I needed a pair of pants, so I went to this men’s clothing store a few subway stops away from my place. It was pretty early, so there weren’t too many shoppers. As soon as I walked in, this woman standing by the entrance was like, “Hello! Welcome to the store! Do you need any help?”
And I don’t want to belittle retail employees, I mean, I work in the service industry, although restaurant work is a totally different beast than working in a clothing store, I guess we’re like cousins. I get it, is what I’m trying to say. I get how I’m immediately annoyed that this person is all up in my face, but I also get that she has to do that, there’s probably a rule book somewhere, and it’s probably written in fourteen point type, “When a customer walks into the store, you a required to greet them – warmly – within thirty seconds, followed by an offer of assistance.”
Still, I knew what I was there for, a pair of pants. No, I don’t go shopping enough to know exactly where the pants are in this particular store, but I’ve gone clothes shopping enough at places similar to this that I’m pretty sure there’s a wall somewhere, all of the pants are folded in little cubbies built in to the wall, and the labels should all have the sizes displayed, one after the other, no help really required.
I mean, wouldn’t it have been helpful to have this woman point me in the direction of the wall? Sure, I could have used some assistance, a, “Right that way, over to the left behind the big mirror.” But it’s never just a little bit of help. This might sound a little cold, but if I don’t come off as immediately standoffish, my saying yes to help might be misunderstood as an invitation for this person to play amateur personal shopper.
That’s the last thing anybody wants, a bored employee following them around, she’s trying to remember the store’s official rulebook, “If customer says yes to help, proceed to follow him around the store. Make suggestions for articles of clothing that he’d never consider wearing, ask him if he needs any help finding a size, even though all of the sizes are very clearly labeled. If everything on the rack is medium, why don’t you offer to look ‘in the back’ for any other sizes, even though there are never any other sizes, just hang out, give him time to browse some of the store’s other contemporary men’s collections.”
Yeah, I doubt it’s that specific, but really, I didn’t want anything else, just a pair of pants, a quick try-on in the fitting room, and hopefully I’d be out of there as quickly as possible. “No thanks, I’m great,” I told the woman. She responded, “OK! Thanks! My name is Sandra if you need anything!”
Whatever, thanks Sandra. Judged purely on finding the pants, my mission was as successful as I could have wanted. The pants wall was right in the back. The fitting area was right next to the pants wall, and there weren’t any other employees there at the moment, none of that, “Let me set up a fitting room for you,” clothing store filler, just the room, the pants, they fit. Great.
Checkout. “Did you find everything you were looking for today?” I’d been in the store maybe five minutes, and I was standing at the register holding out the pants and my credit card. “Yes, I found everything I was looking for.”
“And did anybody help you with your purchases today?” I looked back at Sandra, she wasn’t too close, but she was close enough that she could have probably heard what we were saying. I mean, the place was empty. I thought going early would have been great to beat the crowd, but I hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that there’d be all of these employees with no customers to serve. Did Sandra work on commission? If I said nobody, which was true, would Sandra feel stiffed, akin to a waiter not getting a tip? I mean, why would she say her name with such emphasis if not for me to repeat it at the register?
“Sandra,” I said, “Sandra helped me out.”
“Sandra?” the cashier said, loudly, “Is this true? Did you help this guy out?”
“What? No. I hardly talked to him.” Then she looked toward me. “Why would you say that? I barely talked to you at all.”
“I don’t know,” I said, “look, I work in customer service, I thought maybe you get like a cut or something.”
“Yeah, well, thanks, but no thanks, because if the boss hears about me getting referrals without having done any actual help, you know what’s going to happen? She’s going to think I’m sending in people to just say my name. I’ll get fired.”
And I wanted to be like, well why’d you scream out your name? Isn’t that a little bit of a mixed message? And now, what, I’m supposed to back off?
But again, I felt myself getting way too invested in the situation, much more involved than I’d planned on being when I walked in this store. “Do you want to sign up for a store credit card?” The cashier was back in retail mode.
“No, just, no credit card, no gift receipt, and just make sure you get the anti-theft thing. The white thing … what do you call it?”
“Christ, no need for an attitude.”
And that was it. I was on my way out the door, I’m sure I heard Sandra say behind my back, “God, what a dick.”