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Daze of My Life: I Have a Question, Too--Why Bother?

Daze of My Life
I Have a Question, Too--Why Bother?
by Kenneth B. Lourie

Recently I've noticed a new politeness from some of the cashiers where I've been shopping. After being asked, again, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" I decided to respond in kind. I said, as clearly and as
pleasantly as possible, "No, I didn't, but thanks for asking."
Since it was fairly quiet at that moment and this particular cashier was actually listening, not just asking, he had said, "Sorry". I decided to engage him in conversation. "What happens next?" I asked. He looked at me, somewhat perplexed, and said, "I don't know. No one's ever said that before."
"What's the point of asking then?" I replied. "I don't know," he shrugged, as he finished bagging my order and figuring my change.
This exchange happened at a major supermarket chain. A similar exchange, minus my inquiry/response, also occurred at a pet superstore. There I was looking for a 10-pound bag of rabbit food for our pet rabbit, Chester, usually available for $7.99. Unfortunately, the one size (of our preferred Kaytee brand) remaining in stock "and on shelf" was a 5-pound bag for $4.99, which I had to buy, since Chester was down to his last pellet. This purchase meant my extrapolated cost for a 10-pound bag was $9.98 (2 x $4.99), not the $7.99 I wanted and expected to pay--a 25-percent increase in my unit-cost-type arithmetic.
Now I ask you, what should I say the next time I'm asked if I found everything I was looking for? Should I answer honestly and say no and incur the wrath of everyone else standing in line waiting to check out, and then ask to speak to a store manager? And when I speak to the manager, should I ask him for a clarification of this cashiers-asking-customers-if-they've-found-everything policy, when apparently they (A) are not keeping any kind of list (for someone who answers negatively, as I did, and (B) are not writing the customer's name and phone number and/or membership number down for future follow-up, and (C) don't appear to have a standard reply other than "Sorry".
Well, "sorry" don't feed the bulldog, or in this case, feed the rabbit.
Furthermore, exactly how am I going to be compensated, other than words (because as we all know, or have been told, talk is cheap) for answering the cashier's question honestly, and moreover, being inconvenienced (now that I have to make a return trip to the store five pounds earlier than I had intended) due to the missing item?
Will I be given a rain check, which will enable me to buy the missing item--which was not "on sale" just "for sale"--sometime in the future for the same price for which I was unable to buy this particular item in the present? Is that opportunity to return prematurely to the store, wander the aisles, and hope to find my 10-pound bag of rabbit food and then stand in line again supposed to turn me on? And if it doesn't turn me on, if in fact it turns me off, then why have a store policy--or a cashier's courtesy--that results in aggravating a paying customer by asking and then apologizing, thereby confirming a disappointment and then doing nothing about it other than giving it attention?
Does that sound like a good policy--bringing attention to a problem that the store seems unable or unwilling to solve? I don't think so.
Maybe these stores should employ a variation of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Instead of the subject matter having to do with the person's sexuality, however, this policy would instead be about the store's policy: If you don't ask the customer if he's found everything he was looking for, then you won't have to tell him that there's nothing you can do about his not having found it.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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