“Oh my! Is this bok choy?” the cashier asked, examining the vegetable closely.
“I believe it is baby bok choy,” I answered.
She spun the little price look-up wheel on the checkstand. “Well, all I’ve got here is bok choy. That’s okay, isn’t it?” She rang it up without waiting a reply. She moved quickly through my handbasket of mixed produce. Because almost everything had a PLU tag, almost everything got rung up correctly. Then (also without asking), she rang up the anise as leeks.
Because these two items were under-charged, it was good for the customer — but bad for the produce department.
A case of mistaken identity
Many produce items look alike. Or a cashier may not know what something is and will often guess its identity – incorrectly.
No big deal? Even though some may think it doesn’t make that much difference, incorrect pricing adds up and systematically eats away at sales and profits — and creates shrink. During my shopping experience (in which I was only trying to buy items for photos and wasn’t trying to fool anyone) it turned out worse for the store. I purchased $23.87 of produce. The difference in the mistakes came to $6.50 in lost sales, or 27% of the order. It’s safe to say the store lost money on the transaction.
Mistakes add up quickly
A young cashier may not know the difference between anise and celery, especially if a colored or multi-layer plastic bag conceals the contents. Even an experienced cashier may not know the difference between pricey radicchio and far-less-expensive red cabbage. How about the difference between regular and English cucumbers? Plums and passion fruit? The list goes on.
Let’s put more — this time hypothetical — numbers to a for-instance. Suppose a customer selects five pounds of organic gala apples. The retail is $4.49 per pound and should ring up at $22.45. The cashier, used to ringing up conventional galas, doesn’t examine the PLU carefully and rings up the fruit at $1.29 per pound for a total of $6.45. Result? The produce department loses a hefty $16 on just this sales ring alone.
What’s the solution? Consider challenging cashiers to a produce I.D. test on a weekly basis.
A produce manager should apply some critical thinking to anything that might come across as confusing to the cashiers. However, expanding that train of thought can also bring big benefits.
Consider: What just came into season? Will the more-expensive minneolas be mistaken for less-expensive navels? Do the cashiers know that seedless watermelons are $2 more than seeded this week? Even though many items have PLU stickers, these stickers can sometimes come off.
With these questions in mind, it’s easy to lay out a small sampling on a table to highlight produce items with which you can test cashiers. Ten items a week is good average. Put a regular tomato next to an heirloom. It might be wise to show the price differences between the two. If you receive a new item, be sure to include that on the test too.
Many chains will require that cashiers take the test before they start for the week. While it’s a rare chain that will tie the test into part of job performance, try rewarding the high scores with a drawing for an occasional small gift certificate or other prize.
The important thing is to be consistent. Change out the test items each week to ensure interest and compliance.
Monitor prices, people
Case story: A produce department once suffered heavy shrink losses, despite being well-run on the surface. An investigation turned up an interesting find: The store’s sales report indicated that it sold thousands of dollars of jonathan apples in November. The problem? There weren’t any jonathan apples after Halloween that season. Cashiers continued to ring up every red apple as a jonathan, and at the fire-sale price of 39 cents per pound used to clean up the inventory.
One practice to nip something like this in the bud is to run an internal, weekly price report. With this in hand, walk the department and compare the prices in your computer system to what is posted on your signs (which should be accurate and in sync with pricing sheets). Mistakes can happen, either at corporate or store level. In the case of the jonathan apples, had the store disabled the PLU once the inventory was depleted, it would have prevented untold thousands of dollars in lost sales and gross profit margin.
Be a friendly face
One inquisitive produce manager I knew went so far as to occasionally spend time on Saturdays in the front end of the store. He made it a point to meander up and down the checkstands, sacking groceries for about a half-hour or so. As he did this, he watched the cashiers to see if they were ringing up the produce correctly.
It’s a good idea to establish good rapport with your cashiers. Encourage them to walk the produce department. Get to know them by name, and offer assistance, especially with cashier I.D. tests. Once they realize what they do ties in with your job performance as a produce manager, they are more likely to examine PLUs a little closer and call for help if they don’t know what something is (like the anise in the example) instead of taking a wild guess.
A produce manager can do everything else right: write close orders, rotate displays faithfully, and take care of most of the details. However, if the produce at the point of sale isn’t going down the belt correctly, it’s all for naught.