The Checkout Operator

Miss J P Dowden, checkout operator at the new Waitrose Henley 1965 | The Gazette
Miss J P Dowden, checkout operator at the new Waitrose Henley 1965
The Gazette

The Gazette published an article entitled ‘Checking Out’ in the 15th December 1962 issue. How some things have changed ……

“Who is the most important person in a supermarket? It would be hard to say. But one sure thing is that for most customers it’s the checkout operator. She may be the only member of the staff they meet; she’s the one they hand their money to, and the empty bottles they are returning. They may take their questions and complaints to her too. And, if she’s slow, she’s the one who keeps them waiting ten minutes in a queue after they’ve done their shopping in five. Checkout operators do have to work at what seems a fantastic speed to the layman. With a “fairly average” speed you can ring up fifteen items in half a minute; yet some operators can do it in twenty-two seconds. The hard thing is to be completely accurate as well as fast.

For one thing, prices change so quickly in the food world that you can never be sure that Bloggs’ packed cheese still is 2s 11d – you nave to look every time. In too much of a hurry you might guess at the price from the label – and guess wrong. This sort of mistake, combined with errors or illegible squiggles on the part of the price-markers, which can happen, costs the Partnership hundreds of pounds a year.

The Waitrose staff trainer, Mr P Pidoux, has recently begun a series of courses for check-out operators in the Partnership. All new operators in future will take the week’s induction training, whilst experienced operators take day refresher courses.

The thing is, check-out operators working at full speed don’t have time to read the label, and shouldn’t try to make time. They are encouraged to record the price from the price ticket. In fact, an experienced operator has already registered the price as she picks the article up with her other hand, where an inexperienced person would make three stages of it, first picking it up, then looking for the price, and finally ringing it up.

Comments about this page

  • This article bought back memories of check-out life at the old Tilehurst store. I trained on the sweda tills and still have bigger muscles on my left arm from picking up the groceries from the trollies! Us cashiers would have a race on a Friday night to see who could take the most money – oh happy days!

    By Jan Jackson (02/01/2013)
  • I had the pleasure of being checkout trained by the excellent Percy Pridoux who, at the time, was one of the last people to have worked for the founder and epitomised the ideal Partner. Life could be quite tricky then as all products were price marked, usually with an ink stamp which sometimes smudged but customers paid in cash or cheque in the days before credit and debit cards. We had a black list of customers who had bounced cheques which had to be checked before acceptance. Account customers brought a 2 part bill from the credit desk situated in the Wines dept. which needed the till receipt attached to the top copy handed to the customer with a hand written total on the bottom copy put in the till drawer which made its way to the accounts dept. If you got the nod from the Store Detective then you had to ask the customer very specifically if they ‘had anything else to pay for’. Customers returning glass bottles of Lucozade, Ribena and PLJ lemon juice got money back, 4d in old money I believe. At Gloucester Road we had 5 National tills facing the customers into the shop and you unloaded their basket or trolley with your left hand and operated the till with your right hand. The shopping went down a belt behind you for packing. We also had 4 Sweda tills facing the window where customers would approach from behind and you operated the till in the same way but pushed the shopping away from you. Shopping was packed into 2 sizes of paper bag, ‘special’ customers were allowed to use the new block bottom bags from Canada of which I still have a dozen or so in my loft ! Plastic carrier bags were 4d each. We also dealt with farthings, threepenny bits and sixpences….. I later became Checkout Manager and had a safe on the shopfloor by the checkout line for issuing change, a tricky manouvre on Monday night when the long queues required me operating a till as well as distributing change to the team. Checkout operators were spot checked by 2 people, one from the cash office and the Checkout Manager or deputy. The checkout nearest the exit door could take £1500 on a good day with the one furthest away down to £8-900. Changing till rolls and audit rolls as fast as possible in the full glare of a hostile queue was an art and not for the faint hearted.

    By Terry Hammond (10/12/2012)

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