A Candid Cashier

Saturday, my husband and I made our “oh-my-god-Thanksgiving-is-Thursday-and-the-cupboard-is-bare” Costco run.

As we were checking out (with more wine than two elderly citizens ought to be purchasing), the pleasant and chatty young man putting our purchases into the basket noted some purchase (I didn’t notice which one) and said “You are obviously smart shoppers.”

I laughed and responded that at least we were smart enough to shop at Costco, rather than Walmart or Sam’s Club.

At that, the cashier looked up and said, “You can say that again! I worked at Sam’s Club for 13 years, and it was terrible. I hated it. I’m so glad to be here. You can’t imagine the difference.”

I’ve read plenty of comparisons between Costco and Walmart, and their treatment of employees, but this was qualitatively different: heartfelt testimony volunteered by someone who clearly had a basis for comparison.

Later in the day, I came across this paragraph in a story about the widening gap between rich and poor in America:

Few companies are as emblematic of the New American System as is Walmart. The company that in 2011 generated more revenues than any other, the company that is now the largest food retailer in the world is the same company that recently encouraged donations of food to its own employees. It’s also a company that, putting aside any losses generated when it replaces smaller, local stores, causes a net loss to every community it enters in the form of increased tax revenues needed to support its underpaid employees. Walnart not only counts on taxpayer dollars to subsidize its “low cost” stores, it counts on those same taxpayer dollars to drive its business. Walmart employees not only need food stamps to get by, Walmart is the largest place where those food stamps are redeemed. It’s a cycle that grinds employees (and communities) relentlessly down, while driving Walmart revenues just as consistently up.

In principle, I don’t mind having my tax dollars used for welfare. But I do object–strenuously–to the use of my tax dollars to subsidize Walmart’s (outsized) profits. If Walmart insists on screwing over thousands of people like the cashier I met yesterday, the company needs to do so on its own dime, rather than on the back of taxpayers. (But of course, that wouldn’t work. Walmart needs public assistance in order to continue paying the below-living wages that generate its generous profit margins.)

Ironically, as I’ve previously noted, Costco’s profits per square foot exceed Walmart’s by a significant percentage, even though Costco pays its employees far more, treats them better and provides health insurance.

Costco will be closed on Thanksgiving, so that its employees can spend time with their families. Walmart–of course–will be open.


  1. Louis, would you allow WalMart employees to unionize given the opportunity? Just wondering. Shelia, have you seen some of the Trader Joe’s employee comments vs the Trader Joe’s public image campaign – similar to WalMart’s new ads. Nickel and Dimed again.

  2. There are many in my situation; limited mobility (unable to drive to Castleton Costco), limited income (cannot pay annual dues and shop in these stores), limited needs (do not need to buy in bulk, live alone). Rave on about Costco all of you who prefer shopping there for your own reasons; do not belittle those of us who have different viewpoints as well as different needs. I shopped at Wal Mart this morning; there is always someone available to help me find what I need, they bag my purchases and load my cart if I need help. If Wal Mart employees are lower paid than Costco, I need to remind you that my salary working as support staff for the City of Indianapolis was nothing to brag about and private sector was rarely interested in local government employees seeking employment elsewhere. There will always be varying levels of income just as there are varying levels of need and abilities. If I wanted to pay annual dues and shop in bulk, there is a Sam’s Club next door to Wal Mart and I can easily drive there.

  3. People are trying to get me (oooops, Me) to express a preference for Costco over Sams and Walmart, or conversely. I just don’t get involved in such things, especially around the holidays. 2000 years ago people asked one of my earthly manifestations a similar question about obeying Me or paying taxes to Caesar, and you know what my response was. Render unto Costco the things that…..you know the rest. (Just don’t render anything to a Salvation Army kettle so long as they misquote Me on how I feel about LGBT people.)

  4. this is not directed at Wal-mart, but it should be pointed out that other places – such as Mcdonalds- should have different measurements. As example, there used to be a program teaching and paying students to go to community college, where they get PAID, taught to show up, comb hair, etc. at taxpayers expense. We yell at MCD for teaching the same thing and PAYING their “students” without hitting up the taxpayer for the money. I know job corps do something similar. Wal mart also hire marginal employees as well as those that are part time, etc. Gives you a different evaluation on the situation.

  5. I did a little research on Costco. Items are bulk packaged for famiies or businesses, it does not carry multiple brands or varieties of products. Customers must bring their own bags or use shipping boxes to bag or box purchases themselves. Lighting costs are reduced on sunny days due to skylights and turning off interior lights. Shipping pallets are used to display products on the warehouse floor. Costco is open to members and their guests for annual dues of $55 for Gold Star (individual) or business; can be upgraded to Executive membership for an additional $55 with membership offers such as home loans, car insurance and check printing services.

    Between the money they save on comfort, do-it-yourself bagging which means fewer employees, lower variety of options regarding brand name products, plus annual fees and also being in the business of home loans, car insurance and check printing. they can well afford to pay employees more than Wal Mart or fast food restaurants. I will stick with the well-stocked shelves, on-floor employees offering assistance and keeping shelves stocked, having my purchases bagged for my convenience at Wal Mart. There is also a well supplied grocery area, bakery and deli services, a beauty shop, banking services and quality vision care on-site.

    The pleasantries of Mom and Pop local speciality businesses are sadly missed; I miss the personal service by neighbors I knew but this is a different world from the one I grew up in. There are benefits and losses with these changes but; there are also millions more in population in all cities and towns who are more conveniently served by shopping malls, strip malls and these “big box” stores who can never please everyone.

  6. Sure Walmart has all the bells and whistles but here is the rub they pay their employees crap! I went with my wife to Sams Club on the east side (we were in a hurry) and they didn’t have stuff I was looking for. If I would have gone south to Emerson the quality and quantity picks up. Why because the people are richer! Retailers are incredibly smart they tailor there stores to their customers. Costco caters to the rich and well off. They also pay their employees well. Wall Street hates it but the founder is still old school. WalMart could pay their employees better but it is all about the stock price. Interesting I have found things cheaper in Target then Walmart and I can usually beat them all on Amazon or Ebay. But I am not going to buy my groceries online, YET!

  7. Every time I read and anti-Walmart, anti-low wage post I read plenty of comments about such and such company needing to pay their people more. I never read what the company should pay. What folks don’t understand is that the more and more retail places pay, it becomes less likely that the current applicant pool will ever be hired and that those with jobs will keep them. My Walmart isn’t in a bar area, but it clearly draws from the lower income spectrum for most of the positions. Many of women talk about their kids, may have spent plenty of money on their smart phones, fancy nails, fancy hair, name brand jeans, etc.. I say ‘may have’ because no one really knows if all the bling costs money, or if it is even real. The biggest issue is the kid or kids. Many of these women don’t wear a wedding band, and most don’t speak proper English. Many likely suffer from having minimal education, likely were born or raised in or near poverty, and likely will continue the path of generational welfare.

    Why is it Walmart, McDonalds, etc’s fault that our current moral and value standard in this country is so low, that we now embrace having kids out-of-wedlock? Spending money one doesn’t have on extras? Demanding someone else foot the bill? Since we no longer blame or hold accountable the individual for their actions in this county, we want to blame others. On that token, what if rent was only $300/mo. for a decent two bedroom apartment, and not $600/mo.? Why aren’t we blaming property companies and landlords for charging high rents? Why aren’t we blaming the banking system for decades of high interest rates which caused this need for such high rents due to construction costs? Is $17/hour, $14/hour, or $12/hour really gonna make a difference for a single mother with one or more kids, who likely has no father in the picture? With rent, transit, and healthcare now costing hundreds a month, plus other smaller costs, Walmart would likely have to pay $25/hour for these folks to really have a “middle class lifestyle” and not live on some sort of welfare assistance. The problem is, at $25/hour to run barcodes over a laser, tons of people will quit other jobs that pay less that require more skill to go and work at Walmart.

  8. I worked previously as a cashier so I can definitely understand that gentleman’s feelings. Having worked at several different companies understanding the way a cashier is treated can have a big impact on customer service and the employees outlook on the company. Proper staffing and management in my opinion are two of the biggest factors in empowering cashiers and improving their performance. If the cashiers are understaffed and working long lines without being able to use the bathroom, take a break or leave work on time its going to have a big impact on employee moral and the customers experience. If there is proper staffing and cashiers receive their breaks 2 – 15 min breaks and an hour than they will be much happier and more productive. This is just based on my own experience working as a cashier. Thanks for sharing.

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