It’s been a while since my last post, this being summer school season and the time of year in Arkansas when all of us are wrapped in one dense and sodden woolen blanket of heat. But the hiatus is now over.
Today’s rant is on the subject of store clerks. Where do marketing gurus get the idea that I want to be harrassed when I’m shopping? Where do such people come up with the notion that when I actually want information about a product or want to buy it, there are no employees to be found?
Recently, I’ve been looking into buying wood and parts to build a glider for our balcony. This has meant a trip to the local hardware stores, including Home Depot. Any time I go into that store, I get loudly greeted by one clerk after another, no matter how rapidly I’m moving or how much my face says, “Don’t bug me!” And this store is just one example. Fast food joints work the same way. If I get a hankering for a hamburger, I’m assaulted with “Welcome to Braums!”
I realize that these companies want to present a friendly front, but I also know that it’s just a façade. It is the job of any business to separate me from my money. If I’ve walked into the store, I obviously know what store it is, and I’m probably interested in whatever product is for sale there. I don’t want to be tacked upon entering. This false warmth and enthusiasm just makes me want to turn around and leave.
On the other hand, when I’m looking over a product and have a question or when I’m trying to find a particular item that isn’t stocked in a logical manner, suddenly no employee appears to be working. When one does show up, that person knows nothing. I’m not talking here about technical matters, usually. Simple questions are what I mean here. “Does this ice cream maker come in red?” “Where is the leather cleaner?” “Is this movie available in widescreen?”
I do understand why the retail situation is this way. Some focus group told a marketer that we customers like friendliness. That meant that we want human interaction, not insincerity, but no marketer can understand that. Clueless employees are a consequence of hiring people at minimum wage with no benefits who will never have the opportunity to be rewarded for good work. All of this is the result of ballooning corporations that have left humanity behind.
By contrast, consider how a business ought to be run. When I lived in Nashville, TN, I made several purchases at the Eastside Gun Shop, owned and run by Bill Bernstein. He and I talked for a good while each time I went in, since he had gone through a similar course of study in college to mine, and we had an interest in guns in common, naturally. Each time after the first, he remembered me–what I liked, what I was interested in, and yes, what I was likely to buy. He knew what he was selling. He spoke intelligently about each item on offer, both on the technical details and on what would be a good fit for me.
As I said above, I do recognize that a business exists to make money. From my perspective, though, a business will succeed at this when it restrains its desparation for sales and when it demonstrates some expertise on its products. Of course, those are characteristics of small business, something that has lately been out of style. I do my part by shopping at the little establishments in my area, but my choices for this get less and less as time goes by.
I fear that we’ll be left with Walmart and the Internet in but a few years. May the gods save us from our own foolishness.