TL;DR – Superb memory!
In a blink of an eye, the first NTUC FairPrice supermarket has already been around for 47 years.
Known as NTUC Welcome Supermarket then, the supermarket was established on 22 July 1973 in Toa Payoh Lorong 4 at Block 192, to solve the rising oil and daily prices then due to inflation.
Mdm Wang Zhao Rong, 69, has been working for the supermarket for 45 years. She is the most senior employee of the grocery retailer today.
Through the years of working as a cashier, Mdm Wang’s ability to remember the prices of thousands of products in the supermarket is said to be comparable to that of a computer.
In an interview with Zaobao, Mdm Wang revealed that she started working in a factory after Secondary Two, and subsequently joined the supermarket in 1975.
“At that time, NTUC Welcome Supermarket opened a second branch in Serangoon Garden. I applied for the job after seeing the job recruitment advertisement. I started working as a retail assistant, and later moved to the supermarket in Toa Payoh to work as a cashier.”
The cash register used at that era was one with a very basic system, said Mdm Wang. There was no label to scan. At times, the price label sticker would even fall off. And that’s when the cashier would need to record the product price manually, “There were thousands of items in supermarkets. And in order to quickly check out the customers, we had to memorise the prices of every item”.
Although Mdm Wang has only worked as a cashier for a few years, she shared that she was able to get the hang of it, and was able to memorise the prices of every product very quickly.
From customers to friends
During her stint in the supermarket, Mdm Wang revealed that she was also a cashier at the betting shop for more than 30 years, where she witnessed changes in customer attitudes over the years.
“In the 80s, whenever bettors missed the time to bet or if their tickets got stuck in the machine, they would knock on the table and complain. Some would even scold the cashier. Now, the attitude of bettors is very different. They would say things like, “It’s okay if I cannot place my bet on certain numbers, I can save the money”. They would even say “thank you” to me.”
The 69-year-old cashier said most of the residents in Toa Payoh are senior citizens, and that many of the customers are even her friends of decades, “Some customers were extremely fierce back then. However, their tempers have become milder as they got old”.
Mdm Wang also said that many of the customers have become her friends, hence the “kampong spirit” is still in the air.
Continue to work part-time after retirement
When the supermarket replaced the cashier system in the 1980s, Mdm Wang said that she would attend classes to upskill and integrate with technology.
“I originally planned to retire at 65, but because I couldn’t bear to leave my colleagues and customers. Hence, I decided to continue working as a part-timer here after I officially retire at 67 years old.”
The colleagues and customers in the supermarket are like a family, and everyone respects each other said Mdm Wang, “Over the years, I have accepted seven to eight apprentices. I refused to be promoted to the position of chief cashier because I like interacting with customers. Some customers used to bring their children to shop. Now that all the children have grown up, and they have grandchildren too”.
Psst, did you know that a significant proportion of FairPrice employees are mature workers aged 50 and above?
If you ever noticed, you would see that there are significantly more older employees working in FairPrice outlets than other supermarket chains.
Well, that’s because FairPrice, which is a part of the Labour Movement, practices fair employment practices to reduce bias and increase diversity.
In fact, as a major employer in Singapore, FairPrice contributes significantly to the employment of mature workers! And this is just one of their many initiatives to encourage senior citizens to age actively and gracefully.
So, the next time you visit NTUC FairPrice, don’t be too surprised when you see an elderly staff member smiling at you!