Monday, August 31, 2009

And Make it Snappy!

Today a woman called me over to help her buy a laptop. I hate selling computers simply because there is so much pressure on us from corporate to get as many add-on sales (preferably services, of course) as we can despite the fact that we make no commission and no amount we sell is ever enough to please them. On top of that, customers who purchase computers seem to think that they're doing us some sort of favor simply by spending $400 in our store. Little do they know that the laptop they purchased for $400 cost us $500 to buy from the manufacturer. It's a sad but true fact of being a computer retailer these days. Every company has cut computer prices to below cost in order to attract consumers. The strategy is to make up that lost $100 and MORE by selling warranty plans, setup services, accessories, software, etc.

Problem is, most people don't want any of that crap. They want to buy just the computer and expect us to kiss their feet for making such an "expensive" purchase even though our bottom line would be better off if they didn't.

To be fair, I am a supporter of store extended service plans in most cases. I got my original Xbox replaced twice and my old Aiwa stereo was repaired three times. Having a plan like that on a laptop is a great idea because a high percentage of laptop repairs come down to replacing the motherboard which is a hassle and can be expensive (not always, but it can be). The only problem is that laptop warranty plans can be upwards of a third of the price of the computer itself. The reason for this is that most of these plans include a one-time screen replacement option which is quite expensive for us to cover. So in the end, it's a hard sell, but to me, it's worth it. People can be as careful as they want with their stuff, but accidents happen. And then they're stuck with either buying a new one, paying expensive repair bills, or being one of those customers that tries to return it 6 months later claiming they were never told about a warranty option and that any other store would return it for them (I've heard that excuse hundreds of times, and I'm quite aware of how untrue it is).


So I go over to the computers to help this lady. As we're walking, she says that we have the lowest price she's found on this laptop so we get major points with her for that. Inside, I'm shrugging and saying "Whatever." But outside, of course, I thanked her for shopping with us. It amazes me how many customers think that retail employees really care about their companies. Most of us work retail because either it was the only thing available, we're working on our education at the same time, or we're working on getting a real career started. Very few of us are cheerleaders for our companies, we just do what we have to do to pay the bills.

So she shows me what she wants and I told her I'd go look to see if it was in stock. When I came back and told her we had it, she goes, "Good. Wrap it up and bring it up front." No smile, very stern voice. Kinda pissed me off a little, but whatever. Now I gotta try and get her to buy a warranty.

I nod with a phony smile. "OK, that's fine, but--"

"Don't ask me anything about warranties. Just wrap it up and bring it up front."

Ok, now I'm annoyed. Still, I have to act polite. "Are you sure? You'd be surprised--" I was going to tell her that she'd be surprised how many people bring laptops in for service and that it costs them $70 just for us to look at it, but she cut me off before I could get that far.

"You know how long I've had my current computer? Fifteen years, and I've never had a problem with it. And you see this?" she asks, pointing at the price of the computer she's buying. "This machine is already outdated for the price you're selling it for."

A hundred nasty comments fill up in my thought bubble above my head, but thankfully, she couldn't see them. The computer was outdated for the price? Two minutes ago she was applauding us for our price! If only she knew that selling it to her at that price did nothing but HURT our store and company! As for having her old computer for 15 years, that may be possible, but I highly doubt she's never had a problem with it.

I'm not faking a smile for her anymore. "Ma'am, they really don't make computers the way they used to." And they don't, that's the truth. Strikes one, two, and three all go to Vista, while cheap hardware and shoddy motherboards supply the rest of the outs for the inning. OK, strange analogy, but you get the idea.

"I'll be fine. Wrap it up and bring it up front."

I said it in my last post, and I'll say it again. Don't ever command a retail employee to do anything. It's insulting, rude, and unnecessary. None of us, from the stockers to the managers, get paid enough to put up with that kind of abuse, nor do we deserve it. Even if you're dealing with someone who honestly doesn't care about their job or servicing you, then simply leave and find a better place to shop. Commands are for dogs and computers, not people.

Without a word, I turned and headed back to our lockup. She clearly knew I was upset with her, as she asked, "Are you all right?" with this sarcastic tone as if to say, "What the hell is your problem?"

I just lifted my hands up and said, "Whatever you'd like to do is fine."

She apologized for being rude. Unfortunately, it sounded similar to the way an eight year old brother apologizes to his sister for calling her a nasty name. Insincere, forced, and uncaring. Whatever, customers will be customers, I guess.

I had one of our salespeople finish up the sale while I jumped on register to help with the lines since the front end is really my responsibility anyway. It wasn't the woman's refusal to buy the warranty that pissed me off, it was the arrogant, snotty, and downright rude attitude that she had. I really wished I could've told her we didn't need her sale.

Because quite frankly, we didn't.

Shopping tip of the day for 8/31/09: If you're going to pull a wrinkled and crumpled check from your pocket and attempt to pay with it, expect it to get jammed in our check scanner. Expect it to get jammed again when we reinsert it for printing. And don't get angry with us in either case. There's no "Eat Check" button that we press in order to make it happen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Less Than a Quarter

As a part of the Back to School sales, we currently have a Buy 1 and Get 2 Free special running on a number of different items. One of them is a pencil box which normally sells for $1.99. This morning, my cashier calls me over to tell me that the box had been marked at $1.79 on the shelf and that a customer was complaining that she was being charged $1.99. Now, I completely understand it when customers want to get the shelf price when there's a significant difference, but for 20 measly cents? I had to struggle not to pull a dollar outta my pocket and tell them to keep the change. But whatever - it's an old tag that we missed when doing the weekly price updates, so it's our fault. I told the cashier to change the price.

But there was a problem. The customer was getting the buy 1 get 2 free promotion, and the stupid cash register saw that as an "overriding discount" which automatically removed the 20 cent price drop. In effect, every time I told it to charge $1.79 instead of $1.99, it would automatically raise it back to $1.99. No big deal, though, because the customer was also purchasing two folders at 99 cents each. So I just adjusted them to 89 cents each. Bingo - 20 cent discount. We did all this right in front of the customer.

I walk away thinking everything is fine and that it's over and done with. I help a couple other people and pretty soon my cashier calls me for change. But as I'm heading for the cash office, I see the customer at the copy center talking with the general manager and pointing at her receipt with this confused look on her face. I went over to let our manager know what was going on, figuring that the woman had ignored everything we told her earlier since the receipt still showed the pencil box at $1.99.

As it turns out, she wasn't complaining about that, she was questioning why we'd taken 20 cents off of the folders. I told her it was to compensate for the different price that had been on the shelf for the pencil box. She says, "Oh, OK. I wasn't sure," and takes her receipt and leaves.

I can only come to two possible conclusions. Either she has short term memory problems and simply didn't remember what went on at the register not ten minutes earlier, or she was going to try to scam our general manager into giving her another 20 cents back since the receipt still showed $1.99. Either way, it seemed like a lot of effort to go through over a couple lousy dimes. I realize times are tough for many people financially, but 20 cents? That won't even get you a game of pinball.

Later in the day, I had a guy come up to the register to make a purchase. He pulls out his card and I asked, "Debit or Credit?" If it's debit, he can process it himself. If it's credit, I need to see the card. He says, "Debit." I told him to swipe, the number pad comes up for his pin, and he says, "I don't know the pin," and just stares at me.

I got the feeling he expected me to put some kind of override code in or something. "No problem, Sir. I'll just put in my universal debit pin for you."

I told him he'd have to run it as a credit card then. He kinda rolls his eyes but goes with it.

It's funny, I thought debit cards were supposed to make purchasing easier. I can't imagine what he difficulty he might have if all he had was a check.

Shopping tip of the day for 8/28/09: The following are examples of the proper way to ask for assistance:

"Excuse me, are you busy at the moment?"
"Hi, I was hoping you'd be able to answer a couple of questions."
"Excuse me, could you show me where I might find this item?"
"Hello, can you help me?"

These greetings and any similar ones will greatly increase your chances of receiving friendly and helpful assistance.

The following are examples of the improper way to ask for assistance:

Snapping of fingers
Shouting across the aisle/store
Standing in the middle of the aisle/store and yelling, "Does anybody work here?"
Any commands or demanding sentences such as, "Get me this," or "Come here."
"You don't look like you're doing anything, maybe you can help me."
"You look like you need something to do."

The first four of these will get you ignored in nearly 95% of instances. The last four or any similar statements will land you a reluctant, annoyed, and relatively uninterested assistant.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pirate's Motto

During Back to School season, our store runs a special event for teachers where they can get a free bag of assorted school supplies along with some extra discounts on all products. This event is usually scheduled for a Saturday morning, and this year it was on August 22nd - this past Saturday. We had signs near the front door with the date and times written in black marker so that everyone would know when the event was scheduled. The signs were posted for a good while ahead of the date.

Needless to say, we had a lady come in today expecting to get the benefits from the teacher's event that had been held last Saturday.

One of our cashiers called me over to his register to handle the issue. I explained that the discounts were no longer valid as it was a limited time program. She insisted that the event was supposed to be TODAY and that she was entitled to the benefits we advertised. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "I'm sorry, but that event was held last Saturday morning. We had signs up ahead of time notifying our customers of the correct date."

Customer: "Nah, they told me it was gonna be on three dates and one of them was today."

Me: "Who told you that?"

Customer: "Yeah! They said it was gonna be on the 20th, 22nd, and 27th!"

Me: "Ok, who said that to you? One of our people?"

Customer (Getting irritated): "No, they told me- I know they told me it was the 27th!"

Me: "No, it was actually held on the 22nd. I'm sorry, but unfortunately we don't have those discounts available right now."

At this point, I talked with our general manager to see if there was anything that could be done. She told me that she'd speak with the woman, so that's what I told the customer. Then I went to count one of the registers and make change. While I was working on that, the phone beside me rang and the display indicated the call was coming from the managers office. I picked up and our general manager informed me that she'd located a spare bag of the free supplies that had been handed out to teachers on Saturday and that she'd be happy to give that to the customer in an attempt to smooth things over. We were in no way obligated to do this, mind you, but we try to make people happy if we can.

So we give the bag to the lady and she goes back to shopping. I finish counting out the register and take over ringing while waiting for our night shift to arrive. A short while later, the woman comes up with a basket full of school supplies, her son tailing behind. I started scanning her stuff, and she says, "So is there any way I can get the discounts from the teacher's event?"

Now, we'd given her the bag when we really didn't have to. But the discounts were handled through our rewards program, not through the store itself. Teachers were entitled to an increased amount of rewards for the purchases they made during the event. Those numbers went through the rewards center, not us. We had absolutely no way to make those kinds of adjustments ourselves. "I'm sorry," I told her, "but that sale was for Saturday morning only. I have no way of adjusting rewards percentages in our computer."

I'm halfway through scanning the basket of stuff with a line formed behind her and she says, "You know what? I'll just go to Walmart. They're cheaper than you."

And without another word, she walks out.

With her free bag of stuff.

It reminded me of the Pirate motto from Pirate's of the Carribean: "Take all you can. Give nothing back."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Model Parent

You've no doubt experienced it before. You're in a store somewhere trying to shop for groceries or clothes or supplies or whatever, and there is a gang of children nearby wreaking havoc on the aisle and anyone or anything in their path. You wait for a moment figuring that any second a mother or father will appear to admonish them with warnings of spankings or denial of special treats. But alas, no one comes, and the hurricane of brats wrecks the store and your shopping experience. They're just kids, some will say. They're just having fun - they mean no harm.

But as the old saying goes, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

I wasn't present for the story I'm going to write here, although I've certainly seen plenty of out-of-control children during my years in retail. I remember years ago there was a small boy playing the Nintendo 64 display at my last job, jumping around and screaming and laughing at the game while his mother was nowhere to be seen. Next thing we know - CRASH. The display comes toppling down on top of him, and of course, the mother comes running from six aisle away while yelling about how we don't keep our store safe for children. He was OK when all was said and done, but it was yet another example of how some parents seem to care less and less about watching after their kids these days.

Anyway, on to today's story. Again, I wasn't there for it, but I've heard the story from four different people now, and each version has been pretty much the same.

Two days ago, there was a group of unsupervised children playing in our furniture area. Suddenly there is a crash and a scream, followed by a yowling cry that shoots up one of the aisles to the front of the store. A child emerges just in front of the printing area, screaming for his mommy, holding the back of his head. On the floor is a growing pool of blood that trails all the way back down the aisle and into the furniture section. From what I'm told, it looked like a murder scene.

The child's mother appears from aisle 1 - the complete opposite side of the store. Then her sister emerges from aisle 2. Of course, they scream and panic at seeing the boy. The manager on duty directs them to head to the bathroom in the back of the store then proceeds to call 911. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, he runs back to our freezer in the break room and gets some ice for the child. When the paramedics finally arrive, the mother is holding her son in her lap in the middle of the men's bathroom with the door propped open. The other children, in the meantime, are playing around in our warehouse. As they work on him, she begins to feel dizzy, hands the boy off to her sister, and promptly passes out. Now the paramedics stop working on the boy and get to work on reviving the mother.

Once things are handled as best as can be handled and the mother is conscious again, she refuses to be taken to the hospital. She even went so far as to sign a paper stating that she was refusing to go. Our people document the incident and the manager ropes off the blood-filled aisles so that they can be properly cleaned.

Witnesses reported seeing the children jumping up and down on the desks and chairs, and allegedly the boy jumped off of the back of a chair and smacked the back of his head against the edge of a desk.

If the woman had kept a closer eye on her children and perhaps taught them to keep near to her when shopping, this kind of thing likely wouldn't have happened. I'm not saying all parents are like this, but more and more these days people are too wrapped up in their cell phones or shopping or whatever to give their children the attention and discipline they need.

Shopping tip of the day for 8/26/09: When making a credit card purchase, if you've finished signing your name on the digital pad and the two button choices are "Done" and "Clear," you want the one marked "Done."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wait Your Turn

So I had a woman who wanted to know if we could order something online for her. No problem there. I took her over to the computer and searched on the website for the item she wanted. While I was with her, this rude lady comes up on the other side of me and just starts talking while my customer was in mid sentence.

"Do you work the computers?"

"Yes, I know a bit about them," I told her, scrolling through the list on the website.

The woman starts getting huffy, presumably because I'm still paying attention to the customer I was already with. "Well, do these go online?"

I glanced at her and saw that she was pointing to the laptops on display. "Yes, they do."

She looks at me with this arrogant sneer and demands, "Well, what's the password?"

I wanted to look at her and say, "Ma'am, this is a retail store, not an internet cafe. We don't just hand out the passwords. Everytime we leave a customer unsupervised on one of our demos, we wind up finding various downloads, pictures, viruses, random programs, and most often, Limewire installed. Why people do this, I have no idea, but it happens quite frequently. We'd like to keep our laptops in working condition so that when actual purchasing customers want to see how they work, we have a WORKING demo to show."

Of course, saying that would've offended the almighty customer. Meanwhile, I didn't want to make the woman I'd already been helping wait any longer. "As soon as I finish with my customer, I'll be happy to come over and help you with laptops."

She looked at me as if I'd told her to eat a plate of cat vomit, but she quietly walked over and waited by the laptops. I found the product my customer had been looking for online, but our website was out of stock. I offered to check the surrounding stores to see if any of them had it in stock, but to do that, I had to take my customer to the computer in the rear of the store.

I barely turned to lead us back there before hearing, "OVER HERE!" and seeing the impatient laptop lady waving her hand frantically in the air. I pretended not to notice and proceeded to the back.

I realize many people are in a hurry, but that doesn't make them any more important than anyone else. Yes, the argument could be made that we should have more people on the floor to help customers, but that's a complaint to take up with the corporate office. We don't decide on our payroll limits and we get chewed out if we go even an hour over. We do the best we can with what we're given.

Shopping tip of the day for 8/25/09: The word is "debit." Not "devit."

(You might be surprised how many people don't know that.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

You Didn't See That

Today, as I'm returning from lunch, I'm walking up aisle 1 toward the front of the store. I pass a woman near the paper and I hear a distinct tearing sound. A quick glance reveals that she's ripping open the top corner of the package and yanking a page out through the two inch hole she's created to feel how thick it is. Mind you, she's not just opening the package from the top seal, she's tearing a hole out of the thing.

So I walk over and say, "Ma'am?"

She looks at me, her eyes get wide, and the inevitable words spill from her mouth. "This was opened already."

I could have argued that I had watched her open it because I had, but people seem to think the phrase "The Customer is Always Right" gives them the right to say and do whatever they please. Instead, I showed her where we have paper samples lined up on the shelf not five feet away where she could have felt the thickness and examined the differences in brightness levels. She thanked me and I went on my way, wondering if she really thought that the employees of the store don't walk the aisles enough to have a good idea of what's already open and what isn't. Generally, we take open product off the shelves when we find it.

A few minutes later I saw her waiting to check out up front. In her arms she held a package of the same type of paper she had ripped open.

Of course, the one she was buying was unopened. Go figure.

Shopping Tip of the Day for 8/24/09: The customer is NOT always right.


Welcome to Retail Ramblings!

In an effort to keep myself sane and let off a little steam, I've come up with the idea of writing a daily note here about one or two funny stories that have happened to me during my years in retail. This way I'll be able to vent a bit and maybe you guys will get a kick outta some of them.

Remember: Every bit of these stories are true. If you've worked retail, you know to expect anything and everything. If you haven't, you're missing out on a diabolical mix of comedy and frustration all rolled into one.