Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Bag Problem

One of the staples of an ecofrugal lifestyle is the reusable shopping bag. A single reusable bag, costing as little as 99 cents, can replace literally hundreds of disposable plastic bags, and at many stores, you even save a few cents each time you use it. The only problem with them is that you often have to be quick about using them; sometimes, the checkers will have your purchases scanned and bagged before you can get out the words, "I have my own bag." I find I'm running into this problem less often as reusable bags become more common, but I still get caught out once in a while and end up having to tuck a disposable bag of new items into my reusable bag, which makes me feel like an idiot.

The one place I've never run across this problem before is Aldi. Unlike most stores, Aldi actually charges a direct fee for each disposable bag you use, so reusable bags there are the standard. I've seen people shopping with all kinds of containers, from the standard fabric grocery bag to a cardboard shipping box, and the checkers aren't fazed by them. Since we usually buy a lot of bulky items at Aldi, we generally shop with a collapsible plastic crate that we got from my sister-in-law. Instead of taking a cart, we just go through the aisles filling up the crate with items that we then unload onto the checkout conveyer. When we get to the front of the line, Brian props the crate against the end of the checkout counter, and the checker scans our purchases and dumps them directly into the crate. Sometimes Brian has to rearrange them a little as they come down the line to make everything fit nicely, but by the time the checker gives the total, everything is already "bagged" and ready to go. No fuss, no muss.

Or at least, that's how it's always worked until now.

Last Saturday, we went to Aldi and bought a fairly large amount of stuff (though not too much to fit in our crate). However, when Brian propped up the crate as usual and prepared to receive the groceries, the checker said, "I'll put these at the other end, it'll be faster." We then stared dumbfounded as she proceeded to scan each item and dump it, not into the crate we had ready, but at the back of the pile, just behind the divider that separated our stuff from that of the person behind us. Brian tried to explain, "No, really, I have a crate right here, you can just put them right in," but she kept insisting that it was "faster" to put all our items at the end of the line, where we would have to bag them all after she was finished scanning them, rather than straight into our container. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she was not only adding an extra, unnecessary step to the process, but also creating a risk that some of our items would end up being scanned twice—or that they would end up mixed in with the groceries of the person behind us and would never make it into our crate at all.

Brian and I did our best to adapt to this awkward situation on the fly. Since he was at the end of the line and I was next to the conveyer, I started grabbing the items as the checker threw them at me and tossing them back to Brian so that he could put them into the crate. Then he said, "Here, let's just switch places," and I squeezed past him to the end of the line while he took the crate to the back and started hastily loading in the items that were piling up there. It was a lot slower than usual, but he managed to get everything loaded in by the time I'd finished paying for everything. As we took the receipt and our change, he noted to the checker, "By the way, that really wasn't faster than what we usually do," and she said, "No, trust me, I've been working here five years and this is the best way to do it. See, you can tell it was faster because I was done scanning everything before you were finished bagging." Well, of course she was done scanning before we were done bagging; that's because she turned bagging into an extra step! If she'd just done what every other checker we've ever had at Aldi has done, the scanning and bagging would all have been done at once, and we wouldn't have wasted extra time transferring the groceries to the end of the line and back again!

What really bugs me is that not only did she insist on doing things in this idiotic, inefficient way, but she also insisted that it was store policy. She said something like, "There's actually supposed to be a cart here, so you can just take your groceries over there and bag them and not hold up the line. So you see, it doesn't save any time." Now, I can see how a policy like this sort of makes sense; if you have people who need to sort their cartful of groceries into individual bags, then it makes more sense to scan all their purchases and dump them back into the cart, then have the customers get out of the way while they bag them. But what she couldn't realize was that, in our case, the crate actually was serving as our cart and our bag at the same time. I guess her training didn't cover that situation, so she concluded that the crate was a "bag" and therefore the proper place to fill it was at the bagging station, separate from the checkout, and it would be inefficient to fill it at the checkout. And once she had that idea in her head, nothing—not even the evidence of her own eyes—could convince her that it wasn't so. Look, store policy says that groceries get bagged at the bagging station, not at the checkout! So you have to do it that way, whether you're actually using bags or not!

At this point, I'm just hoping that this checker we encountered was simply a single, isolated idiot, and all we have to do in future is avoid her checkout. What worries me is that maybe Aldi really is training its checkers to follow this dumb, inefficient practice, and we might start encountering it every time we shop there. If that happens, we'll be forced to start taking a cart into the store so the checkers will have their expected receptacle to put the groceries into—and then taking extra time afterward to transfer everything from the cart to the crate in the name of "saving time" at the checkout.
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