Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Retail Rudeness

I was shopping at Costco this morning when I overheard an employee talking to a co-worker about a particularly horrible customer.  This conversation took me back a few years to my college days in retail.  Having been on both sides of the retail fence I can honestly say that IMHO, customers were by far a lot ruder than clerks.  Here's why.

First, does this mean that there aren't clerks who are rude or one-Coke-short of a six-pack?  Of course not; there are plenty of them.  However, in retail there is an unspoken rule that “the customer is always right”.  Those who work in retail would add “except when the customer is wrong”.  Customers are wrong plenty of times.  They often mistakenly assume that the item they want will be there in two or three months, so they don't need to buy it now; they misread the ads; they often confuse what they have seen in which store.

Second, there is an unspoken assumption that the clerk is there to serve the customer, which is true.  However, those customers who are prone to being condescending or just plain nasty assume that “clerk” = “slave” or “whipping boy/girl”. I remember one particular customer who was incensed that his small kitchen appliance was not working properly and used every four-letter word and various combinations thereof to let me know it.  I held up my hand and said, “Sir, I'm sorry, but I can't listen to this kind of language and if you continue then I can't help you any more and you'll need to go to Customer Service and ask for the manager.”  To his credit, he apologized, but many of them don't.

Third, many customers are clueless about the retail cycle.  The retail cycle is actually 2 - 3 months ahead of the calendar season, hence the reason why you see swimsuits in March and Christmas decorations in October (September in some stores).  I remember another customer who was irate because she couldn't buy a fan during a heat wave in mid-October.  I tried to explain the retail cycle to her but she said, “Well that's just f – ing stupid!  It's California after all!”  I really wanted to say, “No, you're stupid because you're the jack-ss who waited until a heat wave to buy a fan!” And don't get me started about the customers who wait until the day of a wedding to look over the gift registry and are shocked that “only the expensive stuff is left”.  Please.

Rudeness can be found on both sides of the retail fence, but it's different in customers.  Nothing witnesses to this rudeness and sense of entitlement more than the three-ring circus known as the holiday season.  It always bothered me that at this time of the year, I often saw the worst in people.  To this day, I still don't like to shop during the holidays; I prefer to shop online.  It seems to me that if more people, customers and clerks included, remembered the Golden Rule, everyone would be much better off.

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