Revenge in the Supermarket

by Yisroel Goodman, PhD. ("Pretty Hard to Deal with")

Computers are infiltrating every facet of business, enabling inept people to make errors faster than ever before. The government led the way, finding computer misuse a good means of hitting you with penalties you don't deserve. But when supermarkets joined the fray, using the computerized cash register to squeeze out even more illicit profits, I decided that it was time for revenge.

It began when the chain store supermarket in my neighborhood put in the scanning counter. You know what I mean, the one that reads the bar codes on your purchases as they are passed across the counter and always picks a higher price than that displayed on the shelf. I began to notice something interesting. If a sale ENDS on Saturday, at exactly 12:01 on Sunday morning, the computer is reset to charge the higher, non-sale price. Yet when an item is PUT ON sale, the lower price does not seem to go into effect at the same time. You will still be charged the higher price at 12:01 on the Sunday the sale is advertised to begin. The higher price will even be charged on Monday. The sale price does not go into effect until the store has run out of the item. Unless, of course, you are one of those forceful shoppers that every checkout clerk hates - the kind who calls the Manager.

No checkout clerk likes to have the Manager called to their counter. Even if the problem is a "computer error" (like the computer charging for the two-pound size when you bought the one-pound size), checkout clerks knows that the Manager will blame THEM personally. So most of the time, if you threaten to call the Manager and you actually sound convincing, the clerk will give in to anything you demand, even charging you 25 cents for a five-pound roast, if you claim it's on sale. Why wouldn't you call the Manager? Because even if the problem is a "computer error" (like when the scanner charges you $100 for a pack of gum), most shoppers know that the Manager will blame THEM personally.

I still remember him striding slowly over to the counter, fixing me with the haughty glare that said "I see we have another troublemaker here," while the checkout clerk looked at the people in line behind me for sympathy. Pretty soon the other shoppers started complaining that I was holding up the line and glaring at me like I was a criminal. By the time the Manager reached the counter, I thought I heard somebody whispering that they're going to wait for me outside and I just wanted to get out of there. When the Manager asked what the problem was, I gasped out a sorry, "Nothing, Sir. It was my mistake." and quickly handed over a hundred dollars for a pack of gum that wasn't even part of my order.

So before you threaten to call the Manager, you'd better practice for a few hours in front of a mirror until you can sound like you really mean it. If you threaten to call the Manager and don't follow through, take my advice and don't ever shop in that store again. You see, the computer scans your face into its memory, along with the information "This man doesn't have the guts to call the Manager. Overcharge him on everything."

After that embarrassing incident in my local supermarket, I decided it was time for revenge. First, I practiced calling the Manager until I felt that I could be convincing. I played the shopper while my wife played the checkout clerk. Then my wife played the Manager and I was able to stare her down. Finally, it was time to pass the ultimate test. I had my three-year-old daughter play the Manager and I stood my ground. Despite a two-hour tantrum, complete with shrieking, foot-kicking and threats of holding her breath until she turned blue, I refused to pay more than $79 for a pack of gum ($100 if it was really part of my order). We rehearsed our plan and set out for the supermarket.

"Hey, she can't do that!" I shouted at the checkout line, pointing at the woman who stood in line ahead of me, "She has a dozen eggs, a container of yoghurt and a devil's food cake. That's fourteen items. This line is for twelve items or less."

"A dozen eggs counts as one item," the checkout clerk said.

"Only to people who don't know math!" I retorted. "Call the Manager. I want to speak to the Manager."

The clerk glanced at the computer screen, which displayed the words "97% probability he's not bluffing." She looked frightened, as only a checkout clerk about to face the Manager could be.

"It's okay," the woman said, "I took two eggs out of the carton. Now I have only a dozen items."

The checkout clerk breathed a sigh of relief as she passed the carton over the scanner. The scanner, of course, read the bar code on the carton and rang up the dozen price.

"You're overcharging her!" I shouted, "she only has ten eggs and you're charging her for twelve."

"I'll give her a credit," the checkout clerk said.

"No, she gets the eggs free!" I insisted, pointing at a sign which read: "Our computer scanner is very reliable. If we overcharge you, you get that item free."

Wordlessly, the checkout clerk credited out the purchase price. Now she passed the yoghurt over the scanner. It was on sale, 2 for 49 cents. The scanner registered 25 cents. Just as she reached for the devil's food cake, the woman removed it from the counter.

"I changed my mind," she said, "I'd rather have chocolate cake."

She placed a chocolate cake on the counter, beyond the scanner, together with the yoghurt and eggs.

"You didn't pay for that," the clerk pointed out.

"I traded it for the devil's food cake," she explained.

"But you didn't pay for the devil's food cake."

"That's because I didn't take it."

The clerk opened and closed her mouth a few times and then thought better of it. The woman winked at me as she handed over her 25 cents while the eggs, cake and yoghurt were placed in a shopping bag. Then the clerk scanned my only purchase, a container of yoghurt identical to the one just purchased. It registered 25 cents.

"You're overcharging me!" I shouted, "it's clearly marked two for 49 cents. The woman before me bought the 25 cent container. Mine is only 24 cents. Call the Manager!"

"Calm down!" the girl whispered urgently, casting a frightened glance in the direction of the Manager's office, "I'll credit you a penny."

"No, you tried to overcharge me, so I'm supposed to get it free."

"Okay!" she snapped, tossing it in a bag, "Take it and get out of here!"

"You forgot to say 'Thank you for shopping here.' I get a dollar," I said, pointing to a sign that displayed this fact.

"Here!" she shouted, slapping a dollar on the counter.

"You didn't say it to me either!" the woman said.

"Here's one for you, too!" she screamed, slapping down another bill.

Outside, my wife and I added the dollars to the growing pile in my wallet and put the eggs, cake and yoghurt along with the other similar containers already there. I took out my list and crossed out the store's name.

"Eleven down, hundreds more to go," I said.

"Let's continue tomorrow," my wife said, "I don't want to be caught in the rush hour on the way home."

It's too bad I can't do this in my own neighborhood, but the computers there know me.