Checkout: A Job in the Retail World Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Checkout: A Job in the Retail World

1 Conversation

A cashier holds a five-pound note prior to inserting it into a till.

Nearly everyone, at some point in their working lives, will earn money by taking it from other people. This is not a bad job to have, although it can be monotonous, and is typically not very well paid. It has its up sides and its down sides just like every other job, and if you like being happy with what you do for a living, it's best to concentrate on the positives.

One of the best things about working at a checkout is that it requires almost no technical skill at all, so anyone can be qualified to do it. From a consumer's point of view this may not be one of the benefits, but if you're looking for a means of earning some cash, it's very good for you.

What Exactly Does A Checkout Person Do?

Essentially, a checkout operator1 creates a record of goods or services provided, processes payment for said goods and services, and provides the purchaser with a receipt. This is a fancy way of saying that most of them push buttons on a cash register until it comes up with a total, which they then charge the customer.

Operating a cash register can be very simple, or it can be relatively difficult, depending on the design of the machine and your mechanical aptitude.

Checkout: 101

Customers will approach the cash register with an order. An order may be a basket full of items, a list of things to be ordered, an invoice of things that have already been ordered, an invoice of services that have been provided...anything a customer wishes to purchase is an order. The checker enters the items in the cash register, either by keying a price or product code manually, or by scanning a bar code2 with a scanner. The cash register adds everything up; taxes, if applicable, will be added manually or automatically, and a grand total is displayed.

The cashier tells the customer what the total is and waits for payment. When payment is presented, the cashier processes the payment, provides change if it is due, and gives the customer a receipt for proof of purchase. It's generally good manners to thank the customer for their purchase.

Dealing With Cash Registers

Cash registers come in many shapes and sizes, and some can perform a variety of tasks. Since ease of use would be subjective, we'll tackle them in order of simplicity.

A simple cash register will have a few specialised buttons. Usually there will be a quantity button for ringing multiple items, a percentage or discount button for markdowns and a tax button that can be programmed with the local tax rate. A 'No Sale' button is common for opening the till without transacting a sale. A 'Void' button will remove an item from the sale. There might be a few other buttons that can be customised to a specific location.

Computerised cash registers can be designed to be as simple or as complex as need dictates. The most common cash registers in modern times include a scanner, which reads bar codes, and automatic price look-up. The simplicity of this is that the checkout operator merely introduces the scanner to the bar code and the machine does the rest. These registers are typically programmed with sales and specials from a central computer. They also automatically calculate tax rates, totals, change due, are able to split payment, and process electronic forms of payment all on the same machine.

Dealing With Customers

This is, of course, where all the difficulty of any customer service job comes in. It's important to accept right at the beginning that some people are never going to be happy, and that it's no reflection on you and your ability to take someone's money with the utmost professional courtesy.

Be friendly and polite. Smile. During particularly frantic shopping days (in retail, any day a month before Christmas, or the day before a big snowstorm if you're in a grocer's) it's a good idea to just start the day with a smile and keep it there, come what may. Ask customers if they've found everything they were looking for, or if they received acceptable service. Be helpful if there is a problem. A nice thing about running the cash register is that all troubled roads lead to the manager, which means it's never your job to tell a customer what they don't want to hear. They would just ask to see the manager anyway if you tried.

When you've finished accurately processing the order, give the customer the total. Most of the time, payment will be presented by credit card, debit card3, cash or, on rare occasions, even a cheque.

  • If the order is paid by credit card, hold on to the card after you scan it until you give the customer the signature slip. Compare the signature on the card to the signature on the slip. If they don't match, or if there's no signature on the card, ask for a second form of identification.
  • If the order is paid by cheque card or debit card, the customer processes the whole payment by himself by entering a PIN code on a keypad that is sitting on the counter. Professional intervention is occasionally, but not usually, required.
  • If the order is paid by cash, make sure you accurately key in the correct amount tendered. The cash register will automatically tell you how much change to return, but it's a good idea (and will impress your boss) to learn enough simple maths to be able to count the change back yourself. Always return coins first, counting from the total purchase to the next even note, then count notes back to the total that was paid. Never hand the notes back first and place the coins on top because the coins can slide off and fall, forcing the customer to retrieve them4.
  • If the order is paid by cheque, in most cases the business requires you to ask for identification to verify the address on the check and match the signature. Write on the cheque any additional guarantor information the business requires (ID number, phone number, approval number) and complete the transaction. The cheque may be considered invalid if any of the guarantor information is written on the cheque before it is presented.

Always smile and thank the customer for their purchase or for stopping by.

Beyond the Basics

The checkout person is an important line of defence between a store's inventory and shrinkage5. This is why it's important to charge for each individual item a customer purchases. As merchandise is scanned it should also be checked to see that it hasn't been tampered with - that a more expensive item hasn't been put in a package for a less expensive item, or that the tags haven't been removed from a cheaper item and placed on something else. A cashier should check inside of any item that is large enough to contain a smaller item.

All customers should be greeted, ideally as they enter the store, but also anywhere on the sales floor - by any employee they encounter; since many stores place cash registers near the doors this may fall to the cashiers. When a customer has been greeted he knows that someone has seen him - this will make the honest customer feel good about their shopping experience, but more importantly it can deter the customer whose intentions are less pure. Also thank customers as they leave, even if they haven't made a purchase, for the same reasons.

Scam artists know that cash registers and their operators are prime targets, especially during peak seasons such as Christmas. Checkout operators should be familiar with the possibilities for fraud and stay sharp enough not to fall victim to them. As a cashier, any time you feel you've lost the thread of a transaction or that you're being deliberately targeted, immediately close the till and call a manager for assistance.

Your Career as a Checkout Person

Checking is generally an easy job to perform, if a little physically demanding. It usually requires standing or sitting in the same spot for hours on end, with a few breaks in between. There may be moderate lifting involved, depending on the type of merchandise your employer sells. Although it usually doesn't pay extremely well, there may be additional perks, like a moderate employee discount - sometimes as much as 50% - depending on the nature of the business.

It isn't glamorous, but cashiering is not the worst job you could have. It can be fun, especially if you are a people person, and it can easily be the first step to bigger and better things.

1Cashier or checker in the US.2European Article Number (EAN) or Universal Product Code (UPC).3Called a cheque card in some parts.4Which is impossible to do when passing money through a drive-up window.5Shrinkage is the term that describes theft or other loss of inventory; it is the difference between what a store should have in combined inventory and sales, and what a store actually has in combined inventory and sales.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more