All of the Christmas shopping mania is well behind us now and I’ve packed up our leftover kantha stockings for next year. But there’s a shopping story from the holidays that I just can’t get out of my head.
So, my friend E is mostly pretty normal, but does this one CRAZY thing every year. On Boxing Day (December 26th), when the deals are rampant and the malls are overrun, my genteel, introverted friend sets her alarm pre-dawn and goes shopping.
I’m talking, like, 12+ hours of shopping. On the most insane shopping day of the year (US friends: Boxing Day in Canada is our hectic version of Black Friday). Sometimes it involves multiple malls!
She has her reasons: it’s a tradition that she has shared with her sister for 20 years; it’s the only day she shops for herself all year; she avoids the inevitable Christmas crash of broken new toys and kids’ excitement fallout. I get it. (Well, not really, but I nod my head and try to.)
Anyhow, she told me a story from this year’s expedition of a late-day visit to a well known yoga-wear/fitness/lounging clothes purveyor. It had clearly been teeming with shoppers earlier in the day, judging by the crowd-control barriers that were still by the doorway (though unnecessary now at 6pm). E and her sister headed towards the changeroom (which they would share, natch, as they’d been doing all day). She noticed that on the doors of the changerooms, there was a whiteboard where an employee had written the number of items, the customer’s name, and also another number.
As the attendant shuffled them into their shared room, she wrote 6:23 on the door and barked, “You’ve got 10 minutes,” [slam].
Friends and I have often wondered if our standards for customer service are floor-low in this city, where boom times have inflated service wages and retail managers just need to cling on to their employees. And, as E said, much of her irritation with this exchange was just in its delivery; something like, “It’s very busy today, so if you’re not able to get through everything in 10 minutes, we’d ask that you please return to the line,” would have sounded much better.
BUT, this was clearly a corporate top-down message, merely delivered by a ground-level messenger. And its communication was clear: “We can treat you how we want. We know you’ll still give us your money.”
The kicker is: it’s true! By her own admission, as frustrated as E was, and as much as she didn’t want to justify that behavior with a purchase, she still bought something! And I get it. She had a gift card, the item was something that was on her list, she loved it, and, like I previously stated, she was there to shop.
I really don’t judge her because I’ve been there! How many times have I been there, where the quality of a product outweighs the customer service? Or where my desire for a specific item or brand outweighs… everything?
But it’s a tension that demands our consideration.
At what point does humanity become so devalued in our buying experience that we have to say, “No”?
And what if that devaluation is not in the storefront but behind the doors, or faraway in a production facility?
It's a tension that I can't resolve here, but I can begin the discussion. Has something like this happened to you? What did you do? Is there a line that is too far, and where is it? Comments are welcome below; we are all interested in each other's stories.