New gift cards
New gift cards are scheduled to start rolling out to commissaries Jan. 15. The cards, in $25 or $50 denominations, will be available online and in the stores. The general public can buy the cards, but only authorized shoppers can use them.
A future link on the website will connect to the gift card provider for purchasing the cards, said Defense Commissary Agency spokesman Kevin Robinson.
Once commissary stores receive their first gift cards for sale, they will no longer sell the paper gift vouchers now in use. But those vouchers can still be redeemed by customers for up to five years after the date of purchase.
You see the signs frequently at the commissary: "Baggers work for tips only."
Baggers are not employed by either the commissary or the installation, and they are not paid a wage or a salary by the commissary, according to Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency.
"They are considered to be self-employed individuals who have been given permission by the installation commander to carry on a private business of bagging and carrying out patrons' commissary purchases, and who have been allowed by the commissary store director to carry on that business on the premises of the commissary. ... Baggers work solely for tips voluntarily paid by the patrons they serve," Robinson said.
The key word is "voluntarily." Although plenty of customers complain that they feel forced to tip baggers, remember that it is not required.
If you do decide to tip, however, how much should you tip? That's up to you, and there are different philosophies. Some people tip $3-$5 for a full cartload of groceries, with good service; others tip a certain amount per bag, such as 25 cents.
Sometimes you may not have cash with you — although if you write a check or use a debit card at the checkout, you can generally get up to $25 cash back.
If you are unhappy with the bagger, tell him or her why and don't give a tip, or give less than you normally would.
And you may just not want to tip. Remember, however, these are jobs that help people pay their bills. Some baggers are military family members. And consider what the waiting line would be if baggers weren't there to move the groceries through. Plus, some elderly or disabled shoppers, or young mothers with children, need the help of baggers.
Customers can choose to use a bagger, choose not to use a bagger or limit the services of a bagger, Robinson said. For example, you could allow the baggers to bag your groceries, but take your own groceries to your car. Generally baggers take customers' groceries to their cars and place them in the car.
If you take out your groceries in a regular shopping cart, there is generally no problem, but it's suggested that you let the bagger know when you start to check out so that the groceries can be placed in a regular shopping cart, he said.
It's more problematic if you want to use the cart used by the baggers, because the number of those carts is limited and they normally have only enough to accommodate baggers who are helping patrons.
If you're hoping that commissaries will start paying baggers, don't hold your breath. The commissary agency has been trying for years to cut down on the level of taxpayer subsidies needed to run the system.
If you prefer to bag your own groceries, head toward the self-checkout lanes. Most commissaries have them now.
BBB charity evaluator clarification
A comment by a charity representative in the Dec. 20 edition of this column that a charity has to be a member of the BBB in order to be rated is incorrect, said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance.
"Charities pay no membership dues or fees to be evaluated by either the BBB Wise Giving Alliance or a local Better Business Bureau," Weiner said.
"BBB charity reports are available free to the public and http://www.bbb.org/charity">posted on our website," Weiner said.
"About 54 percent of national charities that provide information meet all of these standards," he said. "Charities found to meet all 20 of the BBB standards for charity accountability may, at their option, obtain the right to display the BBB charity seal by signing a license and paying a fee."
If a charity does not meet the standards, the BBB report will specify which standards are not met and why.
A number of other charities have said they are under the impression that there are fees.
"Charities that do not provide requested information sometimes publicly claim that they declined to do so because of fees," Weiner said.
Questions or comments? firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Consumer%20Watch:%20Commissary%20baggers%20mind%20their%20own%20business,%20for%20tips">E-mail staff writer Karen Jowers.