Retail rockstars compete for 'Checker of the Year'

A group of retail rockstars have gone head-to-head in Wellington to find the Checker of the Year.

The battle saw 103 New World and Pak'nSave staff scanning the same 30 items, trying to be as fast and efficient as possible.

"You see it every heat, every final. People are nice and natural normally, but come under a bit of pressure, some of them crack, but some of them don't and that's what we're looking for," Darren Jacobs, judge and Foodstuffs regional services manager, told Newshub.

While they're being judged on how quickly they scan items through, there's more to it than that - nobody wants their milk squashing their bread.

"It's how they handle the product, do they drop the product, do they separate the product, the smellies from the food," Mr Jacobs said.

And they've got to hold a conversation with, let's face it, often grumpy customers. Or in this case, judges with iPads watching your every move.

"We mostly just talked about working on a Wednesday. It's midweek, it's what we do," competitor Rebekah Hubner, of Petone Pak'nSave, said.

The checkouts were custom-built for this nationwide competition, so there isn't a supermarket all of a sudden missing some lanes.

The contestants can nominate themselves, or be put forward by their store managers.

Skye Hailwood, also of Petone Pak'nSave, says her managers would start eyeing up possible competitors a month in advance.

"They randomly come up to you, watch your scores over the past month or so, to check your speed," she told Newshub.

It's not just a competition, but also a morale booster, with the contestants bringing along workmates who are encouraged to dress up and make noise.

"This is really cool, you get to see other stores and it gives you more pride for your job," Ms Hailwood said.

Wednesday night was just the first step to find the Checker of the Year. In the coming months, the heat winners will be visited by mystery shoppers, to test they're not just turning it on for the judges.

Of course, it's harder when you know you're being watched by them - and an auditorium full of people.

"I came last place but it's all about the participation," says Jordan Martens, who works at New World Willis St.

He admits he works in grocery and delivery, not the checkouts, but hopes the rapport he built with his judge was enough to get him through to the next round.

"You've gotta have the chat. As long as they're happy, you can get through the competition."

So next time you're at the supermarket, bear in mind the person serving you could be a champion.