following

First and foremost, Happy New Year 2015.  May dynamic prosperity come to all those who read this.

Since spending this holiday season in New York, and by force majeure, shopping, I’ve noticed a subtle change in command.

We are all familiar with following in the social media world.  Now, it appears, following is the new callout by store cashiers to those in line waiting to pay, at least in New York City.

Shopping here is unlike shopping in most other places.  The majority of stores have constant queues at the register.  It’s not unusual in some of the big-box stores to spend more time in the checkout line than shopping.  It’s not that these stores have limited checkouts, it’s that there are so many people shopping, and buying.

It doesn’t matter the time of the year.  And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a bookstore, supermarket, clothing store, pharmacy, or coffee shop.  There are queue line.  Retail brick and mortar outlets have become fairly sophisticated in the way they manage their checkout queue lines.  Some, learning from banks, have worm paths with automated signals indicating to the next shopper the cashier to which they should proceed.  Still, most outlets rely on the cashier yelling out “next customer”, or “following customer”, or “step down,” or the like.

A few years ago it seemed that step down was the default cashier callout.  Not walk down, or march, skip, scurry, or hurry down.  Step down.  Step down is still widely used.  But recently overtaking step down as the number one queue-waiting callout is following.  Even though following is a preposition, in a checkout queue, it’s become a command.  And it’s pervasive, crossing all size and brands of stores here.  The cashiers have dropped the guest part (i.e., following guest), presumably to save a syllable.

It can’t be easy being a cashier, many being judged on how quickly and efficiently they process sales.  Some stores, like Uniglo (Japanese chain), have strict cashier guidelines for callouts, like raising their right arm, looking to the queue line and calling out “following guest in line please.”  But most have taken to the simplified “following.”

Wherever we shop around the world, at some point we end up following someone in a checkout line.  More times than not, that cash-wrap area is empty.  No waiting, no following.  But if you shop in NYC, more times than not, you’ll be following someone in a queue.  At some point you will be the following.