Reader Q&A: How to Deal with Unfriendly Cashiers

Reader Q&A

Today I want to address a couponing question that I can totally relate to — the worry over “unfriendly” cashiers.

I just started using coupons — thanks to KOAB — but I am always nervous when I go into the store. I feel like there is such a stigma, especially from the cashiers, who sometimes seem so exasperated when I whip out my small stack of coupons. Have you had to deal with this ever?

~ Amy in Colorado

Woohoo! I’m proud of you for venturing into the coupon business. I bet it’s going to get easier and easier to save more and more money!

Over the last two+ years of bargain shopping and coupon clipping, I have encountered countless kind and helpful cashiers. I’ve even been high-fived (that was a little embarrassing) by one cashier.

But yes, on rare occasions, I have come across the cashier who made my entire trip to the store a complete nightmare. Whether it was because they didn’t know their own store’s coupon policy or because they had had a long day and didn’t feel like dealing with 20 coupons and three different transactions, these cashiers practically reduced me to tears.

Once or twice, I have ended up scraping the whole trip and leaving the store empty handed. But I can usually avoid getting to that point by using some of these simple strategies:

1. Pick your cashier

Talk to any seasoned couponer and they will all admit to a little bit of “profiling” when faced with a row of check-out lines. For me, I prefer either the teenagers or the retirees, and men tend to be less likely antagonized than women. All that said, I’ve had cashiers who completely blew all my stereotypes out the window. Have you ever noticed that some cashiers are more “coupon friendly” than others?

2. Be polite

Different regions of the country have different norms about how to behave in a cashier-customer relationship. In the Midwest, a friendly hello, a sympathetic remark about what a long day they must be having , or even just a warm smile will go a long way. Beyond the basic pleasantries, I always speak politely and respectfully — even when I KNOW that I am right and they are wrong 😉

3. Know your policies

The rules of coupon useage are more or less universal, but if there is ever an issue about a particular coupon not coming off as I know it should, it’s always helpful to know what the store’s policy is. Some stores, such as Whole Foods, unfortunately don’t have national policies. But many of the bigger stores — including Target and Walgreens — have national policies. Other stores, like CVS, are known for their YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) situations.

4. Be willing to escalate to a manager.

This is hard for me, but if there is a situation that is really going south fast, I will ask to speak with a manager. Or, if I’m at Target (where frankly, I have had the most problems with coupons — which I understand is pretty common) I will just gather up my goods and make my way over to the customer service desk. Nine out of ten times, this resolves the situation — it doesn’t necessarily mean that I get my “way”, but I leave with my dignity… and hopefully a few good deals.

5. Call or write a letter.

What about the 1 out of 10 times when it doesn’t end well? Frankly, this has almost never happened to me… but I sure do remember the three times when it did. (Let’s just say that that’s why I almost never go to K-Mart or my neighborhood Walgreens anymore.)

I have two options: I can just let it go and let my (lack of) patronage speak for me — aka what I did with K-Mart and Walgreens. Or, I can make a phone call (or send an email). I’ve only done this once before – and it wasn’t because they didn’t take my coupon (even though I totally knew that coupon was legit!), but because I was treated so unkindly that I was actually embarrassed in front of my kids.

I know cashier “issues” can be a huge hurdle for new couponers, so I’d love to hear from you on this: Have you encountered unfriendly cashiers? And how did you deal with the situation?


  1. I think it also helps to know your store. One of the Target locations near me is very coupon unfriendly (up through the management) so I go to the other one where the cashiers push through any coupon I give them without any questions.

    I also try to do only one transaction per visit. I am lucky to have several Walgreens and CVS stores within 5 minutes drive, and it’s worth the driving to avoid looking like I’m trying to take advantage with multiple transactions. (Although, I did have a beauty consultant at Walgreens once ask me, when she saw my coupons, how many transactions we needed to do.)

  2. My Shop Rite does not take internet coupons so I rarely have a stack of coupons to hand over. I give them my 4-10 coupon, and almost without fail, the cashier cheerfully rings them up.

    Where I have a problem is with the store’s price guarantee policy–if the item rings up wrong, you get the item free. It always ends up being more trouble than it is worth. As I am shopping, I will often come across bargains that seem a bit too good to be true–something that was on sale last week still marked with the sale price, a special that was not on the store’s circular, etc. I will get the item, and if it rings up wrong, I will challenge the price. While the price is checked, the cashier will roll her eyes at me; the people behind me in line will glare at me, and the manager will look at me as if to say, “Are you really arguing over a $0.25 price difference?” I want to crawl out of my skin, and say, “Forget the whole thing.” But my frugal (cheap?) nature get me to challenge the price every time. I cannot not let the store overcharge me even $0.25. (And if I am right, I will get the item free.)

  3. Point #2 in your post has seemed to work well for me. I always say hello, make some small talk, and let them know I have coupons before they even start my transaction. I tell them I appreciate their patience as I am trying to feed my family for a bit less. Everyone seems to understand that in these times of financial constraint.

    I also try to shop a little later in the evening (as that is the only time I have) when the stores are not quite as busy. I have shopped too late into the evening (10 mins before closing) and felt I created havoc for the poor cashier – who was working diligently to make all my coupons work but her register was rejecting each and every coupon I had handed her. She and her manager over road the cash register as every person who was still in the store was behind me in line.

    In reference to Point #1 in your blog, I also look for registers where I see other people using coupons successfully. It demonstrates the competency of the cashier. Often times, if there is a big sale, we are all using the same techniques.

    I am not a super-experienced coupon shopper (yet), so I have taken it slowly. I have found when I do have problems it is because my coupons add up to more than the value of the product. Sometime you need to just help the cashier think through it and suggest they over-ride it on the register before they get frustrated and “give-up”.

    So far so good – I have not had to employ point 4 or 5.

  4. I usually try to make small talk with the cashier. Most of the time I have my baby with me so that is conversation starter. 😉 I also look for the cashiers that I know at a store (I go to one every monday) and if they will take coupons and avoid the ones who don’t know what to do.
    I also like the older men, I think they are the best! They like young ladies and babies 😉

    I have had a few problems at a target here and I just don’t shop there anymore. Also at walgreens, so I pray before I go in to get the right person, and not the one who is a stickler for coupons.

  5. Our ShopRite is actually very coupon friendly and i rarely have a problem. Sometimes they have issues reading their own Catalinas though. Also our ShopRite has a Kosher Experience which has its own coupons which don’t scan well, but they are pretty easygoing. I also make it a point to shop around the same time/day every week so i have actually gotten to know some of the cashiers and the girls at customer service which helps a lot!

  6. I like using Stop & Shop’s self checkout – I scan the coupons myself, and then just drop them in the slot! (I love Stop & Shop for the Scan-It – I can see how much the trip will cost as I’m shopping, and even pack the groceries into bags as I pick them out. Then paying is the quickest part!)

  7. Mara – Great post. As usual. I always try to remember, that no matter how good the deal may be, it is never good enough to lose my dignity. (Not that it has happened before, *ahem*.) Deals come and go – but having some class – that stays with your forever.

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