The Cashier

If there is a cashier amongst the reader, please skip the post for you might find it demeaning.

In an Indian shop, the cashier is one of the most important person. It is so important that usually the owner/family member dedicates himself full time for the duty. However during my visit to South Korea and Singapore, I realized that out there the cashier is a minimum wage job. Only people in their late teens with no prior experience work as a cashier.

Ever wondered why?

To search the answer to this question, I started looking at the activities performed by a cashier.
1) In spite of the fact that there is always a never ending flow of people approaching you, You need to smile all the time. You cannot rest for even a second.
2) Your actions are quite robotic. You need to check the price tag of each and every article, feed it into a computer, ask the customer for change, swipe their card, pack their merchandise etc. How you treat the first customer is almost the same as you would treat the next one and there is hardly any incremental knowledge addition.
3) Whats worse is that you need to be as fast as possible. People are OK with spending an hour in a shop (trying new dresses, going through the shop’s selection, or simply window shopping) but they won’t tolerate spending even one extra second at the cashier’s queue.
4) To make matter worse, you need to be good in maths. Your each mistake would cost the shop money.

There is nothing glamorous about it. To sum up, it is an important job, but does not add any value to the business. Then why is it that it is held so important in India?

I thought maybe my judgment is clouded by the fact that in India shops are smaller in size. Hence I went to small bakeries, restaurants and bars. I found that the owner is usually in the kitchen, or working as a head waiter/bartender. In a small shop (with >3 employees) the owner is the person who greets you at the shop’s doorsteps and guides you to the correct section of the shop. Whats worse is that in some shops multiple employees have access to the same cash register. (something that is unthinkable in India)

The only reasons that I could come up with are:
1) Historical reasons: a few generations ago, the shop keeper was the only person who could read and write. Doing basic maths of calculating the price, subtracting the discounts, keeping record of credit and tendering the change were so much error prone and important that only the the merchant himself or his trusted aide the Muneen could be trusted with the job.
Today, billing machines and price tags have reduced the complexity, but still Indians are slow to change.

2) Indifference towards customers: In other countries, to run a successful enterprise, you need to understand them well and make extra efforts towards serving them better. That is why the owner takes the responsibility of managing the customer interaction. That is why they are often the first person who comes ahead and greets you, they are the production incharge (kitchen) or supervises the service.
In India the competition is still not that much cut throat or maybe the owner prefers to get a cozy desk job to ensuring that his customers get the best.

3) I think it is because of lack of honesty amongst Indians: It is well known that most shops in India evade VAT/Sales tax. They misreport the sales, inventory and costs and a lot of bribes and speed money needs to be paid. Now do to lack of any accounting/reports/paper trail you cannot trust anybody else to handle the job.
While in developed nations, every customer gets the correct bill/receipt of the sale and most payments is made via credit card and not in cash. Hence its OK for them to allow just about anybody to handle the job of the cashier.

What do you think is the reason?

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10 thoughts on “The Cashier

  1. Hi Ankur.

    Keeping in mind the fact that you are talking about “Small” shops, here my thoughts:

    1. Commitment: Generally the “Employee” has a lackadaisical attitude. He/she is just there to work. Whether the billing is done rightly or not, really doesn’t concern the employee. Hence the shop owner takes care of this job.

    2. A deviation of your point No.3: The cahier could bill Rs.80, when the product costs Rs.100, and pocket the Rs.20.

    3. When a person needs to be employed and paid “x” amount to do the Cashier Job, why not employ the person for “x” amount to do other jobs like dusting the articles, packing stuffs etc.? Even if the Cashier is paid less, some one has to take care of jobs like the above mentioned. Better to shell out extra money and hire a Employee. After all the Cash counter is not thronged by Customers. The Shop-Owner can thus do the Cahier Job and also concentrate on other things like inventory etc.

    Voracious Blog Reader

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  2. @vbr…
    #After all the Cash counter is not thronged by Customers. The Shop-Owner can thus do the Cashier Job and also concentrate on other things like inventory etc.#
    yups makes sense.

    @dead…
    even in shops having the electronic registers etc, i have seen that cashier is the owner. Only when one comes to the size of the medium sized departmental store, you can find a roaming manager who walks the talk.

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  3. Ankur, I beg to differ. The scenario of a cashier’s job is so much different that that in western countries which such cashiers are so dumb and work just (as you put it) a robot. Whereas in India, especially the small shops where business is huge, the cashier’s job is quite breath taking. More so, he manages even the stocks, arrival of new stocks, payments and receipts and also deal with customers bargaining for discounts. This is in deep contrast to what happens abroad. There, the cashier just swips the product, accepts cash and gives back change. Even if there were to be a bug or a flaw, the cashier is at loss to set things right.

    So definitely the “conventional” cashier in India is no dumb person and requires extra skills to manager the “counter”.

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  4. Ooops… after posting my comment, I noticed there were too many errors and grammatical mistakes. Hope you can “read between the errors”. Thanks 🙂

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  5. next time take a good look at what the cash registers are.
    Most cash registers in India are very old fashioned and obsolete in a way.
    A good reason for that is in India you can always bargain in more or less everything.
    In places like Singapore or Korea how much bargaining did you do?
    The cash register is pre programmed with the inventory and codes. All you need to do is type in the code or scan it and viola.

    Yes it is the same in small shops in Singapore. Where bargaining is done you rarely see cashiers.
    Yup my domain 😀

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  6. Cashier for small business = Manager + Owner + Suprevisor + Finance
    One reason would be as u pointed out… the lack of faith in employees. But this is changing in big shops where its computerized.

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  7. firstly i have no authority on this topic. I saw an odd behavior and hence the post.

    many of the shops in india have started coming towards a fixed price regime… atleast thats true with the grocery stores.
    maybe with computerization, in future they do not need to man the cashier to keep a tab on what goes in and what outside.

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  8. well i agree with xylene and add – inventory manager/ logistician to his list

    from ur comment the identity thing came with a smile cause i know u were testing
    may thats a lot of traveling have a safe trip Bon Voyage!

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  9. Pingback: Mobo Money: Tap & pay | e-Nagar

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