The tribulations of a retail consumer

At least I felt like I was being treated as though I were about to steal something.

I go to office supply stores quite a lot. Especially at the end of the summer when the new school supply products are out. I like checking out the new stuff, especially since a lot of it doesn't make it into regular inventory at the store. I've told most of my friends that I am a visual shopper. What I mean by that is that I go into a store sometimes just to look and other times with an overall idea about what I want but not specific. As far as specific products, I'll know what I want when I see it. That may require looking at every product like what I am seeking in a store and not buying anything, which often happens. I have gone to stores and then ended up buying whatever it is online.

When I am in stores I generally don't approach store employees unless I actually have a question. Eventually, if I stay long enough one of them will ask the question. The question is usually one of: 'Are you finding everything okay?' 'Is there anything in particular you're looking for?' or 'Can I help you find something?' Now a lot of the time after I say 'No, I am just looking' or 'No, I'm just look at X' the stockers and clerks will let me look at the merchandise and pick out something or not. If I don't find what I'm looking for I leave. The point is, they leave me alone and let me shop. Other times, for most of the time I am there someone is asking me every 10 minutes or so if I'm okay or if I'm finding everything okay. I go by the two question rule. You ask me once how I'm doing. I will respond. You ask me a second time and I'll respond and start heading for the door.

I understand you're doing your job, but regardless, how does the fact that I was in your store, picked up a few items and put them back, didn't buy anything and left constitute stealing or intending to steal? And even if you don't think I am intending on pinching merchandise, your multiple questions make me feel like if I'm not spending money that day I'm not wanted in your store. If that's the case, remember you have competitors.

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

This drives me crazy too...

You're lucky if they only ask every ten minutes. At Office Depot they seem to ask every three minutes. But then, if I'm in a hurry trying to find something, or need something from a locked display, there is invariably only one associate in the store and he's always more interested in helping a man or else he's in the back or somewhere so I can't find anyone.

I guess that's what office pr0n addicts have to expect. A couple of years ago I tried just not answering after the second one approached but I felt rude. Also felt rude when I got annoyed and answered snidely. Have finally accepted it as par for the course--now I answer politely and continue, trying to just let it go.

Thanks for posting this, I needed to vent about it.

Retailer Beware...

I write a letter of complaint when I receive unsatisfactory service. However this has little to no effect on the chainstores. Now I keep a 'wretched' list in my planner. Poor quality products; contemptuous manner; risible service, all noted down. Combined with my 'List of Excellence' I find I can apply a little soft paternalism in my retail recommendations. ;)

Don't Take It Out On The Employee

I have to differ here...the employee is coached and told never, ever to ignore a customer. Because the complaining customer (the one who didn't get asked if they could be helped) is the one that bred the over-eager customer service rep we see today.

Even if they are covertly watching to make sure you don't walk off with the store, if you're not doing anything wrong, then don't feel guilty. I cruise my local office supply stores at least once a week and I don't ever feel like they expect me to buy something. So, maybe it's some sort of thing you feel.

And quite honestly, why don't you tell them next time "thank you for offering, but I'll come find you when I need help." That way maybe they won't ask again.

Of course, I'm more inclined to believe that they don't realize they've asked the same customer two or three times, simply because in retail, everyone looks alike.

I Don't Take It Out On The Employee, usually

I have only gotten visibly annoyed with an office supply store employee once and that was partly due to the fact that he was the 2nd person to ask me if he could find something for me in 10minutes, and as soon as I walked in the door, his boss asked me what I was looking for and then pulled out a freaking 2-way radio and called for someone from the back to meet me half way down the aisle. In my opinion it was efficiency ad nauseam.

And quite honestly, why don't you tell them next time "thank you for offering, but I'll come find you when I need help." That way maybe they won't ask again.
I thought that my saying "no thanks, I'm just looking" was communicating that. I'll have to try to phrase it differently to see if they get the point.

Two points: a) "the employee

Two points:

a) "the employee is coached and told never, ever to ignore a customer" when I worked at a big-box store, we got in trouble with management if we came within ten feet of a customer and did not acknowledge them and ask if they needed help. This included trips to the break room and whatnot,

2) "I'm more inclined to believe that they don't realize they've asked the same customer two or three times, simply because in retail, everyone looks alike." I've done this as well.

Whew...Good To Know

edosan - good to know those instincts were on target. And if it makes you feel any better, I'm one of those customers that said "Just looking" three times before the fourth approach when I said "NOW I need your help finding (fill in the blank)."

Same Stuff Different Day...

Deep sigh. I remember a time, not so long ago, when one's stationer dressed in a crisp cotton top and knew you by name. Receipt were hand written and ink would be gently squeezed from fresh cuttlefish. Now various plastic products are throw into equally plastic bags. Polyester clad employees engage in a battle of wit with their 'Smart tills' and the only thing squeezed is a quick profit from a homogeneous consumer. :(

BTW I do not hold ptrader or edosan personally responsible for the demise of quaility stationers or the growth in polyester tops. ;)

OH MY GOD some one is trying

OH MY GOD some one is trying to be helpful and see if you need any assistance finding something and you get offended just because they have asked you more than once. Tell you what pal, I'll tell you what store I work in, if you promise me that you will never darken its door. As someone that proudly works in retail your type disgusts me. You are dealing with human beings not some autonomous entity that enjoys being ignored, I acknowledge you, is it that much trouble to acknowledge me? Or were you taught that it is alright to be rude to someone for no reason at all. I can guarantee you one thing that when you leave that store offended after being asked if you need assistance twice every person working there is having a sigh of relief, thanking their lucky stars that you are gone. Oh and by the way, your type represent less than 1% of the business I see. So if you do vote with your feet its not going to hurt my business nearly as much as some grumpy paranoid moron who thinks everyone is watching him making sure he doesn't steal.

well said!!!


Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

Please tell us what store you work in

so we can avoid it.
Not a cool response at all.

Now, I will say that I have been on both sides of this particular fence.

As a retail worker, I have offered help and then said something like , "Please let me know if you need anything" and then left the customer alone.

On the flip side, as a customer, I have seen retail workers across the whole spectrum. Sadly, it is becoming more common to encounter sales-droids as described by ShutterCat who will not get a clue and let you shop in peace. Even sadder is the perception I have of often encountering the Totally Clueless Sales-Droid who is incapable of answering the most basic question (like "Where can I find this item that was featured in the weekly ad ?")

Is it any wonder shoppers do not want help ? Unless I am familiar with a specific retail store, I expect the staff to be capable of little more than taking my money for the stuff I want to buy. I try to find the answers on my own. I will ask when I cannot find them, but given that most retail jobs these days are minimum wage, I expect little of the sales-droids.

One exception is when I find an older person, probably a retiree, in a retail position. Older folks, in my personal experience, seem to have a much better work ethic.(edit) They try to care about the products they are selling. Another exception is the small business. They HAVE to care more about the customer to compete with the Big Dogs.

To conclude my semi-rant, I try to sympathize with the minimum wage, mega-retailer sales-droid. They are usually clueless because they are not paid enough to really care. Been there and done that. You do find the rare exception, but you have to be looking fot it. Complaining will usually not improve the situation and is more likely to get you labelled as a troublemaker.

I strive for peaceful co-existance. Less stress that way.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

young people have good work ethic too

"Older folks have a much better work ethic."

But work ethic and age have nothing to do with each other.

point taken

no arguement.
I made it sound like a fact rather than an opinion.
see edit above.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

point taken

your opinion is just as valid as any other.

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

Both sides of the coin

OH MY GOD some one is trying to be helpful and see if you need any assistance finding something and you get offended just because they have asked you more than once.

I have worked both sides of the cash desk. As a sales assistant and as a customer; I've also do similar things at exhibitions by being both an exhibitor and a visitor. When I was in retail I tried hard to understand what I was selling, I knew the stock not only in my department but also other departments. In detail in mine and general in the others. I don't like exhibitions at all irrespective of role.

However, there are some shops here in the UK where staff don't give a damn what their company sells as long as they receive a pay packet at the end of the month. I resent that sort of attitude and give those people very short shrift if they approach me. Ask them a technical question about the goods they a) don't know the answer and b) don't give a flying f*** about the answer. (I also resent the store for its gross profit making attitude --- usuary is the word.) Needless to say I don't patronise that chain of stores. The Brits here will know who I'm referring to when I say they sell computers. [To remind you as you'll have forgotten I was until recently a computing scientist and know when I'm being bullshitted by a time-serving twerp who hasn't a clue.)

And no I don't like being approached by assistants in other shops where the staff do know their products. I know what I've gone in to buy. If I can't find it then I'll ask when I want to ask.

As to shoplifting, well the UK is one of the most highly surveillanced societies in the world. An individual will appear on CCTV at least 20 times every day just walking down the street. And pretty much every item in stores has RFID tags. Sensors at the exits catch anything that hasn't been paid for being taken out.

Some of us really don't want to be disturbed while shopping. Think asbergers, dyslexia, dyspraxia, communication difficulties or sheer bllody mindedness.

Used to be that the saying was "the customer is always right".

I much prefer using Amazon; no one bothers you whether browsing or buying.

some things from the other end

I work in the world of wine. I HAVE to ask if you need help. Often people will say no, you walk away, they are still looking around and you will ask again, they say no, you walk away but on that third time, they will say. "Well it is so overwhelming, I do have questions but i dont know where to start" and you will be there to help the person find what they need or answers to questions even if they dont buy anything.

What is more, you should know that if you "window shop" in a store and you are the only person there, particularly during the slow times, they usually have stuff to do, and the longer you stay the longer they go without doing things that need doing. plus it gets really boring watching someone pace and they likely just want something to do. Unless you are trying to steal that is not what people think of first. There are other things that come first:
1- Person needs help but is too shy to ask (this is usually the case) and the sales person wants to be helpful.
2- person is window shopping and keeping me from getting things done
3- person is a slow shopper.

it makes me sad that we live in a world where doing our job and trying to be helpful is taken too with such a nasty attitude. I had one guy last week look at me with the most evil eye when i said "Hello, how are you doing?" when he came into the wine store. This bit of politeness so offended him that he turn heel and stomped off! My boss thought it was really funny but i was just like "WOW!".

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

Wear each other's shoes

Store personnel don't know you and you don't know them. How do they know you aren't planning to shoplift? How do you know they suspect you? I worked in retail security and once arrested a 70 year old male stealing a shiny, new women's purse ! Who'd have thunk it? FWIW I just tell the clerks "I'm still looking for something I can't live without." If they ask again, "Just browsing" then repeat that with every additional inquiry. They get the message after a couple of times.

potential answer...

On a couple occasions, I've added to the standard "just looking" answer, "If I do need you where can I expect to find you?" They usually tell me, and then leave me alone. I don't remember ever being bothered again. Try this next time, it might work (with all the legal, fine print here, hidden in these dots)...


i agree

We have all read Steven Covey and know that it is key to "Act rather than be acted upon".

If you take preemptive action and let them know that you will find them if you need help they will take that hint 99.9999999% of the time. Other customers need helping, other things need doing.

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

Another tribulation...

Then there's the problem of getting out of the store after dealing with retail associates who either swarm you with their offers of help or ignore you completely or hide out in some secret chamber just when you need some form of assistance.

Last summer I stopped at Office Depot for what I expected to be a short, in-and-out quick trip. I got in line at the cashier's station (the only one in use, of course). The woman who was checking out was making some sort of complicated return or complaint which was taking time, and there was one other person in line ahead of me.

The woman with the problem went on forever and eventually another clerk opened up another line. The person in front of me went over there and I considered going over and getting in line for that register but decided my register should open up pretty soon. I was now next in line and the woman couldn't possibly take much longer. A man got in line behind me at this point.

Then, the cashier at the second register actually came over and touched the sleeve of the man in line behind me and told him he would take him over at his register! It always annoys me when they do this instead of announcing that they will take the next in line and being firm about that. I was already upset at having to stay so long in line and this didn't help. I went and got in line at the second register. But the man who was being checked out had some issues or questions, too, so I went and got back in line at the first register. The customer was now writing a check, and she was very slow about it, stopping to converse with the clerk about her transaction, and possibly the weather in various parts of the country, her recent vacation, her kids, etc. Meanwhile the man had finally finished at the second register so I went over to check out there.

I told the cashier that he should have taken me before the man because I was next in line. He was rather snippy about it. I told him I'd seen him touch the man on the sleeve to specifically tell him that he would take him, not the next person in line. He denied it. By now he had rung up the sale so I was almost out of the store, with the purchases I needed that day. I thoughtlessly tossed down my money to pay for the merchandise and he got offended! He refused to accept my money because I had tossed it down rudely! I asked him if he required the money be presented on a silver tray. He called the store manager over and complained about me!

I had been in line for fifteen or twenty minutes, way over any reasonable time, and some of that time was wasted because of this same clerk!

The store manager took me over to a third register to check me out herself. I told her what had happened and of course she apologized.

I went back to that store afterwards and the same clerk checked me out. I was very carefully polite to him, and he was polite to me and there have been no more incidents.

just last week at the generic grocery store chain in our town

Me, last week, to clerk: Do you have the whipped cream in a can? I checked in dairy where it used to be shelved but couldn't find it.
Clerk: Let's go look in dairy.
We walk back to dairy.
Clerk: Hmmm I don't see it here, we must not carry it anymore.
Me: How can that be? Just last month you had full fat, reduced fat, non-fat, chocolate, in multiple brands, two whole shelves of whipped cream in a can and now you don't carry it anymore?
Clerk: I'll call a manager.
Manager (with me in dairy): Looks like we don't carry it anymore.
Clerk and Manager depart.
I am left browsing the aisles thinking "if I worked in retail, where would I put the whipped cream..." I have no ideas except "dairy." I walk to the front of the store giving up the search and lo and behold, there it is, with the premade packaged jello and pudding.

now let us be fair

customers suck too. in fact there is a very good live journal blog with countless entries on just how much.

i would post a link, but it doesnt work all the time and i havent bothered to figure out the Magick that makes it work.

"A few sucks from the best recognized lingerie store in the world: (but I'm sure everyone gets them.)

2. Stop stealing the panties! I know you're doing it. Leave us alone and let us do our jobs. Our job is not to look in the back for "insert item here". Trust me, everything we have is on the floor. How do I know? Because I know. I'm not going to check for you, because when I go in the back to confirm we do not have "item", you're going to steal panties.

3. Don't try on panties when you're on the rag! Just don't do it!!! EWWW! Why do you need to try them on at all? What size pants do you wear? We'll tell you what size you need. You can then take them home and if they don't fit, we'll let you exchange them... and we'll damage out the wrong size. Ew. I about puked when I found that pair."

I have seen bad things for customers. Like the lady who told her daughter she was potty training, to use the potty in front of the store, by the window, while there were other customers in the store, instead of the perfectly serviceable bathroom! Yes she told her daughter to take off her panties and pee in a little potty in the front of the store while there were other other customers in the store instead of using the perfectly good, clean and working bathroom!!! and thats not even the worst of what i have seen.

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

I know what you mean

I am dealing with some hard-to-please folks who want some very particular sort of graph paper.

Cannot seem to please them.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

the joys of ordering online.

yep!! that is why sometimes it is just better to order online.

right now i am trying to post-it like note pads in a 1" x !" size. 3m (Post-It) doesnt make them, and the 1 X 2 that they do make are just a pinch too big. :( and there is no pleasing me, must be !"x 1" any bigger and i dont want them. :)

and that is the final point. if you are going to be difficult: SHOP ONLINE!!! :)

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

Jigglypuff, we're all just

Jigglypuff, we're all just trying to make our various ways through the days with as little damage and hopefully as much happiness as possible. I suspect that the vast majority of customers are nice to you. I know the majority of retail clerks are nice to me.

My husband worked at Foley's for a while and it was hard work, on his feet almost all the time, dealing with people trying to return things they'd used, like a dress they'd worn to a party and didn't need any more, merchandise thrown on the floor in the mad search for just the right towel or pillow. I don't know how I would deal with it, were I in that situation.

It's just unfortunate that we stress each other out. I really liked the atmosphere right after September 11, when we all were so mellow and so nice to each other. I wish we could be like that all the time. It shouldn't take a disaster to make us stop and think.

so true

so true :(

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

Bathrooms are ALWAYS a problem

When I worked in retail at an upscale shoe store that catered to little old ladies with crooked feet and lots of money, we would get all sorts of people browsing. Now, being a shoe store we didn't really have problems with theft, as only one shoe of the pair is out at any given time, and it's always the right shoe, never the left. But the bathroom! Oh, how I hated the bathroom question!

See, we had no public restroom. You had to walk through the stock room to the very back of the shop to get to our bathroom, and we simply didn't let people use it, but every once in a while there arose a "potty emergency" and we would make an exception.

So one time this well-dressed mother and her 7-8 year old son begged to use the potty. We let them, as a favor. After they left, it took over an hour to clean and sanitize our little neat bathroom because of the feces smeared all over the wall, toilet, floor, sink, and soap dispenser.

How on earth does any mother with the wits to live allow her child to spread feces all over a private bathroom???? And then say NOTHING, shop some more, and then leave!?!?

I don't get it. It's just one more example of the horrors of retail.

I guess I can see the other side of this

Yeah, it's annoying. But I happen to know from experience that some people WILL NOT ask for help. Seriously. They'd rather stand there and look confused than actually ask an employee. I used to work at a UPS Store where we had a copier, and the copier SAID "key card required to operate" or something along those lines--we had the key thingy at the counter. I would often watch people come in, and stand by the copier looking at it, like if they stared long enough it might start to work without the key card, or they might find some other instructions that would allow them to subvert the key card...I don't know. Finally after a while I'd say "can I help you with something?" and then they'd say they needed to make copies. There were times when I felt like just standing and waiting to see how long they would actually stand by the machine.

And of course, if all of the employees are taught to ask you if you need help or whatever, then yep, every employee you see is going to ask. Generally businesses will get on employees for not doing this, I'm guessing. And regardless of how you as an employee feel about it, get pulled aside by management often enough and you'll start religiously asking, I guarantee it (that was me with the "would you like to try an Extra Value Meal today?" when I worked at McDonald's--yes, I hated asking, and yes, I usually got a terse "NO" as an answer to the question, but I wasn't about to get written up for not doing my job because the managers noticed me not asking too often).