Customer Service, 5¢

It’s been just over a year since the City of Toronto implemented a mandatory charge of 5¢ for every plastic bag distributed by any store in the city. The CBC is reporting the program is a success thus far.   The primary objective of this new fee is to divert plastic from the landfill. It’s a worthy cause, and I’m fully behind it. Prior to living in Toronto I had reusable bags and used them often. Now, I carry a little reusable bag with me almost everywhere I go. I haven’t handed over many nickels in this last year.

What urks me about this new fee is the disappearance of customer service and teller patience that seems to have accompanied it. As soon as more and more folks started bringing their own bags, retailers who formerly  packed your purchases in their bag stand idly by and watch impatiently while you juggle things yourself. When the new fee was initiated, this was true almost across the board.

Now that the fee has been in place over a year, there’s really only one retailer that seems to be a holdout on this – Shoppers Drug Mart. When I’m at the pharmacy counter, and I put my reusable bag on the counter as I surrender my credit card for a couple hundred dollars in prescriptions, they typically put my purchase in my bag. However, at the front of the store, if I’m purchasing milk or some other items, it seems near impossible to get that service.

This issue is amplified for me at Shoppers. Usually I haven’t put all my items on the counter yet and the cashier is asking “do you have an optimum card?”  Well yes, I do, but let me unload what I have in my hand first, then let me open my handbag, then fetch my wallet, then peel out my optimum card. Of course I never say THAT, I just say “yes” and get on with handing it over after I’ve unloaded my stuff on the counter.

With that first question of “do you have an optimum card?”, I get the distinct impression they’d like me out of there as fast as possible. It’s all transactional, not very warm and fuzzy. If they waited five seconds to ask me, it wouldn’t feel like such a pressure cooker.

As I drape my reusable bag across the counter, rarely is it filled by the cashier. I used to say “I brought my own bag for you” in hopes that’d work. Nope, didn’t.

It’s what happens next that makes me a bit crazy. Once I’ve paid and they’ve handed me the receipt, I now have three things to do to organize myself: put my change in my wallet, put my optimum card back in my wallet where it goes, put my wallet in my handbag and zip it up. In my experience, during this time the cashier stands impatiently and cocks her head around me to make eye contact with the next customer. The next customer starts breathing down my back while my reusable bag and purchases are still sitting on the counter. Essentially the cashier is saying “I’m done with you, now move along”. This tactic makes lousy lovers, and terrible customer service. Yet, it persists.

By the time I put my handbag on the floor, then start packing up my purchases, the cashier is already scanning the next customer’s items. At my Shoppers, the counter isn’t very big, this adds a bit more misery to the whole scene.

This. drives. me. nuts.

How many seconds would it take to just give me the breathing space to pack up my purse then my items? Better yet, why not use the time to pack up my purchases for me?

On the rare instance I’ve forgotten my own bag, and have to purchase one of theirs for a nickel, order is totally restored. They have that workflow down pat. When I have my own, it all goes to pot, it seems.

I’m totally behind this charge. I think it’s an awesome idea. We should start adding a similar fee for bottled water too and divert some of that plastic from the landfill. I’d just really like a bit of old fashioned customer service when I check out. Do I have to pay a nickel for it? Some days, I just might.


5 responses to this post.

  1. How interesting. We don’t yet have that fee across the board but it never dawned on me that with it will come a pack your own bag theory. I get enough of that when i shop at Wholesale or SuperStore.

    I did notice yesterday when I was at Shoppers, they had a new sign up ” plastic bags 5 cents each’. So I bought one of their big reusable bags. Come to think of it, I had to pack up my own stuff too.

    very interesting.


  2. Yep, I have seen this almost everywhere, except for my local Metro. The cashiers there ask for my reusable bag and start packing it for me. I don’t often shop at Metro because their prices are so much higher than Food Basics or Freshco (where I have always packed my own bags, of course), but they are convenient sometimes. Maybe you should write Shoppers and see tell them that it would be great if their cashiers offered to pack your purchase in your reusable bag.


  3. Posted by Tracy on July 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Just a thought; why not refuse to pay until the items are packed.


  4. Oh I am so agreeing with you! Not only do I have to carry my bag with me and I usually do, but now the cashier doesn’t have to do any work as I do the packing, while trying to use the debit machine at the same time!


  5. Posted by Jackie on July 26, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Here in Fort McMurray, some of the stores charge 5 cents per bag, but as of Sept 1st this year there will be a BYOBag by law implemented and you won’t be able to get one use bags at the grocery stores. My experience has been when I pass over my bags the staff packs up my purchases just as if they were using the store bags. I can honestly say that I haven’t seen a change in customer service here. 🙂


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