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Tips for Working in a Grocery Store (from an expert)

Having worked for Whole Foods for over 2 decades, I’ve been asked many times for my best tips for working in a grocery store.

Expect to work a lot of evenings, weekends & holidays. Also, be prepared to be on your feet the majority of the shift. Learn to give more respect to customers than they will sometimes give to you. Also, the employees who get promoted faster are the ones who show initiative, stay positive & are the most cooperative.

But there’s a lot more to working in a grocery store than just that!

I can tell you that the grocery life isn’t always easy. You need to have some ways to deal with the pressure and the “stress” that comes with the territory.

So in this article, we’re diving deep into the world of grocery stores and what it’s like to work in them.

We’ll explore the conditions, issues, and plusses. But we’ll also talk about some of the best tips for dealing with some of the challenges that can come up.

Let’s dive in!

What’s the #1 tip for working in a grocery store?

I started with Whole Foods doing an entry-level job and worked my way up over several years. One of the tips I can give you is to learn to stay calm in every situation.

You may encounter demanding customers, a grumpy co-worker, a stressed-out boss, and a huge olive oil spill. Sometimes you’ll experience things like that all at the same time!

Without a practice to stay calm and centered, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Regardless of what happens, you should always stay calm. It’s also essential to find a coping mechanism. It’s not uncommon to see grocery employees out in the smoking area. BUT, I can tell you that’s not the best way to deal with the stress.

Some better strategies for coping with grocery store stress include:

  • Go to a walk-in cooler and yell or let off some steam as needed
  • Make sure to take your allotted breaks throughout the shift – we all need time to recharge
  • Build camaraderie with your co-workers – like soldiers on the field, it helps to have people who have your back when the going gets tough

I’ve made lifelong friends in my 2-decade career, and some were co-workers with me a long time ago!

Trust me, when the stuff hits the fan, those diehard friends will be there for you. There’s nothing quite like a group of grocery store employees socializing together. The only thing comparable would be the foodservice industry which, of course, is related.

If you haven’t been hired yet, then that’s the first step.

I have a recent article that covers all the ins and outs of how to get a job at a grocery store, including one of the key things that can ensure you never get hired.

So just click that link to read it on my site.

Is the customer always right?

You should also learn how to treat every customer with respect.

Customers will ask you questions, some of which you don’t have the answers. You should learn how to answer each of them without being offensive, even if they are annoying.

They may also be angry with “the store” or something that happened and take it out on you since you are the face of the store in that instance. So take deep breaths and learn to not take anything personally. But also remember that without customers, you wouldn’t have a job.

So while it’s not OK to allow a customer to abuse you verbally or otherwise, you do sometimes have to show more respect than you’re given.

It’s also a great strategy to not pretend you know the answer if you really don’t.

If a customer asks something you don’t know the answer to, be honest. Say “You know, I don’t know the answer to that, but let’s go find out”. Then walk with the customer to the customer service desk at the front or a nearby long-term employee.

Never just say “I don’t know” and then not take it any further.

Learning to take constructive criticism is also part of being a good grocery store employee. Expect to get regular performance reviews and constructive feedback. Don’t alienate yourself from your colleagues. Instead, try to be part of the team and work closely with them.

What is it like to work in a grocery store?

Working in a grocery store can be fulfilling, but it can also be scary.

It all depends on how well you’ve prepared and how much resilience you have. On the one hand, you will encounter stubborn customers that make you want to scream or quit. You may also hate the long hours you have to put in.

Having the department or store manager setting new goals could also put more pressure on you.

If you’re working there as an adult, you should expect people to judge you. Some customers usually assume that people at grocery stores don’t have college degrees. This can make you feel degraded, especially if you have put your all into your work.

Expect to hate holidays and weekends.

Those at the times when you’ll have too many customers and therefore will be busiest. Don’t just have one area that you want to work in. You can also expect to be trained in different departments.

Working at a grocery store isn’t all bad.

There are also some positive aspects. One of them is that you will get the experience that you’ll use in your next job. Some of the skills you’ll acquire are:

  • Responsibility
  • Perseverance
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Teamwork

These are essential skills in any job, even if it’s not at a grocery store.

As a teenager or in your early 20’s, working at a grocery store means you’ll have more money than your peers.

You’ll also be able to test whether you see grocery as a good long-term career option. The responsibilities you’ll be given will teach you to be more responsible, and that will benefit your future.

I can tell you when I started with Whole Foods the day before my 24th birthday, I had no idea it would turn into much. But, over time, I went from making $4.25/hour to an annual salary of over 6 figures.

So a career in grocery can be a great and lucrative thing.

But some positions pay better than others, and some have certain plusses and minuses. So in a recent article, I break down all the primary positions in a grocery store.

While it’s good to remain flexible, it doesn’t hurt to have an understanding of which jobs you may naturally excel at more than others. Just click that link to see the article on my site.

How do I become a good grocery clerk?

Some of the responsibilities of a grocery clerk include assisting customers, replacing stock on the shelves, or labeling food products in the deli, meat, or seafood departments.

Here are some of the best skills to serve you in those roles:

1. Pay attention to detail

Being detail-oriented is crucial if you want to be a good grocery clerk.

After all, product resets happen (where an item gets moved to a new permanent location elsewhere in the store), and you will also occasionally find damaged goods on the shelves too.

A good eye for detail helps keep you informed. Then you, in turn, can help those confused customers.

2. Have excellent customer service skill

Since you are dealing with customers, you need excellent customer service skills.

You’ll be expected to ask customers if they need help. You’ll also be directing them to the right places for their products. Answering their questions will also be part of your responsibility.

To do these well, you must master your customer service skills. Serve with a smile even if you don’t want to.

Be calm and respectful even when you think they don’t deserve it.

3. Have good communication skills

Excellent communication skills may be part of the skills that lead to your promotion.

Remember that when the customers are satisfied with your services, you’ll get good reviews. This may help you get a promotion sooner than later.

Be clear and concise.

Provide the right directions and listen before answering. Make sure you understand the customer correctly before helping them find what they need. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarity in case you don’t know what they want.

It’s also vital that you communicate well with your fellow co-workers too.

After all, you are one big team and no matter how good of a worker you are, if you can’t get along well with others, you’ll have trouble keeping the job.

4. Be open-minded & flexible

This is the best way for you to enjoy working at the store and also to grow.

By keeping an open mind, you’ll be able to welcome new ideas that will help you in your career. Having an open mind will also help you adapt to the changing situations.

Remember that you are may be asked to help in different departments.

Without being open to such changes, you’ll not be able to perform efficiently or diligently. This skill will also help you maintain a friendly attitude that will help with your communication skills and customer service skills.

5. Be a self-starter and show initiative

Trust me.

As someone who has hired thousands of grocery store employees over the years, the ones I promoted the fastest or gave the biggest raises to weren’t the ones who could just work the fastest.

The ones I gave those things to had the best attitudes and a willingness to do whatever was needed at the moment even if it wasn’t in their job description.

And they could do those things without constant supervision.

What’s the difference between a clerk and a cashier?

Clerks and cashiers are 2 different jobs in a grocery store. Now having said that some stores may have 1 employee doing both roles at different times.

Cashiers are given the task of handling money, ringing up groceries, and bagging. Clerks, on the other hand, don’t handle money and do a little less customer service.

Clerks are focused more on stocking shelves and maintain displays. They may also answer their questions as they guide them to various products.

Because of the different responsibilities, each position has a different kind of interaction with the customers. After all, clerks will be answering a wider variety of questions and walking customers to different products throughout the store.

Cashiers, on the other hand, are expected to be respectful, but they aren’t generally under pressure the way clerks are.

That’s because cashiers are primarily focused on accurately and quickly ringing up groceries. By the time the customers get to the registers, they have likely found everything the needed and asked all their questions.

That being said, since the cashier is often the last person a customer interacts with, they must ensure the customer leaves the store happy and satisfied.

Since cashiers handle payments, they need strong organizational skills for their job. They should ideally be able to do the math correctly without the help of machines. This is because sometimes payment systems may fail, but the service delivery to customers has to continue.

The skills will help you balance the cash register properly and account for every purchase made. Clerks don’t need strong math skills.

You’ll have to be a fast learner to familiarize yourself with every aspect of the store. This, together with the qualifications above, will help you become excellent at fulfilling your responsibilities.

Is working at a grocery store hard or stressful?

Yes. Working at a grocery store can take its toll on you even if you become a manager.

In fact, the more responsibilities you have, the more stressful they can become. Learning how to manage your roles and your time effectively is the best way to overcome stress. Learn to rely on your co-workers so that you work as a team.

You should also try to do more than what your job description requires.

Take the job seriously, even if it’s not a permanent venture. Try to find meaning in your work to have a purpose. For instance, you can find satisfaction in seeing how the elderly smile whenever you assist them.

Participating in company competitions is also a good idea.

Try to win the awards that maybe there because they are meant to motivate you. For example, winning an “employee of the week” award can help boost your morale.

Such awards can also be used in your next employment search and they look good on a resume. Remember, you need to have the dedication and willingness to do the hard work, which means you should learn to love what you do.

If you love what you do, you’ll have a reason to wake up early every morning.

Is working at a grocery store retail?

Working at a grocery store is definitely retail. By definition, retail businesses are ones that exchange goods for money.

However, if the store has a deli department and you work there, it is not considered retail. Instead, it is categorized under food service.

There is no limit to the size of the store. This means that whether you work in a small grocery store or a large one, you’re still in retail.

Even if your store sells food products such as meat, eggs, and milk, you’re still considered to be working in retail.

Only those that deal with dining services or fast food delivery are not seen as retailers.

Grocery stores are one of the most significant contributors to the economy in the retail industry. You should, therefore, take pride in working in such stores and being part of that contribution.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we took an in-depth look into a world I love; the world of grocery stores.

We examined what working in a grocery store is like; from conditions to coping with stress, and even some of the key differences in positions around the store.

Ultimately, we covered all my best tips for working in a grocery store culled from my 20+ year career with Whole Foods Market.

So whether you’re doing this as your first job, have been doing it a while, or intend to make a career out of it, you’ve come to the right spot.

Thanks for being here!

Jeff Campbell