See how you measure up.
With the holiday season in full swing, grocery stores are busier than ever. According to a USDA report, consumers spent 22 percent more on “food at home” (aka, grocery store items brought home to cook) in December last year than they did in January.
If you happened to shop the Wednesday before Thanksgiving this year, you might have engaged in more than one battle to maneuver your grocery cart down the crowded aisles. Despite the holiday season being a time of giving, it can also leave many of us on edge, trying to frantically get it all done.
When the grocery store becomes one more item to check off the list, it can feel like the last place you want to be (we hear you!). With that in mind, we talked with several grocery store employees to find out the things they wish all shoppers would do. Heed their advice this holiday season, and the shopping experience may become a little more pleasant for everyone.
1. Have patience.
This may sound obvious, but patience is often the first virtue to fly out the window in the grocery store. Try to keep a positive attitude by giving the store the benefit of the doubt. Before you get exasperated by long lines at checkout, realize that the staff shortage may be out of the store’s control. “We might have a longer line than usual because someone called in sick and we weren’t able to get someone back into place as quickly as we’d like,” explains Terrie Baker, co-owner of four Baker’s IGA stores in eastern Ohio, who’s been in the industry for 40 years and worked about half of those on the grocery store floor.
2. Remember that employees have the same stressors.
“It’s a very busy time in customers’ lives, and they’re trying to get everything done—and so are our associates,” says Baker. “Some of the times we’re busiest in the grocery stores aren’t necessarily times people want to work, like evenings and weekends.” Showing courtesy toward—and being thankful for—those people who are working right up until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve is much appreciated.
3. Unload your items strategically.
Always use the bar to separate orders upon checkout, says Baker, and help the cashier out by placing like things together on the belt. “At most of our stores, one person is scanning the products and also bagging them, so doing things like putting your frozen items together, your meat items together and so forth helps the process a little,” she says. Likewise, if you have heavy items stacked on the bottom of your cart, like sodas or bottled water, try to help make those barcodes accessible to the cashier.
4. Use their expertise.
One thing you should do more of? Ask for advice. “We have incredible team members who have worked with us for years, and they know their departments well,” says Adam Raczkowski, who works on the floor of Plum Market in Chicago. “[Customers] most often [ask for help] where you’d expect—meat, wine and produce—but all of our departments are staffed with a well-informed team.” So, have a question about an unusual flour, or trying to figure out a non-dairy substitute for a recipe? Ask away, rather than turning to Google.
4. Shop at off times.
If you want to avoid the crowds, the best times to shop are early afternoon—right after lunch until about 3:30 or so, when school gets out—or late evenings, advises Baker. Fewer people in the store means you can get in and out quicker.
5. Put items back in their place.
It’s perfectly normal to add something to your cart, then change your mind about buying it. But please, help the grocery store out by putting it back—or at minimum, the same temperature where you found it. “If you decide you don’t want an item, like a dairy product, at least put it in a cold spot, like the meat case, so it has temperature control,” says Baker. The grocery store industry has some of the tightest margins in business, so even a little spoilage can hurt their bottom line.
6. Organize your coupons.
Clipping coupons or loading them to an app on your phone ahead of time is a great way to save money at the grocery store—but digging through your bag for them or waiting until the last minute to pull them up on your screen can be an annoyance for both the customers behind you and the cashier. Try to get them ready while you’re still shopping to keep things moving in the checkout line, says Raczkowski.
7. Avoid eating before you buy.
You probably already know not to grocery shop while hungry, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. If you absolutely must open up a package or a drink while you’re still in the store, remember to tell the cashier so you can pay for the item at checkout. If you don’t, it’s considered theft.
8. Understand shortages.
Occasional shortages of products are inevitable during the busy holiday season, and sometimes being out of a product—say, the buttermilk you have to have for your cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning—is beyond the store’s control. “You can plan all you want, but if more customers wanted the item than you’d planned for, there may be a shortage,” says Baker.
Sometimes the shortage may be caused by an issue with the wholesaler, or the trucking company that delivers the item. Your best option is to accept the situation and try to find your product at a different store; you can also ask for a rain check, through which most stores will honor the advertised price for an item they’re currently sold out of at a later date.
The bottom line, says Baker, is to accept that little annoyances with grocery shopping can escalate this time of year—and recognize that a little kindness can make all the difference. “We’re all people, we’re all human,” she says. “We need to give grace both ways.”