Your average shopping experience is a two-act play. Will you see behind the curtain after you have read this?
Supermarkets, grocery stores, and home improvement stores all have one purpose in common: to sell inventory. To facilitate this goal, stores have developed a number of interesting innovations over the years. The simplest way to explain the retail sales floor, however, is that it is a two-act play: on the surface, it's a customer service-oriented arena, but underneath, it is a workplace. As a customer, I never understood how employees got paid for their work, because I never saw them doing anything. The scary part is that they were working all the while to make sure that items were where they were supposed to be and fully stocked, and I never saw them. Only as an employee have I noticed what actually happens all day long.
First, let's consider the viewpoint of the customer: it is mission-oriented. You the customer enter the store to get what you need and get out. Your perspective, then (and mine as a customer as well), is a rather narrow one, because you are only taking in what you want to. Universally, an associate is trained that the customer comes first, so if they are performing a task, they immediately cease as safely and quickly as possible and aid the customer until they have helped them to find what they need. Right here, then, is where the curtain drops over the workplace act, because work ceases when a customer has a request. From your point of view, then, you never actually saw the associate doing anything, unless you looked carefully just before you spoke to them.
Nowhere is this narrow focus more visible than watching customers' reactions regarding power equipment. In a home improvement store, customers expect there to be noisy forklifts with loud beeps, so they tend to keep their eyes open a bit more than they normally would. In a supermarket, however, I have personally watched customer after customer with a "thousand yard stare" intent on getting to whatever they need completely ignore safety vests, upheld hands, and verbal warnings, and thread their way around and underneath power equipment while in operation.
If I accomplish nothing else by this article, I encourage you to take a closer look around you when walking around a store. There are several pieces of power equipment likely to be encountered on the average sales floor, and they should all be considered as 2,000-pound angry Longhorn cattle. While at work, I have no ability or authority to stop a customer and teach them about shopping safety, but it is here that I hope to send the message out.
This device is a portable, electrically-operated forklift. It's probably the most useful tool we have for moving large amounts of items, and it is the only way to remove merchandise or work materials from storage (on steel racks) in order to utilize them on the sales floor. It probably weighs about 2,000 pounds, and it has forks that move up and down to pick pallets out of locations. Like most electrical equipment, it's very quiet, so many customers never notice it in their daily rush. I have seen many customers get irritated when I ask them to stop and remind them that this device is right in front of them. I understand that they really want their inflatable pool toy, but it's not worth risking an injury for.
Electric Pallet Jack
It's just like a pallet jack, except powered by electricity. These devices are mostly utilized over in grocery to carry things like cases of beer and soda as well as frozen items (they're impossibly heavy). Most often, power equipment is painted red. The same dangers are associated with the electric pallet jack as the walkie-stacker other than that it has no forks and cannot lift things up high. To reduce the potential of dangerous situations, stores developed a receiving area or stockroom in the back where customers are not permitted. It is here that trucks are unloaded and merchandise is in-processed to be used.
Not utilized as often, and it's a bit slower and louder. It's a hydraulic lift that might remind you of scaffolding. This device is used to pick things out of high places, such as out-of-reach signs.
If you encounter this machine, it's because you're out in the garden center or at a Home Depot. The fork lift is propane powered and larger, but otherwise functionally similar to the walkie-stacker. It has a higher load capacity and can reach much higher.
So what are the associates doing while you shop? For the most part, they're replenishing the inventory depleted by customers. Merchandise is supposed to appear a certain way and in a certain order, and it is the associate's job to keep it that way. So if you notice associates feverishly buzzing around an aisle and moving products or looking closely at the little tags that I never looked at before working in a retail store, you'll know that they're doing their best to get the products you want to buy on the floor.