Retailers · Shopping

The Solution to Society’s Ills: Mandatory Retail Service

There are countries in this world that mandate military service for all young people with limited exceptions. In addition to fulfilling the country’s needs without having a random draft, the men and women are often whipped into shape with a new appreciation of life. I am a strong believer that similar mandatory customer service jobs would solve a similar problem in American society.

We’ve all seen the guy in the retail store who is mindlessly screaming at the poor cashier because the socks he thought were on sale “didn’t ring up right”. There is a hideous lack of perspective in this country from customers who believe they are always right after being told so for many years. I have news for you: the customer is almost always wrong, and the “always right” policies are killing retail. It kills the morale of employees and leads to poor customer service, not to mention that most of the time the customers are, in fact, wrong.

Whether it is a retail store, restaurant, or other customer service situation where there is a storefront involving customers, employees learn quickly: most customers are pigs. They destroy bathrooms and changing rooms because they do not have to clean them up. They ruffle through neatly folded stacks of clothes then leave them in a pile on the table (or worse, the floor). In the grocery store, as a customer I often find things that are supposed to be refrigerated sitting on center aisle shelves with the cereal, having been left there by someone too lazy to take it back to the dairy case.

Besides the pig, there is another type of customer that destroys morale: the demanding or entitled customer. That customer who always asks for discounts. Or the customer who believes “the back” is a giant warehouse with crates like the last scene of Indiana Jones, except the crates are magic wormholes directly linking the store to the product manufacturers in China. Or the customer who wants to talk to “the manager”, expecting him or her to bitch slap you into submission for daring to tell them you won’t take a return on your deodorant-stained “unworn” shirt.

Yes, retail sucks. Never mind the managers who have turned into Dwight Schrute-like figures on power trips. Never mind how you question how you are still alive after a week of closing shifts followed by opening shifts with no days off for an entire week, but with just few enough hours to not have to give you overtime. Never mind the holiday-related PTSD you suffer for years (You can tell the retail workers because their faces begin to contort when “Jingle Bell Rock” comes on the radio). Never mind the incessant jokes about the money being counterfeit or the items being free because they didn’t scan. Good one! I haven’t heard that one before! In this hour that is my personal hell of working here anyway!

In working retail you also learn to defend yourself in a real-world environment. For example, you become an expert on employment law. True story:

At the time my wife and I got married 15 years ago, I was working as a dairy department manager at a grocery store on the south side of Bloomington. It was one of the worst jobs I have ever held because of the store manager. That store manager was feared by most of the employees of the store. He vaguely looked like the warden from Shawshank Redemption. He did not like me for a number of reasons, not least of which was that I did not tolerate being yelled at in public in front of customers, other employees, etc, and would often either speak back or report him for doing it. I was often given no help in my department from the floating crew that was available to help in departments as needed, but was always blamed for not completing tasks. Of course I had put in my vacation notice for our wedding well in advance. He attempted to revoke the time off request two days before because he “didn’t have anyone to cover it”. He did not budge despite my protests. In protest, I showed up to work the day before my wedding, a day I was supposed to have off, at 4 AM, because I had last minute plans to address. I stocked the shelves, cleaned, and left. When I returned a week later, the store manager informed me that “my job had been posted” and he was moving me to work third shift stock crew for lower pay. I quickly found another job. That store manager continued(s?) to work as a store manager for the company at another location (because ours closed due to lack of sales).

This was not the only incident I ever encountered in retail. One such issue was a policy at that grocery company to not pay you for the first few minutes after you clock in or before you clock out because it is assumed you were changing into your work clothes. Management at our store took advantage, insisting you clock out BEFORE changing so you are doing that off the clock…and not getting paid for those last few minutes you were actually working, as well not allowing you to clock in until you changed…so you didn’t get paid for those first few minutes of work. I estimate they owe me almost $1,000 for that time alone. Or at another large national pet store, where my store manager tried repeatedly to get me to work while clocked out for my mandatory lunch break and got upset when I started physically leaving and sitting in my car to eat.

Issues like this at the grocery store and others led me to pursue a career of fighting fraud, standing up for employees, and standing up for “the little guy” when they are often powerless. I enjoy my job of working with small businesses because people need others who stand up for them and help them. It was that, or relegate myself to the retail life for eternity, imitating my coworkers by spending my meager amounts of money on alcohol and terrible weed in an attempt to dull the pain of working there. Retail motivated me to better myself to escape the hell of working retail.

Working in customer service, whether it is waiting tables, working at a retail store, or wherever it may be, gives you perspective. I know what they can’t and can do (don’t get me wrong…I do call employees and managers out when they tell me ‘no’ when I know they can and are just being lazy, because I know better….). I don’t spit on employees. I have respect for them. That guy yelling about his socks has never worked retail, because he would know better. Unless you have the empathy of a narcissistic robot, working in retail will cause you to not only understand their position, but not needlessly put blame on the employees who have nothing to do with your problem. That ultimately translates to improvements not just in retail, but on customer service lines, day-to-day interactions with people on the street, etc. I think every person should be forced to work customer service as a national conscription service for the betterment of society.

Retailers · Shopping

The Woeful Tale of the Paisley Chairs

You don’t have to go far on the internet to find people who believe the world owes them a deal.

A story recently surfaced right in my town of a fraternity…not to name names, but Delta Chi….that believed they were getting the deal of a century. Menards, a Midwestern home improvement store, was selling chairs that retailed for $358 for a penny. Mind you, not ALL the styles of this particular chair…the others were all still $358. But one style of this chair was a mind-boggling 99.9972 percent off, and people (including said Delta Chi fraternity) noticed.

So called “bargain hunters” have an apparent belief that transactions should be one-sided; their side. Never mind the consequences for the retailer. It should come as no shock to you that the instant this mistake was noticed, it was widely publicized on the internet and people flocked to buy up the chairs. Not one single person brought the issue to Menards’ attention. Instead, the bargain hunter cheapskates thought they had hit the jackpot. As for the deal being too good to be true, one such person said “Yeah, for the most part I figured [it was too good to be true,] but I’d figured I try it anyway. I was only losing a few cents”.

Then came the email from Menards: “For a brief period over the weekend a chair appeared on our website priced at 1¢.  This chair was a figment of a computer’s imagination and we are diligently looking into the cause of this temporary and isolated glitch.  We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.  Obviously, if anyone actually ordered one, we will be very prompt in returning their penny.”

Back to the fraternity. Without knowing exactly what they would do with them, the fraternity ordered 4,200 chairs. That’s right, they paid $50 (with tax) for a chair order that should have been $1.5 million. Unsurprisingly, the fraternity continued to push the issue in some attempt at sympathy. “We feel this entire debacle has been incredibly unjust. Not only are they threatening to dishonor our purchase, but they’re putting the blame on the ‘imagination’ of ‘the computer.’” Menards is not “threatening” to dishonor the purchase. As within their rights, they cancelled it. Dishonored it, if you will. Not unlike the bargain hunters, the irony of attempting to essentially steal a million and a half dollars in furniture and calling it “unjust” is lost on them.

Taking it further, the fraternity opted to write to one of the state’s US congressman that happens to be a graduate of their fraternity. Said congressman, Mr. Jim Banks, frighteningly ignorant of the “law” for a lawmaker, then issued a statement that Menards should honor the pricing. “The actions of the men of IU Delta Chi represent what we want from fraternities everywhere – a commitment to philanthropy and the betterment of our communities at large,” Banks’ letter reads. “I believe that the spirit behind the purchase of these chairs should be both encouraged and supported.” At some point in all this, the fraternity decided that it was going to sell the chairs at a discount from retail and donate the money to the Jimmy V Foundation. As of this post, Menards has chosen to ignore the request.

The fraternity was not alone. People crawled out of the woodwork bashing Menards for cancelling their orders of “hundreds of chairs” that they needed for this, that, or the other. Yes, people not only saw this deal, but all over the country thought “I’m going to order hundreds of these” instead of “this is wrong. I should say something”.

Menards, of course, is completely in its rights to cancel the orders. Laws against false or deceptive advertising require an intent to deceive on the part of the advertiser. If a company can demonstrate that an advertised price was simply a mistake, then it’s not false advertising.

For retailers, let this be a lesson in ensuring your terms and conditions are up to date, particularly if you sell online. Make sure that you don’t give the impression that “acknowledging an order” is the same as “accepting an order” when you send your emails. And for the love of god, make sure you have someone monitoring your system so these vultures don’t eat your company. “Wow, we’ve had a 10,000% increase in sales on paisley lawn chairs in the last hour” should be a hint.

You, as a retailer, have the power to say no. In cases like this, the law is on your side. In everyday business, bargain hunters are owed nothing. In fact, in my day job, I provide most of the companies I assist with data showing that these types of customers are in fact more of a drain on their company than they are worth. They may threaten to take their business elsewhere, but in the end that is the best outcome for the retailer. It is more worth their time to focus on fair yet reasonable pricing and sell to customers that value their time and money. Be the best, with the best quality.

We live in a culture where everyone expects to be given a deal. Retail is for chumps. Because this is ‘Merica, sites actually exist solely to prey on pricing mistakes and trumpet them to the world. Unsurprisingly, these types of shoppers are the most common victims of fraud, as they are willing to order from unfamiliar sites to save a few bucks, or go through shady means (like Craigslist) to get deals. These are not loyal shoppers. They will follow the deals. They will literally trample one another on black Friday to save 10% off an Xbox.

We as a society need to lay off the “deals”. If we want society to move forward, instead of asking what kind of deal you can get, ask “can you get me what I need, done well and on-time?” If something is too good to be true, it probably is, and if something is obviously a mistake, point it out and don’t be a douchebag and try to “take advantage of it”. Focus on quality, not quantity. And don’t trample grandma the day after Thanksgiving.