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The Heart of Life: Retailed

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Once upon a time, I worked in retail off and on for about three years.  This experience in retail has endowed me with two somewhat opposing shopper attitudes.

First of all, I have a lot of patience and sympathy for checkers who end up needing an override.  In the event that you don't know, an override becomes necessary when the cashier is required to void out an item that's already been rung up and exceeds a certain amount of money.  An override is also required when an entire transaction needs to be voided.  There are other reasons why an cashier might need an override, but to be honest I've blocked them out of my memory.  Anyway, in order to get an override, the cashier has to call for a manager to approve what has been voided, etc. and then scan their special card or type in a special code.

The need to override sneaks up on even the most vigilant checkers.  You're happily scanning items when all of the sudden the customer makes a last minute decision, "You know, I think I'll wait on that leaf blower."  You push void and rescan the item, praying that the gods of cash register land smile upon you just this once.  The cash register laughs and demands, "OVERRIDE!"  You frantically glance around, hoping that a manager happens to be nearby.  Nope.  You pick up the phone and call a manager, timidly asking, "Hi, can I get an override?"  The manager sighs because you asked for an override less than an hour ago when a coupon wouldn't scan.  After that, there's nothing to do but wait.  All the items have been scanned and you can't go any further in the transaction until that override is taken care of.  The customers in line begin to get antsy.  Some cast incredulous glances at you, silently asking why you're just standing there when there's an increasingly long line.  You apologize for how long it's taking, but alas, the waiting game continues.

Anyway, when I'm that customer or I'm behind one of those customers, I try to assure the checker of my understanding.  It just happens sometimes.

And then there's the second virtue of a retail veteran.  I notice good customer service and am horrified by bad customer service.  For this reason I avoid Walmart like a dirty public bathroom (sometimes it can't be avoided, but the plan is always to avoid it).  I know most of the world loves and reveres Wally World and its ultra-affordability, but I always walk out angry and annoyed.  I go through the check-out line and my checker is talking to another employee throughout my entire transaction, so I look around thinking I'm surely being punked by the HR department with an unexpected role in a Walmart "What Not to Do" training video.  Nope.  This is real life.

But regardless of where you are, sometimes you get awesome service, and sometimes it's less than desirable.  A few weeks ago (on Black Friday) I was in Vanity trying on an assortment of jeans.  There were tons of girls in Santa hats working and we were almost suffocated by the amount of help being offered, as there weren't many people in the store at the time.  I found the winning style and size of jeans, but the sewing on the inseam of one leg seemed to be coming unraveled in two places.  I tried on another pair of the same style and size and while the stitching seemed spot on, I glanced at my butt and noticed something slightly abnormal:  a small vertical, white line.  Like a drop of bleach dripped down my butt.  Granted, the fabric in that spot had a faded look anyway, so nobody but my husband would probably notice (even that is debatable), but it was something I would notice every time.  Thus, I set out to find yet another pair of the same style and size.  As I was completing my unsuccessful search, one of Santa's helpers came to offer her services.  I explained my dilemma to her and she replied, "Hmm... so you're one of those picky customers..."  Someone forgot to tell her you don't tell customers they are picky.  You say, "Hmm, that's unfortunate.  How about I give you a 10% discount?"  By the way, 10% is a pretty standard discount for damaged products, so don't feel bad about asking for a discount on a product that has something wrong with it even if it's on sale (unless it's already been marked down for the defect, of course).  However, I was so surprised by her accusation of me being picky that I forgot to ask for a discount.  If those jeans didn't look so great I would have walked right out of the store.  But instead I got the pair with the butt drip.  I'd post a picture, but they're not in my possession as my mom is giving them to me for Christmas.  Just do me a favor and if you see me wearing some great jeans, don't look too closely at my butt.

When I was a freshman in college I went to Wendy's with my roommates and had an unforgettable experience.  My roommates had ordered burgers, and as they were unwrapping their burgers one commented that her burger felt a little cold.  The other took a bite and furrowing her eyebrows lifted the top bun to check under the hood.  "They forgot the patty!" she exclaimed.  The first roommate checked hers to find no trace of a patty as well.  They gathered up their burger-less burgers and presented their well-condimented buns to the cashier.  He looked a little perplexed and asked, "So... do you want a new burger?"  They kindly informed him that yes, they would like a new burger--with the actual burger included.

And yet a few weeks ago my husband and I went to a Wendy's and had a completely different experience.  After we ordered and were waiting for our food, the cashier realized they were out of chili.  She told us of her mistake and had my husband pick out something else from the value menu instead.  He picked the spicy chicken nuggets and she said, "Great.  I'll make it six piece instead of four.  Once again so sorry about the chili."  As she finished gathering up our items I heard her say, "One value fry... I'll up it to a small."  We were so impressed by the effort she made to make it up to us.

What I think it largely boils down to is managers and how well they train the employees they are in charge of.  Managers have a lot of power over the your experience as a customer.  If all the lines are super long and only three of the ten check stands are open, it's not because the checkers slacking off.  It's because managers aren't doing their job and calling for back-up checkers.  If you have an unpleasant encounter with an employee, it's probably at least partially because that employee hasn't been trained by his/her manager to handle weird situations appropriately.

It's a very strange existence--simultaneously being understanding and having very high expectations.  This makes me either a the nicest customer ever or the pickiest, most demanding customer ever.  Bless the poor retail employees who have to deal with my bi-polar behavior.



At December 4, 2012 at 10:31 PM , Blogger Georgia said...

I LOVED this post, Lindsey. You and I share the same sentiments about Wal-Mart. I despise it to the core. I do go in there occasionally (when I have to buy cat food and spray starch because it is so MUCH less there than anywhere else--believe me I've looked). Your remark about looking around to see if you were being punked, made me laugh out loud!

I don't think you were being picky at Vanity and that was a rude, little, santa-hat-wearing employee! I promise I won't look at your butt when you are wearing jeans. Maybe you can try this trick I used for Bryan. He found some jeans--American Eagle (I think) and every pair of this one style had strategically-placed bleach marks down one leg. He liked the way the jeans fit, but not the white spots. So we bought a pair and I used a blue Sharpie marker to fill in the spots. It matched pretty well and he was happy. Sometimes we 'picky' shoppers just have to get 'tricky'.

Happy shopping!

At December 5, 2012 at 3:17 PM , Blogger Celia Turner said...

I was going to see if I could find a different pair of jeans at another Vanity store (if there is one). Georgia's idea may work, too! Those sharpies are good for all kinds of odd things!

At December 9, 2012 at 7:36 PM , Blogger Celia Turner said...

Hooray for Georgia! The sharpie trick worked like a charm!! Now, if only we could teach santa's little helpers how to be polite to paying customers! :)


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