I Am Shopper, Hear Me Bitch

In several previous posts, I have made reference to my work as a low-level manager at a fashion-forward yet reasonably priced mass retailer.  While a great deal of my life now revolves around work, I have tried not to make it a focus of my writing.  This is partly because I try to think about work as little as possible, but also because the work I do (stocking shelves, bagging merchandise, fetching carts, etc) is of a highly technical nature and most of you would probably get lost.

However, there are times (like here and here) when the bizarre and surreal things I witness at work become too much for me to contain and I feel I must share them with someone lest they consume me from within.  Fortunately for you, today is one of those days.

There is something inherent in the act of shopping that has the power to transform otherwise charitable adults into inconsiderate, tantrum-throwing children.  People truly lose their minds when they go shopping.  An otherwise even-tempered housewife, prone to neither violence nor invective, becomes an entirely different animal when she passes through the automatic doors of a Target, Wal-Mart, Big Lots, etc.  She is a single-minded predator in search of the prey she has scrawled on her post-it note, and God help the pitiable fool who comes between her and her Guitar Hero Bundle(on sale for only $88.99!).

Whenever this marauding mother runs up against a corporate policy (no you cannot return that bra you purchased a year ago because you have since had a boob job) or a brute fact of the universe (if you aren’t willing to stand in line at 4am on the day after Thanksgiving you will not be getting a GPS unit, a Wii Fit, or an Elmo Live) which she determines to be unjust (i.e. contrary to whatever she wants to do), she draws from her highly nuanced understanding of shopping justice and throws an honest-to-God hissy fit eerily similar to the one her five-year old was throwing in the Lego aisle not five minutes previous.

After witnessing several dozen of these theatrical displays of matriarchal disapproval, I have noticed a pattern as unwavering as it is ineffective.

It goes something like this:

  • Her: This is ridiculous; I want to talk to the manager.
  • Me: Ok.  Hi, I’m the manager.  Is there something else I can help you with?
  • Her: You can’t be the manager.  You’re, like, twelve.
  • Me: While I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that I am unfit for managerial responsibility, I am – at present – the only person in the building answering to that moniker.

She will then beret me in a deeply personal way for three to five minutes at increasing volumes until I politely inform her that if she cannot refrain from using blasphemes and ethnic slurs, she will have to leave the building.  When she realizes that she cannot bitch and/or cry her way out of this impasse, she will put on the smuggest face she can muster and pull out the heavy artillery, “Well, just so you know, I won’t be shopping here anymore.  I hope you’re happy.”

This declaration always amuses me.  What does she expect me to do?  Fall to my knees and beg for her forgiveness and continued patronage?  She spent the last fifteen minutes verbally abusing everyone in sight!  Why would I want her to come back?  Wal-Mart can have her.

Customers like to think of their spending power as a club with which they can bludgeon uncooperative employees about the head and shoulders, but that is simply not the case.  Does my employer want this lady’s money?  Of course we do, every last dime of it.  But do we need her money?  Not in the least.  The company took in over $50 billion in revenue last year.  I think we’ll do just fine without the miniscule market share represented by Mrs. Pouty-Pants’ monthly shopping allowance.

That’s the problem with the whole “customer is always right” culture.  Individual customers have an over-inflated sense of their own importance.  The fact of the matter is, the customer is nearly always wrong.  The beauty of massive, nationwide retail chains is that someone can finally tell those customers that they are not only wrong, but quite rude and needlessly abrasive as well.  Companies no longer have to pander to the heartless little monsters that shop their aisles.  Tantrums and personal boycotts have been stripped of their powers.

It’s a beautiful world to live in.  There are nineteen shopping days remaining before Christmas.  I am certain that, in those three weeks, dozens of mothers will huff and puff their way out of my store vowing to never return.  I am also certain that, at the same time, a veritable river of mothers are huffing and puffing their way out of Wal-Mart and heading our direction.  It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all.

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