Who’d Be A Supermarket Employee

This is the latest installment of our series “What Kiwis say about New Zealand” a collection of first hand accounts of life in New Zealand,as told by its own citizens. A unique chance to see New Zealand as the locals see it. If you are an international student planning to study and work in New Zealand this may be of interest to you.

This story was taken from a migrant self help and support forum called Expatexposed.com and tells the story of conflict, abuse and multiculturalism with that microcosm of society – the local supermarket. It was written by a Kiwi working in a national chain of New Zealand supermarkets whilst a student.

“I was back in NZ studying at uni a few years ago and worked nights and weekends at Pak n Slave Riccarton. Truely an eye opening experience. You really see the human race at it’s lowest possible denominator. Whatever thin veneer of civilised behaviour people have is cast aside.

I am not surprised that Pak n Save rates lowest for customer satisfaction because people go there with totally unrealistic expectations. They are not competing on service. It is the cheapest place to grocery shop and every effort is in line with this goal. They pay minimum wage and squeeze as much work as they can out of people for it. If you go there for the cheap groceries don’t expect the workers to grovel to your every whim. There were some customers (I gather they were Kiwis on benefits) who came in every week demanding personal service and attention in the most abusive manner.

Many Kiwis are extremely status concious based on someone’s job and will treat people like dirt if they think they can get away with it. I noticed this more with middle aged customers. If people spoke to me like a normal person with courtesy (or if it was a hot asian girl) I went out of my way to help them, but if they talked to me like a subhuman (more frequent) I did as little as possible. Customer service is tough and you need to protect yourself emotionally. Supermarket staff are not paid enough to bear the brunt of customers personal issues.

Also relevant to this forum, Pak n Save employed a lot of Chinese students and graduates. Since I had lived in China before I found it easier to develop rapport with them than my fellow Kiwis. They told me a lot about the problems in NZ and particularly the disappointments they felt with the ever changing residency rules and lack of job opportunities. I remember once a Chinese colleague told me “You must have learned some culture during your time in asia, because you’re the only kiwi I’ve ever felt comfortable talking to.” A great compliment.

Another thing about Pak n Save is it’s strategy of selling certain items at below cost to keep the shoppers coming in. This usually consisted of 2.25 bottles of Coke, large bags of potato chips and packets of chocolate biscuits. The idea is that people will come in to get some low cost treats and stay to do the rest of their shopping. The reality is that these items become dietary mainstays for low income families. I recall one period when a head of broccoli cost $4 and a ready made pizza was 99c. That explains your overweight yet malnourished children.

They gave us training in how to spot and stop shoplifters. I discussed this with one of the shop detectives and he told me that shoplifters were often meth addicts. They steal either becuse they have no money for food or to get high value items to sell for meth. He said he wouldn’t try to stop them because they would attack you and tear you to pieces without knowing what they were doing. Heeding this warning I stood by and did nothing a week later when a rough loking guy filled two shopping bags with steak and jumped the turnstyle to get out of the shop.

At the time I thought I could write a book, or at least a collection of short stories, about my time at Pak n Save, but with NZ long ago and far away those memories are mercifully fading.

Don’t be too hard on supermarket workers, they are not getting rich at their jobs and they put up with a lot of sh#t.