I didn’t have to because we loved our grocery store. I don’t need sales people to be gushy friendly either, but they don’t have to be grumpy and unhelpful.

  15. Jenny says:

    Grocery shopping is my favorite kind of shopping. I would be in heaven in your neighborhood! I love a good deal, but I like good service. I am thankful for my small town grocery store’s customer service. One time my credit card didn’t work, they let me take my groceries home and come back the next day with a different one. It turned out that same credit card was found in the middle of the street in front of a resturant and the empolyee that found it called the credit card company to cancel the card and then tracked me down through facebook.

    I vote for you to send this post or experience to the manager and also send a complementary note to the grocery store you enjoy going to.

    • Coming East says:

      Aren’t small town great, Jenny? Maybe I will go see the store manager in person and see if he or she even cares. They are putting big bucks in to remodel. Perhaps they would spend the time retraining their employees.

  16. Mark says:

    The Fort Lee commissary has the best prices but we only go there once a month to stock up. In between times we mostly use our local Kroger for the same reason as you – value. But a super Kroger (133,000 sq ft) just opened 20 minutes away and is really nice. Our Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are pretty far away but we get there monthly somehow. WF is our favorite but we don’t buy a lot. It does have a wine bar and it’s fun to sit and nurse a few ounces and watch folks shopping. Then there’s Sam’s Club. One evening we went there and tasted enough samples to count as a meal. Cheap date.

  17. Good post and paradox. We have the same here. I like the efficiency of a big supermarket and really haven’t found the employees to be that unfriendly, Perhaps you should talk to the manager– they’d want to know, especially since there are so many choices in the area! I like WF- actually my husband does more than me- and we usually have a steak from there about once a week. I only go to TJ for snack food– not sure why- nothing else seems to appeal. Anyway, even with all the other stores, I still need a supermarket to get all the things these stores don’t carry.

    • Coming East says:

      As I replied to ? just a second ago, Grandma (ha! How could I have forgotten so quickly?), I use Target to get all my items such as paper products, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. because they would be exorbitant at the high-end grocery stores. It does mean I have to go to more than one store, though, and that’s a pain.

  18. To me, it’s all about spending as little as possible. I don’t care about the smiles as long as I leave smiling over saving money!!

    • Coming East says:

      Good for you, SHBG. When I was younger and the children lived at home, I needed to watch every penny. Then, I would have had no choice but to choose the least expensive store. Luckily, we had our wonderful HEB in Texas which had great prices and great employees. My compromise here is to only get food at the expensive stores and for everything else, I go to Target. Love that store! And the employees are very nice. I can even get some food items there.

  19. I know exactly what you are saying! I take my mother to Whole Foods every Friday. At first I was just the ride because as you noted it’s not cheap. Little by little I started picking up a few things here and there because they are better. I can NEVER go back to another deli counter after being at Whole Foods…ever. The LOVE that goes into the entire shopping experience is worth every penny. Not only do they train their employees well, they treat them well….and it shows.

    • Coming East says:

      I’m with you, LWTTD. It starts with management. If they create an environment where their employees feel valued, their employees have a better chance of valuing the customers. I’m just too old to put up with being treated like that anymore. My husband is on my side.

  20. Huffygirl says:

    I’m with you Susan, I’d go to the store where they treat me better. But I’d probably also write some kind of scathing letter to the other store manager to let them know of my bad experience.

    Do you think it is our age that makes us invisible, or is this just a trend towards rudeness in our society? I’ve felt invisible in stores more times than I can count, and the latest at our local mall during Christmas shopping madness. I often come home from the mall disgusted, and immediately go online to shop, because it seems like they really don’t want my money there when I try to get help in a store and get ignored.

    • Coming East says:

      I think it is rudeness in our society, HG. My father used to say, when I’d complain about the rudeness and incompetence of store employees, that I shouldn’t expect much because these people aren’t paid very much. But I disagree with him because I’ve found very nice people in low-paying jobs and nasty people in high-paying ones.

      • Huffygirl says:

        Agree. I’ve met some of the nicest check out clerks at Target. Their job is boring, repetitive and tiring, yet some are still able to be cheerful and greet you nicely. After all, if there were no customers, they would get laid off and not have a job.

        I think there is a lot of rudeness in our society today, especially among young people who would prefer to be looking at their phones rather than interacting with people. (Oooh, I might take some heat for this comment.)

      • Coming East says:

        Ha-ha, HG. Yes, some youngsters can be rather self-absorbed, to say the least. But I’ve also found a lot of grumpy people over forty. I’m so sorry they have to work for a living. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and never had to lift a finger to put bread on my family’s table — NOT! I was a middle school administrator. If ever I had a reason to be grumpy, there was a big one! And yet I always treated all my students and teachers with respect and kindness, and the parents, too. There is no reason for rudeness. It takes no more effort to be cheerful.

  21. Dianna says:

    The first thing you do is print off this post and mail it to that Kroger to the attention of the store manager! I’ve started being quite the squeaky wheel as I’ve gotten older. Let me know what happens!

    • Coming East says:

      If I get up the nerve, I think I’ll do that, Dianna. I hate any kind of confrontation. I wish I weren’t so wimpy. The incident that made me stop going to Kroger in the first place was when the cashier finished checking my groceries, I handed her my Kroger card, and she said I was too late because she had already totaled it out. When I said she never even asked for my Kroger card, she said I should have been quicker. When I was aghast, she said, “What do you want me to do? Ring these all up again?” I should have said yes, but I was too angry at that point and there were five other people in line waiting because she was the only line open at 10 A..M. on a Friday morning, another peeve of mine.

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