Remember when salespeople used to follow you around in stores, continually asking, “May I help you?”
Yeah, well, those days are over.
To wit: Three weeks ago, at the height of my flea crises — two houses, two crises — I went to one of the larger pet care stores to get the high-octane flea medication that I had (unfortunately) decided not to expose my dog to this year.
Yes, in an effort to protect my dog from the chemicals in anti-flea medication, I exposed her (and myself) to enough chemicals to kill an elephant. This included flea-killing pills (courtesy of the veterinarian), along with assorted toxic sprays and collars and two poison-wielding exterminators.
How are we still alive?
Then, one month after the vet’s anti-flea pill expired, I had to go to my pet store to get a vial of MORE chemicals to drip onto the dog’s back.
Sadly, my little mom-and-pop pet shop was all out, so I had to go to a massive pet store, where I didn’t know anyone.
Wandering aimlessly from aisle to aisle — “Hello? Does anyone work here?” — I finally found a display of the stuff I wanted, contained in colorful, almost identical square boxes.
I quickly noticed that one box (“Advantix II”) was $37 and the other (“Advantage II”) was $47, but nothing on either box explained what the difference was.
I tried to open one of the boxes, in search of additional info, only to realize that these were dummy boxes stacked near a sign that advised me to take the box I wanted to the cash register.
I rushed to the register, waited 15 minutes — because it was the only register open — and then handed the cashier both boxes.
“I’d like one of these,” I said. “But I don’t know what the difference is between them.”
He stared at me. Silently.
After about 30 years went by, I said, “These have similar names and different prices. Can you tell me the difference between them?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Oh, OK.” (Being a cashier doesn’t mean he knows what every product is.)
So, I asked, “Is there anyone I can speak to who does know the difference?”
He said, “No.”
(During my time in this enormous store, I hadn’t seen a single salesperson.)
“Why don’t you just bring me a box of each, with the products in the box,” I said, “and I’ll check them out.”
I eventually wound up buying the $47 box, which had four treatments, vs. the $37 box, which had two.
(There were other differences, but I no longer cared.)
I departed but needed a few other things for the house. So, on my way home, I stopped off at my local mom-and-pop hardware store, which didn’t have what I needed. So I reluctantly went to one of those mammoth hardware chains, which had 80,000 customers roaming its aisles and ONE cashier.
The reason there is only one cashier open is because these stores need three cashiers to monitor their self-checkout lanes.
I know this self-checkout business is supposed to be easy-peasy, but I can’t seem to do it myself without sirens going off and people howling at me.
My drugstore no longer has ANY cashier working up front, unless you scream for one. Things are only slightly better at my grocery store, which has two registers open until there are so many people on line that you know you’re going to be there until Thanksgiving.
As for the lack of employees, I often stop the first person I see and ask them, “Do you know where the salt is?”
They invariably scream, “I DON’T WORK HERE!”
And I invariably scream back, “NO ONE DOES!”
Fast-food restaurants now prefer if you give your order to a computer. Bank tellers are like “Survivor” contestants — every week, another one disappears. Toll collectors are extinct.
And the newspapers you subscribe to can’t find reliable delivery people, while the papers you don’t want arrive every week like clockwork.
No one at any of my doctors’ offices wants to talk to me on the phone. No one at my pharmacy takes my calls, either. They take calls only when I am in the store, when I am the next customer on line, and when I have to get home ASAP to go to the bathroom.
According to the Labor Department, 336,000 workers joined the workforce in September.
Clearly, they are not working in retail.
Lately, more and more friends are telling me they have gotten so fed up at self-checkout counters that they have walked out of the store in frustration, leaving their entire cart of stuff behind.
I’ve also heard from store employees who say that in the absence of cashiers, more and more people are stealing merchandise.
Some of these thieves go to jail, but they usually escape quickly because no one works there, either.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Retail employees going from omnipresent to nonexistent