Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Holiday Shopping Technique & Etiquette

In my experience, people don't really put a lot of thought into how they shop, when, etc. except from the perspective of their own immediate, as opposed to long-term convenience or the real consequences of their behavior. If you grab stuff out of other peoples' shopping carts, let your kids run wild through the store, or bring your pet and lie about whether or not it's a service animal, stop reading. There's no hope for you. Failing that, if you're curious about a retail employee's perspective on shopping and the surprisingly simple things you can do that will actually make things easier and enjoyable for you when you shop, read on.

The number one challenge for many parents: shopping with kids. Don't worry. I'm not going to chastise you about supervising your kids, observe how dangerous carts are, or complain about bawling toddlers forced to go shopping while they're ill or during their nap time. I'm assuming you're already doing your best.

A lot of kids hate the carts. I don't blame them. Riding in those little seats is uncomfortable. I strongly suggest bringing a baby blanket along. Don't worry so much about the plastic seat. That's not the issue. It's hard contact with the plastic and metal that runs under their thighs and the bar between the legs. It takes a little practice, but if you can get just a couple of layers in there, it makes a world of difference. Some kids don't mind, but the ones that do ... yeah. A lot of kids point at the baby carts we have, wishing they had that padding but they're too big and it would be dangerous for a toddler to ride in a seat meant for an infant. If they're too big even for those seats built into the carts, a travel blanket still comes in handy as padding for the bottom of the cart for those times when it's easier for them to ride inside. If the kids are comfortable, they're far less likely to whine and cry.

Kids like to help. Let them! Send the older ones on missions to find things, and younger ones can try to find what you're looking for first and point to it. This will keep them occupied, and teach them how to find stuff for the family. They can even learn to approach and ask for help from employees, which is always a good habit. But, if they don't get the right thing ....

Part of my job involves cleaning up the aisles after people have sorted through them. I get paid for it, so I don't mind finding a tube of toothpaste shoved behind the dolls. It's all good. Having said that, you can make shopping easier for yourself and your kids by not making them put stuff back themselves. In fact, you don't have to put it back either! As long as they're not chewing on it or tearing up the packaging (more on this later) let them have it in the cart for a while. You can pass it off to the cashier, and we'll put it back for you. It's just like the library. If you don't know exactly where something goes, it's much easier for the librarian and you to just put it in the go-back cart, right? Some people tell us that various items are things that they thought they wanted but decided against getting and they couldn't remember where it went, but no explanation or apology is necessary. "I don't want this," is fine.

There are some neat tricks parents have used to get kids to give up toys that I've seen over the years. My favorite one was the parent who told the child to give the toy to the cashier so they could keep it safe. The child handed it right over. Genius. Also, if a child runs up to the register with a toy, resist the urge to tell them to put it back. Yes, it's a good habit to learn to put things back where they belong, but even after years of working in the same store, I still have trouble finding where some of these things go, and I work there full time. A store is very different from your house. It's constantly changing, and there are a huge number of items, all similar to each other, in every four foot section of every shelf. Tell the child to give the thing to the cashier or a floor person instead. It's still being responsible, and we'll make sure it goes back exactly where it needs to be.

By the way, products in stores are amazingly dirty, even the food items. After just few minutes of putting stuff on the shelves, my hands are black with dirt. To prevent illness, it's a good idea to keep children in the chewing phase of their lives away from toys, packaged food, etc. And keep a lookout for the shedding of shoes, or sitting on the floor, crawling, etc. The chemicals and bits of broken glass we can't seem to get all of when a pickle jar breaks ... yeah. We really do our best, but it's a constant battle with the dirt in the stores, and new dirt comes in all the time. It may surprise you to learn that most of that doesn't come from outside, but the warehouse and the trucks, and they are all shipped together on the same pallets ....

But some of the dirt does come from customers. You might be shocked to learn how much fruit is handled by other people who may or may not wash their hands. Even very nice, well-dressed people don't bother to wash their hands. I see them walk out of the restrooms without washing. They also blow their noses or cough or sneeze right on the products every single day. As far as the 'shopping sick,' I don't judge. We've all had to do it. Not everyone has a personal shopper who can go get their prescription or cold medicine for them, and sick people have to have groceries too. So it's on all shoppers to remember this and act accordingly as far as cleaning your new purchase when you get it home. The warehouse dirt and any pesticides they used in the warehouse to keep vermin out of the product, or dirt and chemicals from other products are easily transferred by customers and employees over the course of the day just by picking up things and putting them down again. It's impractical to isolate the handling of products, so, just bear in mind that babies probably shouldn't put store products in their mouths for their own safety.

Speaking of sorting through products, the packaging is not always an indication as to whether or not the product is in good shape. For example, I had a beautiful cabinet with a bad door come back. I ordered a new door for it. In that time, the box was opened and re-taped by the original customer and twice by me. Nothing else was wrong with the cabinet. The next customer rejected it because the box was all torn up and taped up, and insisted on a new, nice looking box. Guess what? One of the panels on the cabinet in that pristine box had a gouge in it. Most products on the shelf that have been opened and taped back up are fine, and may in fact be in better shape than the factory sealed ones because we carefully inspected them before putting them back on the shelf. If something has been opened already, I'm happy to help you reopen and inspect it before you buy it. I think you can understand why we might be reluctant to open an unopened package, though, unless you're sure you're going to get it, because it will be much harder to sell because of the opened package stigma.

About opening packages: please ask for help. Chances are there's an opened one already that you haven't noticed. We'd be happy to help you to either locate the display or sample item. Also, we have tools for opening stuff that causes the least amount of damage. Because of the prejudice against opened boxes, people won't buy them, and in the end we have to return the stuff to the manufacturer for no good reason. If we don't get credit from the manufacturer, the loss ends up folding back into the prices you see reflected on the shelves. So it's in your best interest to not damage products or their packaging. In the long run, it will save you money. Also, some stores won't carry items that are frequently opened, inspected and damaged through over-handling because of the cost. If you as a customer respect the more delicate and vulnerable products, stores are more likely to carry them.

Budget sufficient time, when you can, for shopping to reduce stress, but sometimes you just gotta come in at the last minute. I'm fine with folks coming in right up until the door is locked to do their shopping. (I may be rare in that attitude, but read on.) My manager will often invite people to come in just before he locks up if they've parked their car already. We'll wait to serve you. Our job is, formally and literally speaking, to 'wait on' people, right? When you dash in at the last minute, please consider asking for help. We're happy to be your personal shopper. Don't worry about being a bother! If you're concerned about keeping us late (thank you, that's very kind) then help us help you by allowing us to lead you to the things you want. We're happy to fetch a cart or basket if you end up carrying more than you intended. And please, if you want furniture, say so as soon as you know. That way, if it's in the warehouse or needs a hand truck or pallet jack, we can get those things right away while you look for whatever else you need.

Speaking of which, it's a good practice, if you shop for furniture, to look at that first. Often there isn't floor space for the boxed pieces, just the displays, which means a floor person has to get them for you. Your shopping experience will be more pleasant and efficient if you browse for your other items while we hunt for your box among the many other boxes in the back. We'll have your items waiting for you at the front of the store when you're ready to check out. Asking for it while standing in line will aggravate the other folks in line behind you (never a fun experience to have people mutter about you, roll their eyes or change to a different lane after shooting you a dirty look), and it will take up your valuable time. Our time is no biggie. We get paid by the hour, and I'll be at the store all day long whether I have to get furniture or not. In fact, I like the change of being able to go outside for a carry out. Considering your own time and convenience works best for you and for us too by giving us the opportunity to help you in a way that doesn't hold you up when you're ready to leave.

One more thing about furniture. We can give you dimensions for furniture over the phone if you forget to take them, or let you know if we have something approximately the size that you're looking for.

Onward and forward to more general advice again.

Don't be shy to ask for help even if we look really busy. Good floor people can multi-task. The best floor people will ask if you need help before you even approach them, but bear in mind that we also don't want to unduly disturb you if you're concentrating on reading the label on a product or talking with your shopping companions. Good customer service and customer relations is a complex social game, and sometimes we fail to see the cues people give us that they need help. If we're with another customer, usually we have to finish helping that customer before we can help you, but if we're stocking shelves, cleaning, or racing from one end of the store to the other, we're happy to stop and help, even if it's only to pause long enough to promise to send someone else to help you. You're not a bother. We're there to help you. Without customers, we'd have no reason to have a store in the first place.


Molly said...

Just shared this post with the FB masses - everyone needs to see this

Kami said...

Thanks Molly!