Friday, May 20, 2011

What's My Price?

     “Is this fridge made in America?”
     “Yes, it is.”
     “Great! I only buy things made in America. Is this the price?”
     “Hm… Is there anything you can do on the price?”
     This scenario, or variations of that, have been related back to me by countless friends, former coworkers, and current coworkers. I’ve had to deal with similar situations like that for years now and it always baffles me. Why do you care so much if a product is made in America when you don’t want to pay the price for a product made in America?
     You may not be hurting the manufacturing jobs directly, but you’re hurting the stores you’re shopping at because they now need to recoop the money they lost on the product that they had to reduce to sell. This means they’ll either raise the prices of products in the store or cut back hours of the staff you already claim aren’t around to help you. Or they’ll just stop carrying the products because they can’t make a profit off of them. Raising prices could then, possibly, lead to stores closing down because nobody wants to shop at a store where the prices have gone up. With stores closing, the companies that make products in the US will have fewer and fewer places to sell their goods.
     That’s awfully simplified but much of that tends to be the path retail stores take. If you want to teach a baby to walk, you don’t cut off its left leg first and then train him or her. The baby needs both legs to get the job done.
     Right now many are probably asking, “Why don’t people just shop online for products?” Prices can be lower since there are no stores to maintain and not as many staffers to hire. That would work great if the customers asking for more discounts weren’t the same customers who hated to shop online because they couldn’t see the product in person. I have tons of customers who say they prefer to see the products in the store and wouldn’t shop online for bigger purchases because reading about a product can only go so far for them.
     Buying DVDs or video games online is great, but who wants to buy a $1500 stove online when they’ve never seen it in person? What if there’s a typo and the dimensions for that product are wrong? Maybe that white isn’t white enough and now it clashes with everything else in your kitchen. Well, if stores, such as Circuit City (an electronics store that closed down a few years ago) can’t make it, and more stores join them, your options dwindle, leaving only online sites to buy products from. Is paying the price for the product in the stores worth it now?
     Finally, when all is said and done, and the prices are agreed upon, I will often have that same customer ask me, “So, how’s business been?”
     How the hell do you think it’s been?? You’re the moron who wanted the product for next to nothing and you’re concerned about the economy? Do people not know how to connect the dots in this world?
I suppose not. We’re too busy connecting dots that aren’t even there. We’d rather make accusations about people’s religious or political affiliations and then cite evidence that isn’t true than to focus on the real problems of the world. We’d rather go on and on about 9/11 conspiracies or JFK conspiracies than think about how our personal shopping habits may impact the economy at large.
     You don’t go into a grocery store and ask if you can get the broccoli that’s on sale for less. You generally understand that that’s the price you pay and if you can’t afford it, you don’t get it - or you get frozen instead of fresh broccoli. You don’t go into Petsmart and haggle over the price of dog food. Why do you suddenly go into an electronics store and demand discounts on something with a price tag already on it? I wonder how customers would like it if we went into their places of work and ask for discounts of products they sell.
     “Can I get this unleaded gasoline for less than the price at the pump?”
     Electronics stores are not car dealerships. We are not in the mood to haggle over prices with you and we don’t want you to treat us as car salesmen.
     The state of the US economy shouldn’t be something you haggle about if you truly care about the state it’s in. If you want to support American jobs, that’s terrific, but support ALL American jobs.
     More soon from the frontlines…

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"I Can Take The Next Customer On Register 10."

     I’m going to switch gears here and talk about how retail stores can improve the way they do business. This problem is the most frustrating and common issue across the board - spanning grocery retail to electronics retail. It’s probably one of the biggest reasons why shopping online has been so popular of late and has spelled doom for more than 1 retailer:
     Long lines at the checkout stands.
     I hear the groans already so I know I’m right. A store has 10 to 20 registers closed but only 2-3 are open. Then there are lines that back up into the aisles and some indignant comedian makes it up to the registers and cracks a joke about having to wait in line for a few minutes. Here’s a tip: the sarcasm isn’t really appreciated and, most likely, the cashier agrees with you. It sucks to wait in line and that’s especially true when all you want to do is buy 1 item, but nobody wants to hear you be a dick.
     NOW, what the retail stores can do, as I promised. Stores need to stop being so concerned with doing business on the cheap. “Spend a little to make a little,” should be etched into the brains of every CEO in America. I know it isn’t ideal to have 5 cashiers standing around when things get slow, but maybe you should have them go out and do other things in the store. Train them to do more than just scan things, perhaps. But every customer will leave the store a bit happier knowing that they didn’t have to wait for 10 minutes and miss the first five minutes of Dancing With The Stars.
     If you have plenty of staff to do the work, more people will be helped, and you’ll sell more. I’ve seen customers who’ve left their shopping cart behind because they had been waiting in a checkout line for several minutes. Think of all the money you could’ve had, no matter the size of the purchase, had they stayed and purchased the products? Spend a little to make a little.
     I’ve found that many stores try to change the appearance of their stores to combat this growing frustration over their lack of staffing. They change the displays or make it seem like you’re family while in their stores. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really mind people being there to sell products as long as they’re not shoving products into my shopping cart. And if you’ve hired the right people for the job, you don’t need to train them or direct them to try and be my friend while I’m there. Telling your employees to be friendlier to the customers makes it seem even more phony than not. You can make your stores as pretty and welcoming as you want but it will always boil down to being able to get out fast once they find what they’re looking for.
     For those businesses that are some of the top-earning businesses in America, paying for more employees shouldn’t be too difficult. Instead of buying that second corporate jet, how about you hire a few hundred more employees? Instead of opening ten new stores every year, how about you focus on making the stores you do have the best you can? As much as I used to love McDonald’s, I don’t need one opened two blocks down from another one. Have your stores staffed properly and it’ll go a long way with people.
     Solving the cashier issue can be fixed by avoiding the need to hire more if cashiers received more hours. Lots of cashiers are only part-time and need to work more than one job just to get by. If a company just made more of those part-timers full-timers, than there’d be more overlap. You wouldn’t need to hire more - just pay a few dollars more per employee if that’s what you prefer to do.
     What bugs me is when I’m asked to cashier as a back-up when they’re low on help. I have my own job to get done and pulling me away from that task will only frustrate customers in other ways. Shuffling staff around from one department to the front to cashier is not a sustainable practice. This practice of shuffling staff around will most likely be revisited again, but for now, I shall leave it at that. Suffice it to say, staffing properly would just solve so many problems for a retailer who is fighting to keep business at the stores and away from Amazon or other online retailers.
     I’d write more in-depth on this issue but if you’ll excuse me, Dancing With The Stars will be on soon.
     More soon from the frontlines…

Monday, May 16, 2011

Equality Among All

     I suppose my first real entry should be about equality. Young or old, fat or skinny, black or white - entering into a retail store makes everyone equals in my eyes. I’m not talking about equal rights or the like, either. I’m talking about everyone is equally stupid. In all my years working in various retail jobs, I have noticed that no matter how intelligent the person is supposed to be, walking through those doors drains a person of basic comprehension skills.
     It is the most amazing thing to witness. I’ve come to the conclusion that a very long time ago, retail CEOs made some sort of pact with the devil to create a magical entryway that would drain people of their intelligence. How else can you explain people entering a store and buying every single “As Seen On TV” product known to man? Shake weights? Really?
     Let’s take a grocery store, for instance. Every aisle is labeled with a general list of what you can find in each one. That’s not even including the big giant departments: produce, meat, bakery, etc. Yet, a person will take two steps into the produce department and ask the first employee, “Where are your tomatoes?”
     “Uh, turn your head to the right. See that table two feet from you?”
     People enter a store and lose all sense of self-reliance. Laziness and stupidity go hand-in-hand in the retail world. They cannot, for whatever reason, find even the most generic item on their own. They’d rather be told where the item is. If someone could program a GPS unit to tell people where items are located in a particular store, they would make a killing. A store could post ten million signs telling people where products are and they still wouldn’t be able to find the item they’re looking for.
     The worse is when I notice people pick up a product, walk ten feet, and then put the product down because they don’t feel the need to return the product to the right location. Does that printer ink look like it belongs with the candy bars at the register? I don’t think so, super genius. No matter how far a product may be located, if I decide to change my mind on a product, I return the product to the location. The poorly paid workers at the stores have more to get done in a day than return your can of peas because you left it in the paper towel aisle.
     I also find myself dumbing down a lot of explanations to customers just so I am sure they comprehend everything I’m telling them. I’ll even talk slower at times to make sure what I’m saying is sinking in for them. It’s not that I’m trying to insult them but when I see only a dim awareness of what I’m saying, I grow discouraged and realize I have to explain things like I‘m talking to a ten year old. I’m even more discouraged when I hear, “I don’t understand,” to the simplest of explanations. How do you dumb down a statement that’s dumbed down as far as it’ll go?
     If you think I’m exempting myself from all of this, you’re wrong. But I try to change my ways as much as possible. Not only that, but I’ll pick up the slack for others. If I see product in the wrong location, depending on how close I am to where it really belongs, I’ll return it. If I see garbage on the ground, I’ll sometimes pick it up. It drives me nuts when I have to pick it up at my job, so I feel it’s good karma to do it for my brethren in arms who work at these stores. This does not always work when I’m on the job, however. There are plenty of times that I see a piece of paper or tissue paper on the ground and think, “Do I really want to bend down to get that?”
     Laziness. I’m telling you, those swinging, rotating, or sliding front doors are hexed with some sort of curse put on them. I just came up with the plot for Ghostbusters 3. You’re welcome Dan Akroyd.
     Thankfully, this first major hurdle is easy to combat. If you have a question about location of a product, just look up. There most likely will be a sign hanging down that states where the product is. Self-reliance is a good thing. By all means, don’t hesitate to ask questions, obviously, since answering questions is part of the workers’ job code. But don’t ask stupid questions you can clearly find out on your own. You’ll gain the respect of those who work there and they might even be more willing to help you out if you make an effort to find something first.
     If you don’t want a product, just walk a few steps back to where you got it. Trust me, America, we’ve all seen the news about how we’re the fattest nation on the planet. You can use those extra steps. Or at least just tell an employee you didn’t want a product and, generally, they’ll return it. Better to return it during the day than having to discover it a minute before they punch out for the day. Just think of it this way if you work in an office: would you like it if your boss brings you a stack of papers that need to be filed five minutes before you’re supposed to leave for the night?
     Laziness and stupidity will be recurring themes here, but this is a good start, no?
     More soon from the frontlines…

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Welcome To The Party, Everyone!

     Welcome to my blog, everyone. Wow, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d ever utter in a million years. But c’est la vie! I guess I should begin with what my purpose of this blog is and is not.
     First, it will mostly be about my observations about life in the retail world. Normally, that might not sound too interesting, but you’d be surprised as to what goes on at your favorite stores. With a major portion of the U.S. having at one point worked in the retail world, a lot of my observations may sound familiar to you. I hope that even those who don’t work in the retail industry will be able to relate what I say here to your personal work environment. After all, frustration with one’s current work situation is a universal feeling.
     Who knows, I might even make a pretty insightful comment about those who work in retail stores or those who shop in retail stores. I’d love for this to be a therapeutic exercise for not only myself, but for others who read this. Something to laugh at, to shake your head at, or to open your eyes to - anything that makes this worthwhile for all parties involved.
     I’ll often relate stories from past or present jobs that I’ve had or from others whom I’ve worked with. Throughout the stories, the names will be changed to protect the innocent and the not-innocent-at-all. If you’re a customer who recognizes some of the behaviors I describe in here as your own, then hopefully you’ll keep this blog and the critiques of annoying behaviors in mind the next time you go shopping.
     Just don’t assume I’m talking about you.
     (Unless you’re Larry, then I’m totally talking about you. Yeah, Larry, your friends are talking about you behind your back. Shape up or ship out, buddy! Do you think we don’t know you punch out fifteen minutes early every damn day?)
     What this isn’t is a place just to bitch for bitching’s sake. Most people don’t like their jobs or complain endlessly about it. Most people have jobs worse than mine and I in no way take for granted the fact that I have a paycheck that can help me scrape by in this crappy economy. Whenever I complain about a situation, I hope to be able to grow or find answers from them. If I can’t find something useful in a crappy situation, then this just becomes a blog about a grown man crying about a mediocre job. At which point, you all would promptly leave.
     I don’t hate my job or any job I’ve held. I just have had to deal with a lot of stupid bullshit and need a place to let my thoughts go free. I hope you all will learn to sympathize with that.
     As my first blog, this will be quite a “work in progress” for a long time. I hope everyone can stick it out and enjoy the few amusing things I say. As you read my blog entries, please take note: I am very sarcastic. I’ll refrain from “lol” or “haha” and just trust in the fact that you can pick-up on my humor. In retail, if you can’t laugh about a situation, you’ve already lost the game.
     And as far as that whole agreement the website asks you to agree to before reading my blog with “adult content”? Nothing I say will get crazy, I don’t think, but the first rule of retail is CYA. I don’t want anyone complaining that I swore on my own blog. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t have said that b/c now I’ve lost that sense of danger and excitement. Damn!
     So sit back & enjoy! I love feedback & your comments are always welcome. Spread the word to everyone if you enjoy the stories I tell, too! The more, the merrier. Just respect others & myself while you’re here. And thanks for deciding that reading this was more entertaining than spending time online to masturbate. I feel honored!
     More soon from the frontlines…