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Over the past year, there has been ample discussion on MNB about the phenomenon of self-checkout, but the September 13, 2003, issue of The New Yorker offers a different look at the art of getting customers to pay for their food.

In New York City, at a Whole Foods on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, a man named Bill Jones has an unusual job for the supermarket employee. He’s called a “line director,” and in essence, he directs traffic as a single line of people with shopping carts feeds into a group of 24 checkouts. The job was created because the line was growing “serpentine,” and there was recognition that shoppers were growing testy.

Jones’s job is to keep the line moving and to keep the customers entertained and happy…bantering and joking with them, reassuring them that they’ll be getting through soon, and generally approaching the task with what the article calls “mythmaking confidence and authority.”
KC's View:
What Jones and Whole Foods are doing, it seems to us, is putting a human face on the worst part of the shopping experience, creating an identity for the store and a connection for the customer.

It is the opposite of what some retailers do with self-checkout, which is to eliminate people so they can eliminate cost, but by eliminating people, they cut out human contact.

To compete today, a retailer has to find a way to differentiate itself. How better than with a smile, a joke, and human face?