In China, as in most places, most fruit and vegetables have to be weighed before you can buy them. Normally, you grab a little plastic bag, pick your veggies and then immediately go the person at the weighing scale right there in the produce area. Then, when you get to the register, he or she just scans your item and you’re done. Now, this is different than what I’m used to in the States. In the States nobody is going to pre-weigh your item. You simply bag it up and take it to the cashier to weigh it for you as he or she scans it.
So, today, when I grabbed my produce, I looked around for the weigher person, but there was none to be found. There was a weighing scale, but no weigher. Another customer was also there wondering where the weigher was and was calling out, “who can weigh my stuff?” I kinda just hovered around waiting for her calls to beckon someone over. But when nobody came, I just continued shopping and figured I would come back when I was done with everything else.
A few minutes later I came back and found that 3 or 4 other people were wondering where the weigher person was. By this time there was an employee there pointing people towrad the front of the store and saying they don’t weigh it here anymore. It’s normal for me not to exactly understand stuff here and to follow where people point me to. I just headed in the direction that she pointed hoping to follow some of the other people to the news, secret weighing station. But everybody else was as confused as I was and wandering arund aimlessly looking for someone to help them.
Eventually, I realized what might be happening. They are now weighing everything right at the counter. So, I went to the register and saw that they indeed have scales to weigh items. So, I got in line, hoping this was truly the case and that I wouldn’t be wasting my time once I got to the front of the line.
But as I get in line I can see that there is utter chaos at the register. Not only are customers annoyed at the new produce system, they’re also trying to figure out the new mobile app VIP card. The lady directly in front of me spent about 5 minutes with the cashier getting her account set up. She was also annoyed that the seaweed she wanted wasn’t in the system and therefore couldn’t buy it. There was a man, perhaps a manager, that was running between the 4 cash registers dealing with problem after problem. He was sweaty and looked tired. It was going to be a long day for him.
Here are some of the reflections of this event:
1. It’s best to let the locals deal with the problems. Life as a foreigner can be frustrating. There are so many things that are different than what we’re used to. But I try to take cues from the locals as to how to deal with it. Is this different and frustrating just for me? Or is everyone thinking something is strange? Traffic on the roads flows differently in China. But you quickly learn that the only person doing something wrong is yourself when you try and force your own experiences on the traffic.
2. Good communication goes a long way. The most frustrating thing about the experience wasn’t that they changed the system. Changing it is not a problem. In fact, weighing my produce at the cash register is what I’m used to. But the communication was poor. There were no signs or people pointing people in the right direction. The one person that was there wasn’t very helpful. She kinda just waved us “over there”.
3. Changes take time. I kept thinking back to the day when the States made changes to the way things were done with produce. I don’t remember that day. It must’ve been before my time. But it had to happen at some point. Fast forward to how ever many years later, and it’s simply the way things are done. It’s more efficient for the grocery store and the customer doesn’t have to wait in line multiple times.
4. I’m happy the store is trying new things. Despite the obvious struggles that it was to change the system, this particular chain of grocery stores is working hard to change the status quo. They’re making the system better. They even have their own version of a self checkout! You use your phone to scan your own items and then pay with your mobile phone, too! That’s great stuff! That’s still a system in progress as the time it takes to get that done is significant. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Lots of good ideas get trashed by poor execution. Produce weighing at the cash register is a great idea, but it might get thrown out with the bathwater if it doesn’t get executed better.