By Tech. Sgt. Joshua Arends
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Since the mid-1950s, grocery baggers have been part of commissary culture, standing at the end of every open checkout lane, sorting and bagging items and loading groceries into customers’ vehicles. Self-checkout lanes are available for customers to scan and bag their own groceries, provided they have less than 40 items.
For customers to have a cashier and bag their own groceries, the Defense Commissary Agency selected the commissary at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, along with 120 other commissaries worldwide to do a trial run designating two checkout lanes as Self Service Bagging lanes. The Peterson Commissary implemented this trial run starting Jan. 25, 2018.
Checkout lanes one and 18, which will be the designated self-service bagging lanes, are reserved so that patrons can still have their products scanned for purchase by a cashier working the register, but shoppers will have the freedom to bag their own groceries and carry it out to their vehicles.
According to Judy Rodriguez, Peterson AFB Commissary store administrator, on the first day of the trial run, over 57 customers tried the self-bagging lane, resulting in more than $3,000 in sales.
“A lot of customers are catching on and enjoying it,” said Victor Diaz, Peterson AFB Commissary customer service manager. “Everybody’s different in what they want. But for the majority, customers are excited that there’s a choice.”
But as with all trial runs, there is always room for improvement.
For Willie Jackson, Peterson AFB Commissary head bagger, who has worked as a bagger at Peterson AFB for 23 years, there are some concerns about the self-bagging lanes.
“It works well for the person who wants to bag their own groceries … it’s more efficient,” Jackson said. “But right now I think there’s too many self-bagging lanes. One would be sufficient, in my opinion, because we are short of cashiers right now.”
With cashiers manning the self-checkout areas and the express lane, the amount of regular checkout lanes can range from three to 10 depending on how busy the store is. With one to two self-service bagging lanes open, that leaves two less regular checkout lanes for the baggers to cycle through. If no customers use the self-bagging lanes, this could mean longer wait times for customers who want to utilize the baggers, according to Jackson.
“Most of the time, the cashiers in the self-bagging lanes are just standing there because there’s no one that wants to bag their own groceries,” said Jackson.
According to Jackson, some customers are still using the regular checkout lanes to bag their groceries instead of using the self-bagging lane.
Jackson said he hopes these incidents will go down as customers become aware of the new self-bagging lanes.
“I would say it’s a good thing for the customers to bag their own groceries,” Jackson said. “It helps my baggers because they don’t have to bag an order where the customer says ‘thank you’ and walk away without tipping. I think some people are under the impression that the baggers are working for the commissary and have a salary. But the baggers only work for tips. Some people don’t know that.”
Whether or not this trial run becomes permanent remains to be seen, but for the present, when commissary customers make their way to the checkout line, they can choose to bag their own groceries or choose to have a bagger do it for them.
Quick facts about commissary baggers:
Baggers are not employees of the commissary, and therefore do not receive an hourly wage. According to the Defense Commissary Agency bagger program: “Baggers are self-employed persons who have obtained permission from the installation commander to enter the installation for the sole purpose of soliciting commissary customers to bag and carry out their groceries in return for the expectation of a tip.”
Baggers mainly consist of retired veterans, military spouses and high school/college-age dependents who hold a valid military ID card that grants them access to the base.
Due to the amount of people signed up to become a bagger, candidates can find themselves waiting 12-36 months before receiving an initial interview.
Baggers receive training on how best to bag your purchases in order to avoid breaking or crushing your items.
Various military organizations on base fundraise by bagging groceries throughout the year.