Supermarket Psychology


2015 marks the five-year anniversary of me working on checkout at a supermarket. On my resumè it says, ‘Checkout Operator: 2010-Present’. In a perfect world, it would say, ‘Psychologist: 2010-Present’ and under special skills I’d be able to list something like, ‘miraculously has not killed everyone and himself with plastic bags’. But this isn’t a perfect world.

 And people are fucking shit. 

I’d be lying if I said that working on checkout hasn’t changed me in an incredibly profound way. It makes you cold, clinical. Scientific in your approach to people. I can make snap psychological assessments of every person I serve based on the way they behave at a cash register. The way they pack the belt, talk to me or their family, what they buy (couple who buy batteries, lube, a cucumber and nothing else- I’m looking at you… but not in your eyes, you disgusting animals) and how they want their bags packed are all things that are intrinsic to ones understanding of human personality, specifically the worst parts of human personality. 

I call this process of rapid diagnostics ‘The Raw Oyster Phenomenon (ROP)’. Upon processing a customer’s sale, you systematically begin to observe the aforementioned behaviours as a means by which to reject them in a fundamental way.  As soon as you observe certain consumer behaviours, alarm bells go off in your head, and you feel it in your gut. It’s a lot like eating a raw oyster; it’s slimy and unpleasant and fishy and your body says, ‘Hey I don’t think this is okay! Why are we eating a cross between a sneeze and a vagina at the bus station?’ You spit it out. You look at the oyster and you make sure to protect yourself in the future. 

Just as much as ROP is about diagnosis, it’s also about preservation. Below are some tried and tested psychological exercises and coping mechanisms to get you through your terrible retail job in 2015. 

The Parker Brother:
Physicality: Usually male, early 20’s. Brunette. Untucked, wrinkled shirt, skinny beige cinos. Quaffed hair. Dirty but in a rich, polite way. Tense at the register, seems to be rushing when it’s clear the only place he has to go is home.

Characteristics: The Parker Brother invented board games, including Monopoly and Clue! At cash registers, Parker Brothers also enjoy bringing this fun at-home gaming experience to the employee’s work environment by stacking literally all of their fucking groceries in metre high columns on the belt turning the process of processing their sale into a game of Jenga in which there is absolutely no winner. 

Treatment: Placing their eggs vertically in a bag full of giant dog food cans, so that the game doesn't stop in the supermarket, and they can play at home too! Remember, you always have the power to break people’s shit. 

"Treatment: Imagine them dying. Alternatively, go onto their facebook page and see what a mess they are/ if they get tagged in a lot of ‘DI$COUNT NIKE’ photos."

Old Scholars:
Physicality: Whatever the worst person you went to high school with looks like. 

Characteristics: This one is very specific as to your popularity in high school, but everyone has that one member of their graduating class that always was, always is and always will be an absolute dick. They will say things like, ‘oh you look so different now! You look so much better, I mean!’ and, ‘oh, still working here, huh? Yikes!’ It’ll put you in a terrible mood, no matter how you slice it. 

Treatment: Imagine them dying. Alternatively, go onto their facebook page and see what a mess they are/ if they get tagged in a lot of ‘DI$COUNT NIKE’ photos.  Also, when packing their groceries remember that you can always break their shit. 

Old Man Christmas:
Physicality: Usually over seventy, but still coherent enough to string together sentences that are so unsexy they make your anus slam shut at a speed faster than any bullet from any gun. 

Characteristics: Old men in society seem to think that they have a right to be disgusting. If you’re a girl, it’ll probably be gross flirting. If you’re a boy, it’ll be gross sex talk because they think you can relate. NOTE: You will not relate and you will want to leave. The most tried and tested of these jokes is, ‘I always ask my wife, ‘what’s the difference between me and Santa Claus? Santa Claus only cums once a year!’ As they’re laughing at themselves they’ll shake your hand and wipe a tear away from their eye. 

Treatment: Sanitise your hand after they’ve touched you. Try to unsee what you’ve seen. Break their shit. 

The checkout is a funny place, with opportunities for great development of intimacy with both customers and yourself. Psychologically, it’s taxing. Remember, the world is your oyster. Therefore, you can spit it out at any time. It’ll keep you sane, while an old man tells you about how much he likes to cum at 7am on a Tuesday morning.