Jul 31, 2013

The Human Being's Guide to Shopping at a Store that isn't Called Wal-Mart

Today, I have something a little different for the blog.

Recently, I read an article about respectable thrift/vintage/consignment shopping that included a list of Do's and Don'ts, outlining shopping etiquette when going into a secondhand retailer. The author had a great list which she put together from the point of view of the retailer (and of course, I cannot find the article again to link it into this post) which led me to recount my own experiences working in retail. I was intrigued by her list, and entirely impressed by how bold and honest she was with her etiquette guide, that it made me want to compile my own list of Do's and Don'ts for shopping at a retail store that isn't Wal-Mart.


IMPORTANT INTERJECTION: I love Wal-Mart. I shop there often because it offers great prices on things I need. It is always easy to shop there, and it is sometimes fun to simply peruse through and get lost in the Wal-Mart supercentres. Last week, their red, seedless grapes were the cheapest in the city. But Wal-Mart's policies, customer service attitudes, and price-matching promises are creating an army of incredibly rude and selfish shoppers. And it is just pissing everyone else off. I've stopped counting how many times a day I remind a customer that is shopping at the store that "We are not Wal-Mart," when they start complaining about return policies or product prices.

My mom works in retail, and several of my best friends hold cashier or merchandiser jobs at independent businesses or small companies; and for every single conversation I have had regarding "shopping etiquette", these things have come out on top:

1. Be familiar with the store's return policy; and if you are not, then ask an employee.
While Wal-Mart will take nearly everything back and refund you the money if you are not happy with their product, regardless of date of purchase or proof of purchase (yes, I mean the little peice of paper the cashier gives you called your reciept), there are a lot of independently owned and run shops and chains who do not have the same policy.  Not all stores price-match, offer competitive rain-checks, or ship between store locations. Additionally, if an item is final sale, it is final sale for a reason; whether that be clearance related or hygiene related. By Canadian law, as long as a store has their policies posted in store and on their reciept, they can refuse to refund you for an item sold. This is especially true when it comes to personal delicates (ie. underwear) and food. And, unlike Wal-Mart, most stores don't cover the fickle "I don't like it."

If you don't like it, then why did you buy it in the first place?

2. Inspect the items you wish to purchase before you reach the cashier.
Smaller stores do not have a lot of extra space at the check-outs. Most of them will have one or two cashiers working to ring customers through. As a cashier, myself, I know what it is like to stand behind the counter waiting for a customer to pull every screw and accessory out of the box while a line forms behind them.

This is why stores put out display models. Display models are there so that you can pick apart the product to see if it is what you wish to purchase. If you still aren't sure, most retailers don't mind a customer opening a box on the sales floor to double check. If you need help, there are usually salespeople working the floor to assist you. However, waiting until you get to the cashier to pull apart every item you want to purchase is rude and annoying. It is hard for the cashier to maneuver large items around, and it is inconsiderate to other shoppers who wish to purchase their merchandise and continue on with their day.

3. Be patient and respectful with/towards store staff.
I really shouldn't even have to say this, but it goes back to grade one and episodes of Barney. Remember those lyrics "Please and Thank-You: they're called the magic words. If animals could talk they'd be the words that could be heard..."Just because you are no longer 6 years old doesn't mean that your polite words are no longer applicable to life.

We live in a society that is focussed on the self. I get that. I also understand a customer's frustration when a retailer is busy, and store staff are being pulled thin. But here's the thing: yelling and swearing at the store staff is unacceptable. They have the right to call the police on your for public disturbance. I worked an evening shift once where everyone and their mother decided they needed to shop half an hour before store close; which is fine, but don't get angry when you have to wait in line to check out because there is only one cashier left working.

Which brings me to my next point. In the way of treating store staff with courtesy, please remember that they are human beings and not animals. It is absurd the amount of times I get whistled over in a shift. And now, I don't even respond. I am not a dog or a horse. I am a person. If you want to ask me a question, say "excuse me."

4. Pay attention to store price signs.
Price signs are there for a reason. It is to tell you the price of the item. I have never been in a retailer that doesn't have the price displayed for the items they wish to sell. Sometimes it is on the front of a product, sometimes it is on the back, sometimes it is on the bottom. Sometimes it is even on a little sign in front of the display. But I promise you it is there. And remember it.

I legitimately hate it when customers will have a cart full of items they wish to purchase, put all the merchandise on the counter, ask 'How much?' after EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM and then decide not to get half of those items after they deem the price too much for their wallets. Seriously? Did you look at the price sign on the lightbulb before you picked it up? Or were you hoping it would magically disappear when you got to the cashier? I really don't know.


Additionally, I don't make the laws on taxes. In Ontario, it is 13% and you get nice roads and healthcare. Some items don't have taxes, such as fresh food. But imported coffee does (and in Canada, most coffee is imported) so does chocolate, chips, garden tools, power washers, and iPhones. If you purchase new electronics, there is also an eco-recycling tax. Retailers don't control taxes. They have no say, at all. If you hold a tax exempt card for a province, you need to remember that you are tax exempt from provincial taxes only. You still pay GST. It sucks, I know. But I don't make the rules.

5. Asking for discounts on merchandise; just stop.
Everyone likes a good deal. I can appreciate this statement more than others because I grew up in a dutch-descended household where I was taught to scour the thrift stores and clearance racks. To this day, that is something I actually enjoy doing. So I understand why people ask for discounts. And sometimes there are exceptions. Asking for price reductions on damaged products or display models is acceptable almost anywhere. Some companies will give it to you, some will not, and that is up to the discretion of the individual store. However, asking for a discount simply because you think you deserve it is rude and insulting. Go into a store expecting to pay the retail price; it isn't going to change if you are 8 or 85.

That being said, it is actually insulting to go into a privately owned shop and ask for a discount on merchandise. These are not corporately owned places, and their prices are dependent on suppliers. For shops that sell handcrafted items, asking for a discount on a hand-stitched quilt, for instance, tells the retailer (and likely also the creator) that their work isn't worth the asking price. For other companies, their prices are set to take into account warehouse and buyer fees. In this case, the individual franchise may not have control over discounting items below a certain point.

6. If a barcode doesn't scan, the product isn't free, so don't ask. 
I know you think you are funny when you comment "It's free!" after a barcode or product ID number won't ring through. You aren't. Neither was the guy ahead of you, or the guy ahead of him.

7. Store staff don't need a life history about the product you are buying.
90% of the time, store staff are not going to turn your life into fiction, so they don't need a sob story about the reason you are purchasing the new air mattress, or garden hose, or pan. Unless it is relevant to the actual transaction, the anecdotes aren't necessary.

Honestly, the cashier doesn't care that you had a folding ottoman that you lost with all your kitchen utensils packed in it, and then it turned up at your Uncle Hank's house after the move went sour because you just split up from your ex, and he took the television and left you with the dog, and so now you have no cutlery and no ottoman and your furniture is gone too because it was unsalvageable after the housefire you had last week, which is really putting a dent in your insurance claim and that is a whole headache in and of itself because your divorce is just requiring more and more paperwork, and you dislike paperwork; partially because you don't like signing your name because you just got a divorce and partially because you are an environmental activist and paperwork is killing the trees and so maybe you shouldn't get the ottoman because it has rubber content and that took a lot of nasty environmentally killing chemicals to construct, but you don't actually care that much because you need the new ottoman so you can put your feet up and oh by the way do you sell cutlery here?


8. Keep track of your offspring.
When I was a kid, the best games of hide-and-go-seek I ever played were in the clothing racks at the Sears Outlet Stores. No comparison. My sister and I were pretty talented at NOT knocking off every item of clothing in the process (because that would give you away), and we loved to touch every button in the toy aisle that made noise. It was the fun part of shopping.

But we also knew to keep our hands in our pockets when we went down the aisles that had dishes or other breakable things. We knew not to play tag through the store. And we definitely knew not to touch store displays.

Parents: when you take your children into a store, please watch them. It just comes down to respect. Other people shop there, and don't like children running freely through aisles of merchandise. Store employees dislike it also. Cashiers are not paid to babysit your children. And as a reminder: some stores will still make you pay if your children break a product. If that is an $800.00 television, then you have to pay for that, and you should probably also invest in SuperNanny.

9. Your pet is not your child. Leave it in the car or at home.
Unless it is a service animal (seeing eye-dog, hearing aid animal, or puppy-in-training) it is not allowed in a retail establishment.

This is for two reasons:
1) Having a non-service animal in a store (not including pet stores), is a hygienic issue. Animals that are not looked after (like human offspring who run around willy nilly) make huge messes in retail establishments. Sometimes that mess is one involving fecal matter. Those sorts of 'accidents' need to be avoided, and can cause damage to store property and products.

2) Animals in retail establishments are a health hazard. There are still a lot of people who have (sometimes severe) allergies to animals. And whether you intend for them to or not, dogs and cats shed. Their scent can cause another person to have a serious allergic reaction. This is especially true for retailers that sell bedding, food, or clothing. Allergies are serious.

I wish I was joking about this, but I have had to remove a soiled diaper from the racks of the store while doing evening recovery because someone didn't think it would be a good idea to dispose of it in the proper way (Well, actually, it is a lie. I had to clean it out from a playland slide in high school.. but you cringed).

It really doesn't matter what the garbage item is: find the appropriate recepticle and dispose of it properly. I love my Tim Hortons' coffee. I don't love cleaning up empty Tim Horton's coffee cups which have been wedged in between area rugs or beauty supplies as a part of a feeble attempt to 'hide' them. You wouldn't enjoy that either.

It really isn't rocket science. None of this is. And I don't mean to sound like a redundant Aretha Franklin song, but retailers are just asking for a little bit of respect and courtesy. And it isn't like any of these things were uncommon before the era of the Wal-Mart. They have just become as obsolete as Wave, Twinkies, and the Canadian penny: not gone completely and maybe redeemable someday with the combined efforts of humankind everywhere. I am convinced it can be done. Somewhere, in the crevices of human decency, these acts of kindness and respect will resurface and a wave of considerate and polite people will re-emerge and claim their victory over bad jokes and selfishness.

I don't know. It might be wishful thinking, but I am convinced it is possible. Maybe we just need to rewatch old Barney episodes until it sticks.

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