Retail Hell


Posted on January 7th, by Birdie in Fashion and Style. 43 comments December 14, 2012

Customer service is not what it used to be, for both shoppers and sales associates.

Mister and I were out shopping last weekend – Mister needed a new pair of jeans, and some shoes.  I needed to head down to Fluevog so I could have my Silverlakes re-soled, so I accompanied him downtown on his search for the elusive.

The one thing I always notice – IMMEDIATELY when I walk into a store – is the level of customer service.  Having worked in the retail environment for a number of years, I feel there’s a certain base level of customer service required of sales associates.  It’s the nice-but-not-overbearing-accountability – which simply entails realizing that you’re there to make shopping experiences a pleasant thng; without you, these customers would be lost.  In contrast, your job would be lost if you didn’t have these customers.  It behooves a sales associate to be genuinely helpful to customers, and it behooves customers to be courteous to sales associates.

A trip to the Fluevog store on Pine is probably the best example of excellent customer service – and I’m not kidding.  Every time I walk in, I’m greeted by someone wearing amazing shoes and at the very least, a slightly bemused face (it might be because I “SQUEEEE!” when I walk in and then just sort of drool all over myself at all the shoes).  I’ll wander around the shelves for 5-10 minutes and then someone lets me know that if I need a size in anything, they’ll fetch it for me.

The experience is perfect every time.  They tell me if the shoe runs large or small… they tell me when they’ll get more in stock, or if they have to order it.  Really, the service there is unbeatable.  Getting shoes repaired is no exception.  When the acrylic heel on the Sliverlakes bit through the rubber sole on the bottom, they said they’d have it fixed, pronto – and they did.  It was a 3 day turnaround.

I believe, because of the level of customer service, I haven’t seen anybody leave the Fluevog Seattle store with a frown.  Even in the days when Kimberlee (Deco Modiste) worked there – when I used to hang out among the shoes with the ‘Vog girls , waiting for happy hour – the customers were all courteous and seemed to enjoy their experience.

When we walked into some of these downtown stores, we encountered an entirely different experience.  We went into 4 or 5 different stores and in only ONE location were we greeted by an associate, and later asked if we could be helped.  I’ll personally attest to the fact that Banana Republic has a fair customer service training program, even if the sales associates don’t always hit the mark, every time.  It seems, though, that not every store is employing this “help the customer” tactic.

It’s easy for Mister to brush the experience off – he’d rather be left alone by salespeople until he knows what he wants.  Being a little shop-a-holic, I like saying “hello” to the salespeople.  When they seem approachable, I feel comfortable asking if this skirt sits funny, or if that top is too billowy.  Customer service representatives need to establish their approachability without being overly pushy.

It could be that not heavily enforcing customer service eases the fatigue of having too many salespeople “help” a client, or it could be that the sales staff are just generally tired of dealing with asshole customers.  And that DOES happen; as Scarlet noted in her “Holiday Spirit” post, working with customers is more often than not, a nightmare in the making.  This “asshole customer” doesn’t crawl out of the woodwork JUST for the Christmas season.  Sometimes I cringe when I hear how customers talk to sales associates, or the sales management.

Experiences like these give rise to incidents like the ever popular “Not Always Right” and “Retail Hell”, which often showcase the overwhelming ignorance and mean spirit customers have towards sales associates.  Sometimes, it’s as if those customers think that retail or customer service positions are beneath them, so they have the right to press inarguable demands on businesses – via sales associates, staff and managers.  It’s a lot to put up with when you know you have to clean up a store, trashed by a long sales day.  You have to wonder if anyone knows how meticulously a retail location is set up, and how long it takes to clean up at the end of the day.

(From HellboundAlleee on Photobucket)

That’s like… a good hour’s work right there.

I’ve seen sales girls crying among bins of back-stock because of the way customers have insulted them.  I’ve been scolded for notifying authorities of shoplifters in the store – who were taken from the premises in handcuffs, while security pulled item after item out of the shoplifter’s backpack.  I once was berated while ringing up a customer because it was my second day on the job and I had forgotten a “dollar-off” coupon for Oreos on a $200 receipt.  It doesn’t happen at only larger retail locations; there’s been outcry among some smaller business owners at customers’ bad behaviors – everything from asking for ridiculous discounts to verbal abuse.

The incentive for sales associates to be at top form is often nonexistent.  Sales associates’ performance is often based on metrics, and in some scenarios, you aren’t scheduled for hours if you can’t make large-ticket sales.  Retail doesn’t often pay well, and managers are required to push sales associates for ever-growing volume expectations, in the hopes their store will achieve some sort of merit.  The perks are few – sales associates may be given discounts on product, but with the catch that there’s a “fashion-forward-style” to be maintained while on the sales floor.  After a while, as a retail salesperson, you realize that your paycheck is all in the closet you’re required to keep, to maintain appearances.

The last thing these hard-working individuals need is impolite customer experiences.   But when salespeople are chatting and fully ignoring customers in their sales area?  I can understand feeling a little off-put, and the disdainful way customers treat these customer service representatives doesn’t seem so harsh after all.  The problem is entirely cyclical.  If customers aren’t polite, sales associates won’t be inclined to be as polite, providing lesser customer service.  If sales associates aren’t inclined to be polite and helpful, customers will endure torturous shopping experiences.  It’s a model where EVERYONE loses.

What should you take away from this?  Put on a smile, and treat those you interact with in the retail world as equals.  Shopping experiences have become less-than-desirable; it’s no wonder more shoppers are turning to online solutions.  Terrorizing sales associates and undervaluing shoppers are so out of style.

That’s just my $.02

Edit: I received a great comment below from Sheena of Clandestine Chic. I wanted to share my response to her comment, for those of you who only skim the comment section:

We had the same thing happen at Macy’s – Mister wanted to try some shoes on, and instead of doing the stock check, the guy just went to the back and looked and said he didn’t have Mr’s size. We left the department to find him some denim and came back about half an hour later, hoping we would find a different sales associate. Unfortunately we got stuck with the same guy, and I asked if he’d do a stock check to see if the shoes were at the Northgate Macy’s. I was surprised when he said that the shoes were somewhere in the building… and then came back with the box in the correct size, saying that the shoes were just stocked in the wrong section. He didn’t even offer to look the first time, and we almost left the store without shoes for Mister.





43 Responses to “Retail Hell”

  1. Alicia says:

    And a good .02 at that. I worked retail, too and am highly sensitive to the level of service I get in stores…and it’s a reason why I hate the mall. =D
    .-= Alicia´s last blog ..…it’s out… =-.

  2. Definitely a great .02. I grew up working retail, and have my stories I’m ashamed of on both ends. I’ve gotten really tired of retail service, ESP. since moving back to the South. (Which I find ironic, since the stereotype is that we’re so helpful down here…)

    Bad manners, unwillingness to help… it’s probably a huge part of why the economy is in the tanker. We lack manners.
    .-= Ashe MIschief´s last blog ..Indie Designer: Color Me Conscious =-.

  3. Birdie says:

    Ashe, Alicia – I think the “We lack manners” as a WHOLE is a fantastic explanation. I don’t think it’s relegated to only the US either. I sometimes wonder if new advances in technology have turned us off of polite interpersonal contact. “Why shop in a store with rude salesclerks and awful customers, when I can shop from my laptop, on my sofa?”

  4. Sonja says:

    On the whole, I’ve noticed better customer service it seems. My theory is that stores don’t want to cut prices and it costs them nothing or next to nothing to have their employees be friendly and more helpful.

    The atmosphere at Sephora has really changed in recent years. It used to be that you couldn’t find anyone around to help and now they frequently come up and offer help. And I see that the store follows up with surveys on receipts.

    I’m so jealous you’re in Seattle! I lived there for a year, working at KIRO-TV, and loved exploring the city. I totally need to get up there for a visit!
    .-= Sonja´s last blog ..Sugary drinks and packing on the pounds =-.

  5. Birdie says:

    AHH! Sephora! I’d forgotten about them, and YES! Their customer service and sales associates are some of the best (I also really dig the people at MAC, who are so adorbs when I go in there).

    I wonder if being a smaller specialty store just lends to better customer service. Customers are up in your space, and you have to respond to them because it’s obvious if you don’t.

    Thanks for the insight Sonja!

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Birdie and Birdie, Jaka Merriman. Jaka Merriman said: RT @Birdiee: New at Bonne Vie: Retail Hell http://bit.ly/7JagJX [...]

  7. Michelle says:

    Love this! It’s especially frustrating on both ends – having worked retail (and personally, I loved it), I can totally tell when a sales associate is halfassing it and it pisses me off.

    On the other hand, though, I’ve experienced some truly obnoxious customers. I HATED working as a cashier at Target because the customers there were infinitely ruder than the ones at Hot Topic, Journey’s, or Eccentrix (no idea why). The experience tends to get worse when people are selling to you too (Eccentrix was a locally owned store in MO that was kind of like Buffalo Exchange), they took it really personally when we didn’t want their things.

    One thing that I experienced was people treating me like an idiot because of the job. That absolutely infuriated me. Yeah, retail isn’t rocket science, and no, it’s not saving lives – but is YOUR job saving lives?! I loved working retail; as much of it was the teams I worked with as anything else, but Hot Topic & Journey’s were still my favorite jobs to date. I could go on a whole classist rant here, but yeah, I’m sure you feel me.
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..Tattoo Fashion =-.

  8. Vixel says:

    Brilliant post, it works for customer service people on the other end of a phone too, people often don’t realise that the representative really is doing everything they can and does actually want to solve their problem for them! Thankfully I’m not on the phones anymore, but I remember customers audibly bracing for a fight, coming straight onto the line with an angry tone, insults at the ready, and many were genuinely surprised when their complaints were dealt with immediately, and completely to their satisfaction!

    Great post, sorry about my mini-rant!
    .-= Vixel´s last blog ..Things I Love Thursday =-.

  9. Birdie says:

    @Vixel, your mini rant is TOTALLY valid and valued!

    I know phone CS reps probably get more flack than ANYBODY.

  10. Birdie says:

    @Michelle EXACTLY. It’s not rocket science, but I’m sure what rude customers do is probably not rocket science either.

  11. Meghan says:

    Brilliant post lady!
    I am also a retail drone, and it really is completely demoralizing and frightening how customers act. You can ALWAYS tell when someone has never held a job in their life by how they behave in a store.

    I was just thinking last night how when/if I have my own boutique, I will have one wall dedicated to a giant “SHOPPING RULES” sign that outlines how to behave like a human being in my business, and not like a psycho rich bitch in a Mercedes dealership ;]

  12. Birdie says:

    @Meghan Haha! That sounds like a brilliant idea. :D

  13. Eyeliah says:

    Speaking as someone from the customer end, I do find the service has been really awful lately. Usually there is no one saying hi, and yes they are chatting with eachother instead and if there is a hi it’s almost snarky or labored. When this happens, I leave the store instead of continuing shopping.
    My #1 pet peeve about customer service is when they don’t look me in the eyes, especially while I’m being ringed in at the til. They are saying the total and the ‘thank you. have a nice day’ to some unknown spot in the distance not me well I am looking at their eyes and they are ignoring me. I am sure though that this is a cyclical response to all the customers who don’t look them in the eye and they assume I am just the same.

  14. Birdie says:

    @Eyeliah, I know what you mean. It’s like the sales associates are… afraid of having to help people. I always try to engage sales associates when I walk into a store. I say “hi” and if they ask how I am, I make sure to return the sentiment and genuinely ask how they are.

    As a sales associate, I noticed that I’d say, “Hi, how are you?” to customers, and the ones who weren’t genuinely interested in whether or not I exist would say “Fine” and keep walking. Those who cared that I was there to help them would actually engage me. Very telling.

  15. [...] Retail hell is a great post that studies the problem of crappy customer service – from both the customer’s & the employee’s standpoint. [...]

  16. Sheena says:

    Love this post! I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum as well while working in retail all during high school and college. I can relate to the stories of retail hell and definitely that picture of clothes piled one on top of another that you have to clean up later. People speaking to you and flaunting their money as if you are the lowest species on earth and watching a shoplifter work her magic because the company never wants to prosecute.

    If anything, I always to to remain cognizant of people that work in retail and try to be as courteous as possible, take out the extra time to hang everything that I try on in the fitting room and put them together and pick something up and fold it nicely if I drop it. I say hello and smile as warmly as possible (even on bad days). However, I’ve found that the customer service in some of my favorite stores has been very bad lately.

    Yesterday, I went into a store for a new pair of jeans and asked a girl who was folding clothes to help me find a size. She said they didn’t have any on the floor, but maybe in the back and then goes back to folding. I ask her politely if she would mind checking and she sighs loudly, rolls her eyes and stomps to the back. Really?

    I’d never been a fan of online shopping to be honest, but the more I have instances such as the one above, the more it makes me click on a browser to shop.
    .-= Sheena´s last blog ..Post-Holiday Treat for Me: Wendy Brandes Juana Skull Necklace =-.

  17. Birdie says:

    @Sheena Thanks for your comment!!

    We had the same thing happen at Macy’s – Mister wanted to try some shoes on, and instead of doing the stock check, the guy just went to the back and looked and said he didn’t have Mr’s size. We left the department to find him some denim and came back about half an hour later, hoping we would find a different sales associate. Unfortunately we got stuck with the same guy, and I asked if he’d do a stock check to see if the shoes were at the Northgate Macy’s. I was surprised when he said that the shoes were somewhere in the building… and then came back with the box in the correct size, saying that the shoes were just stocked in the wrong section. He didn’t even offer to look the first time, and we almost left the store without shoes for Mister.

  18. [...] goods and by this post on Customer Etiquette at Corsetry (not to mention Birdiee’s post on Retail Hell: How Customer Service has Changed), I thought it’d be great to share some tips on how to order custom, handmade, and [...]

  19. I just had this happen to me at Nordstrom – not at all the experience I expected. I approached a salesman in the women’s shoe department asking for a particular brand. This Nordstrom branch didn’t carry the brand and the salesman brushed me off with boredom and disdain. He proceeded to tell me I’d have to go to a different Nordstrom branch while continuing to doodle listlessly behind the desk. No suggestions of another brand. No offers to call the other branch to check stock. Nothing. At Nordstrom!!!!!

  20. Sheena says:

    @Birdie

    That is horrible! Thing thing is, that he could lost a sale! I’m not sure if the guy is on commission, but if he was, wouldn’t that be enough motivation to go ahead and check? And even so, I still don’t understand how much energy you lose from just checking the back. You’re going to be there anyway. I am happy that the Mister got the shoes he wanted though! Even with an unhelpful salesperson.
    .-= Sheena´s last blog ..Post-Holiday Treat for Me: Wendy Brandes Juana Skull Necklace =-.

  21. Birdie says:

    @Couture Allure EESH! That’s awful.

    @Sheena well he checked the back the first time, but he only looked at the stack of brown shoes. The brown shoes in Mr’s size were mixed in with the other colors. The guy totally failed at checking the stockroom too!

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  34. Maggie says:

    I worked in a video store for two years and at several restaurants before that. I know how trying it is to be in customer service… but what makes it bad really isn’t the customers, although they get the bulk of the blame.

    What makes CS so bad is that the companies pay the ones doing the most work (cashiers and such) the worst and have extraneous rules. Managers also do berate and yell at you for ridiculous things. Things that you have no control over.

    I’ve only been yelled at once at a job by a manager, who decided it was my fault that some guy didn’t get a new fork, since I passed by his table and thought he asked for more food, telling him the waitress could help him with that. I quit that job after a month because it’s the only one I’d ever been so disrespected at completely by the employers.

    But I expect a lot of people don’t have the choice to quit, because they really need the money. This=bad customer service.

    A lot of the luxury shops I go to when in Houston can be off putting in how they act to the customers–cold and unfriendly. I have to say, though, that the Betsey Johnson store has always had very friendly people at it and I love going there. I don’t feel uncomfortable if I can’t afford anything.
    .-= Maggie´s last blog ..How you can help the Haitians =-.

  35. I truly cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post. While I have never worked in retail myself, as a self-professed shopaholic I find myself in an abundance of shops, and I must admit that both customer service, and the cleanliness of the shop truly dictates how I feel about visiting again. Rude salespeople, or unorganized clothes are the biggest turn-off. People should take pride in the store that they are employed by; if they don’t, why should I want to shop there? Fabulous post!! :)
    .-= Cafe Fashionista´s last blog ..Style Secrets: Cowboy Boots Made Classy =-.

  36. Birdie says:

    @Maggie Thanks for your insightful comment! It’s true, there’s not enough incentive, sometimes, for good customer service.

    @Cafe Fashionista Cleanliness is a HUGE thing for me too. If a shop looks scary, I’m going to feel uncomfortable being in it.

  37. Customer service is all about sincerity. You have to genuinely want to help the customer and have a positive relationship with them, however short that may be!

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  42. LOUIS WETZEL says:

    What can anyone say about working in retail—particularly high end—until one endures it? I had to tell myself everyday as I went ” on-stage” in cosmetics/skincare at a big fancy store that there were people who had endured worst….I won’t say what I feel at the risk of offending or being dramatic. The majority of associates I worked with had to be highly medicated—-no joke!—just to cope with the clients, the co-worker’s Peyton Place emotional outbursts, the manager’s demands on sales, sales. sales AND the pressure of having to look—LOL—PERFECT. I am venting and possibly whining; however, to anyone who is or has ever been in retail, I NEEDED to. Thanks for letting me comment!!!!!!

  43. Birdie says:

    Louis – I know where you’re coming from!! Good luck!

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