Originally, I planned to title this post “Prejudice” and joke about how I’m prejudiced against customers, but I decided that was in bad taste to go to such a place for a joke (and an admittedly bad one, at that), so I’ll just get to the real root of this post’s sentiment right off the bat. I know I’m a condescending ass, but I like to think I’m a bit more considerate than that. Anyway…
I don’t care who you are, what you look like, whenever you first walk into my store, I will always assume you’re an idiot. I’m sorry if that comes off as a shitty attitude (which, I’ll admit it, it is), but this is a self-preservation mechanism that most shopkeepers develop over time. Far too often, we assume that any given customer is an intelligent being capable of navigating this world with ability and ease, only to be stricken completely wrong. For years, I was shocked when that happened, and sometimes, I still am.
So, why do we just go to this base assumption of a lack of intellect? I mean, this person drove here, so they have enough skill to pass a driving test. (Yes, yes, I know that our driving requirements are not that strict here, but it’s operating a complex machine while multitasking, so I think that’s worth noting.) Going beyond that, they were able to figure out our location, and they were able to get food for themselves, and they were able to dress themselves. That’s a quality skill set right there (even if it is setting the bar low, but then again, this is dear customer we’re talking about here). The bottom line is: they’re capable.
If you’ve read anything on this blog about my time working retail, you know I’m harder on my customers than most. This isn’t a store that sells general goods, like groceries or DVDs; this is a store that caters to people who do something where rigorous standards required and applied to them on a daily basis, and I can’t emphasize this enough: They. Want. To. Fly. You. Around. In. Airplanes. That’s why they get extra scrutiny. They want to be airline pilots, which is why I get concerned when they can’t even figure out which chart is for the Albuquerque area, despite the facts that they are 1. labeled as such and 2. come at the start of the frigging alphabet.
I really don’t think I’m wrong in being concerned with that. A private pilot’s license will cost you around $11,000.00 and will take you around three to four months to achieve, and that’s just so you can putter around in a little Cessna. To fly the big jets, you’re talking years of training, thousands of flight hours, and well over $50,000.00. That’s an enormous commitment. It requires incredible diligence and fortitude to get up to that upper rung of the aviation world. So, you cloud imagine my shock when I hear them be confused by which oral exam guide is the correct one for their particular flight test, despite the fact that those are extremely well labelled and straightforward.
More troubling still is the large percentage of shoppers who cannot for the life of them read price tags or basic signage. From hours of operation to sale signs, so much of it goes unread or outright ignored, despite the their being read as their exclusive reason for existence. My absolute favorite (or is that “most loathed”) moment is when a shopper yanks on the locked door of a shop with a sign that reads “CLOSED”.
I still remember one morning pulling up to the shop about ten minutes before opening. Seeing as it didn’t take but a few minutes to run through my opening procedures (and the fact that I wouldn’t get paid for anything more than that), I never showed up earlier. On that morning, I watched a customer walk up to the door, yank on it, then stand there dumbfounded. As I walked up, he approached me and said, “There you are! I have been waiting for you for a while! I was wanting to buy something but I didn’t know when you opened!” I politely informed him that we did not open until ten. “Well, how was I supposed to know that?!” I then pointed out that we had a sign on the door outlining our hours of operation. “Oh.”
Honestly, I find that to be a bit amusing, but the great bane of my existence will forever remain: “How much is this?” Did you even look? I get it that sometimes, products get mispriced or missed altogether, but when they’re on there, they’re on there.
I’ve touched on the reasons behind this before. Often it just boils down to laziness. Whatever it is, I’m not getting into it here. The main problem is that it happens often enough to the point that I just gave up. It was far easier to assume they could do nothing and knew nothing. If they want to be treated like children, I was going to do it. Part of me still refuses to hand-hold fully capable adults like they’re toddlers through an area designed to make their experience as simple as possible. However, assuming I will have to do that with everyone who walks into the shop lessens the impact when that assumption becomes the reality. Then there’s the added pleasant surprise when it turns out that they actually are capable adults.
There’s no problem with asking for help. Sometimes, things are laid out differently from what you would expect to be the logical footprint. Sometimes, stores are so massive that it’s difficult to figure out where something should be found. That’s okay. That’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is the shopper who enters a shop, takes a look around, spiritually throws up their hands, and gives up all hope of doing anything on their own. If you’re unable to flip a product over and look for a price tag, if you’re unable to figure out when we close, if you’re unable to read a package, I am perfectly happy treating you like the lost, helpless toddler you’ve shown yourself to be.
Shopping is not difficult. It can be challenging, yes, but not difficult. There are people whose entire job it is to study the interactions of customers with their stores and how they can improve their layouts and policies to better help customer shopping experiences. Customer service and sales reps are there to make it easier, as well. But as I’ve said before, I assume that they will be able to do nothing. I assume that you will be difficult, that you will be lazy, that you will be useless, because I’d much rather not waste my time and cut to the chase or be pleasantly surprised. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh or anything, but that’s how I’ve been twisted by years of dealing with the laziness of a customer base that really shouldn’t be lazy or aloof. I’ve been warped. I’ve been jaded. I’ve been broken. Now, I just assume it’s going to be a rough time from the moment you leave your car. It’s just easier that way.
-The Retail Explorer