I recently had an opportunity to talk with a couple of the Co-op’s member-owners who earn their hours as a “Shopper’s Helper,” helping Co-op shoppers as they work their way through the store. I started out by asking Bob Jacobs, who was just returning to his old shift after a brief time away to work on the Co-op Voice, what he thought the essence of the “Shopper’s Helper” assignment was. He immediately said it was to make our customers feel comfortable, but added that this can sometimes be a tricky proposition. “I recently made the mistake of saying ‘Can I help you?’ to somebody,” he confided with a wink, but that proved to be too open-ended and zen a query, for this particular Co-op philosopher. (Others, I’m sure, wouldn’t stoop to parse it, and would merely want be steered to the parsnips.)
This “helping” business is something of an art. It’s akin to the work of a reference librarian, who knows the lay of the land and goes with you to help you find the book you want. You have to be skilled at “reading” people and figuring out what they’re actually asking, or perhaps wanting to ask, says Bob. A lot of it is directional (just like in the library), so he will explain where an item can be found, or he’ll accompany the person to the shelf, or he may say, “I’ll go find out, you keep shopping, I’ll catch up with you.” Some folks have mobility issues that impede navigation or reach, in which case he might find himself assisting them a little more directly. There’s a fine line between bothering people and benefiting them; it takes discretion and finesse.
Shopper’s Helpers are perhaps most valued in the large and sprawling Produce, Bulk, and Grocery Departments (as opposed to Cheese, Wellness, and other specialty areas where trained staff are able to answer questions in a lot more detail). Many products will appear in more than one aisle; seasonal produce comes and goes; Bulk can be rather intimidating. The store’s layout may not appear all that ‘logical’ or easily apprehended at first, and a smiling Shopper’s Helper is an especially welcome sight to some of our newer Co-op visitors.
When not actively scanning for unsure shoppers (or serving as a Co-op Voice editor), Bob sweeps up in the cafe and Bulk aisles. He says he really likes the variety and activity afforded by being a Shopper’s Helper, plus all the “super-interesting” people he meets along the way. (He swears he often acquires more knowledge than he imparts by engaging one-on-one with so many members of the Honest Weight community.) At one point he mentioned some people he had met in Produce, and for some reason I brought up how I love those Satsuma mandarins that are generally only available around here in December. The next thing I knew, he was firmly leading me to a display of mandarin oranges that I somehow hadn’t noticed before!
Karen Galough, another Shopper’s Helper, works every Wednesday (“Senior Day”), from noon to 2 PM, so she’s always very busy. She too enjoys roaming the store (“from Bread to Bulk”), learning all about the Co-op’s ever-changing wares. She also fills in as a Bagger. Although she’s on her feet the whole time, she appreciates a position that doesn’t require any “bending or lifting.” (She does note, though, that the Shopper’s Helper program could use some new volunteers, especially young ones.) She says that shoppers are often looking for a “learning experience” and various other ways to enjoy their time at Honest Weight.
A successful Shopper’s Helper needs excellent “people skills” and a good memory, along with a strong knowledge of the Co-op’s inventory and stocking patterns. If you’re a Co-op Shareholder who wants to earn member hours, and if this sounds like a good fit for you, e-mail our Member Services Coordinator at memberservices AT honestweight.coop about becoming a Shopper’s Helper yourself. Like Bob and Karen, you may find the Shopper’s Helper role both fun for you and useful to our Co-op community.
Carol Reid is Assistant Editor of the Coop Scoop. She previously served as a Copy Editor for the Co-op Voice and continues to write for the Voice on occasion.