This really is just a lengthy bitch-session for me, nothing more. If you are expecting anything of real substance contained in this blog post, you will be sorely disappointed. This is just my own personal rant about something I hate.
This week I was faced with a stark reality. My cell phone screen was cracked from a recent spill…and I therefore needed to buy a new one and transfer over my photos, videos, and data. I bought the phone just under a year ago (without a protection plan) and therefore didn’t really have another recourse except to replace it, nor anyone to lay blame with for it but myself. So yesterday, when the driveway was sufficiently cleared and the roads safe enough for travel, off I went to the local big box electronics store to replace my poor wounded soldier. It’s been coming to this for some time. I’m not a person who needs to have ‘the latest’ of something, or ‘the most popular’ of something, but I knew it was just a matter of time for me to replace my phone.
Within a couple of months after purchasing my first smart phone, the on/off switch broke off. The phone was too new to me to justify replacing it, so I just disabled the feature that shuts it down to save power, and lived with the fact that my phone charge was only good for about six hours at a time. I kept a charger at work, at home, and in my car to compensate for this. It’s not that I’m so addicted to my phone that I ‘need it’….it’s that I have kids…and that’s the number the school has to reach me in case of an emergency. They also have the home number and had my work number, but in my former hour long commute to the office and additional hour long commute (if I was lucky to keep it that brief) home, they had no other way of reaching me. So I just kept the phone charged at all times.
But the cracked screen was another story. This meant I needed a new phone. This also meant I would have to (unless I wanted to wait for an order delivery and risk the phone crapping out entirely on me) do something that, with rare exception, I really hate. Go to a store and go ‘shopping’.
I say ‘with rare exception’ for the reason that a used (or really even a new) book store, a good one….is for me like finding the Holy Land, the Fountain of Youth, and Shangri-La all rolled into one. I have long held a major compulsion with books….I buy a lot of them (not for quantity, but to read them eventually) which is why I troll used book stores and bargain bins and such, to cut back on the spending I do to feed my habit. I can score four, five, even sometimes six books, hardcovers, for less than the cost of one brand new book. And to illustrate the depth of my unnatural obsession with books….finding a ‘new’ store that I’ve not been into before, with a great selection, gives me literal (pun intended) butterflies in my stomach. It’s that bad, yet oh so good.
Ideally, though, I like to buy things online….anything other than food, pants (because they vary so greatly in cut, fit, etc.), and used books, although I do buy a significant number of used books online too. It saves me the crowd surfing, the drive there and back again, and the annoyance of going into a store and finding what I want is out of stock.
Beyond used book stores, though, I have absolutely zero interest, ever, in going into stores. I don’t like crowds. I don’t have a phobia about them; I just really dislike having to try to wind my way through throngs of people who stop short or stand in the middle of an aisle with no regard whatsoever for anyone else in the store around them or how crowded it really is there. One of the absolute worst examples of this, to me, is the local Market Basket store. The lower prices are amazing, and such a lure. But to go in and try to get to the shelves is near impossible sometimes. Not only are the employees standing there re-stocking during peak hours with pallets of cardboard boxes blocking the way to the already unpacked items, but it seems like there are inevitably several families of 19 – 23 people each all crowded around one shopping cart moving their way through the store like a giant oil slick that cannot be parted. Like the entire Dugger family has gone out to replenish their larder, and invited all of their ‘bloated family’ friends to go with them. It’s enough that I’ve walked into such an environment, no matter how pressing my need for food shopping is, and simply abandoned my cart, turned around, and left the store without purchasing a single, solitary item.
Then there are the retail bullies. These people fall into a few categories, for me:
-The people who, rather than wait in line, try to bitch their way to the front, or simply step in front of everyone else as if they are not there, and try to jump ahead of the rest of the line.
-The people who have no receipt to return an item, or something they’ve done significant damage to, and think if they yell loud enough they will get their way and get ‘something for nothing’.
-The people who go into express aisles with three times the allotted number of items and expect to be put through regardless. And, sadly, stores let them get away with it.
I’ve also grown really tired of trying to scan a shelf of 15, 20 different variations on the same product to find the one variety or brand I want, and have people simply walk in front of me and stand there staring into space, or stop to talk on their cell phones, or rearrange the items in their carts…..I’ve frequently wished that shopping carts would dispense with the ‘coffee cup holders’ and equip them with something far more useful….like a battering ram or taser gun.
Don’t even get me started on the people who engage in long, meaningless conversations on their cell phones while standing in line at a counter in a busy store….and expect the clerk to simply wait for them to finish discussing who got booted off The Bachelor the night before and why it was so wrong and how long it is before ‘the game’ starts and what’s for dinner…rather than simply ordering their item(s) and letting the rest of us have a turn….I cannot say how much satisfaction I get from watching a store ‘manager’ just wait on the next person and tell the rude cell phone user who held everyone else up while they chatted that now they’ll have to get at the end of the line and wait for another turn. When this doesn’t happen with some jerk in front of me chatting away….I want to toss their VENTE SKINNY MOCHA LATTE ordering ass out of line myself, and when I’ve been ‘next’ in line, I’ve just started placing my order when the a-hole in front of me won’t hang up their phone and be on their way.
It’s not just the patrons though that make shopping such a negative experience for me. Times were when stores had plenty of staff on hand at all hours they were open. You couldn’t reach for an item on a shelf without a friendly name tag bearing person saying, ‘Do you need any help?’ at least two or three times during your store visit. Nowadays to actually find a store clerk, dubbed ‘merchandise specialists’ or ‘customer service specialists’ or some other similar moniker, is only slightly less difficult than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. In looking around to try to find a ‘merchandise specialist’ to assist me these days I’ve had more likelihood of success in locating Jimmy Hoffa’s tomb, The Holy Grail, and the lost Treasure of the Templars. So I trek through aisle after aisle after aisle, looking for the elusive blue polo shirt with yellow store name stitched on the front and by the time one appears, if I am so lucky, I’ve usually forgotten what my question was in the first place, or lost enough interest in my purchase to want it any longer. I fail to see the point of picking up a new phone and having a question about it, and having to search so long for someone to ANSWER that question that the product has become obsolete and there have been two new releases of the same item as you walked through the store.
At times you find a cluster of ‘specialists’ standing around helping one customer. No matter how long the line may be behind this one person and their ‘unlock the mysteries of the universe’ issue, two or three ‘specialists’ form a gaggle around the computer screen behind the counter while one of them types away furiously and the other two just stand there, staring blankly…..ignoring the other customers that they ‘might’ be able to actually help. Some just continue to stand there and ignore the rest of us in line. Some actually turn as if the rest of us waiting there have suddenly unlocked the secret of invisibility and just WALK AWAY. Rarely do they turn to the next person in line and say ‘Can I help you?’ And even more rarely is that question actually delivered in a way that you don’t instantly assume you are annoying and bothering this person who is just trying to get through til their next break or the end of their shift. I get it, I really do. People in stores can be a-holes…they treat the help there like shite at times…..bellowing and ordering more than asking for anything….but when it comes right down to it…this is your job….this is what you are there to do…help customers…wait on them…answer their questions…..and you are representing your employer. The snark and sarcasm do not enhance anyones shopping experience and there are far too many competitors just looking to steal away the business from your boss….and without patrons….guess what? They don’t need any ‘specialists’ to wait on anyone….ergo, you might find yourself without a job, sunshine…..so put on a happy face, answer my admittedly simple and not well-versed in electronics question…..and then I’ll leave you alone. I say excuse me, I say please, and I say thank you…..I treat ‘specialists’ with respect and courtesy….until they adopt a shitty tone with me, and then all bets are off.
I’m not sure when stores started calling their clerks ‘specialists’ and why because many times I find that if I do have a question, and am lucky enough to find someone actually nearby to ask that question of, their answer is something along the lines of ‘I’m not sure, I’m just covering a break….’ or something like that. I get that it’s better than not having anyone there, really, so I’m happy to wait (if my question warrants it) for the regular employee to return from break, but then find at times that that person has no more knowledge of the product they are hawking than the person covering their break. You don’t need to be a world-class expert on every single little thing on your shelves, but for general questions, like ‘do you have this in a size 11’ or ‘does this come in blue?’ – I find my lofty expectations of people lead me to think these are just givens to know……and not a mystery you need to get Agatha Christie involved to solve.
Yesterday, when buying my new phone…I committed one of the cardinal sins of retail shopping in a high-tech world…..I actually walked into a store without checking their website first to see if the item I was there for was in stock. And guess what? It wasn’t. I had armed myself with a backup selection, and yet….this was out of stock as well. My bad. Mea Culpa. I quickly corrected this major shopping faux-pas, took out my existing smart phone and went to the retailer’s web site to search for in-stock availability at the next closest location…..and VIOLA! Not eight miles away, as the crow flies, another location DID have it listed as being ‘in stock’…..I quickly made my way there, entered the store, and waited behind a woman who felt a cruel injustice had been committed because she had forgotten her cell-phone password and the carrier didn’t have it listed anywhere that the store could find it for her, and they were NOT being helpful at all….this is one of those sorts of problems that requires four or five ‘specialists’ to gather and stare blankly at a computer screen while the patron bitches at ‘no one’ really and thinks the solution to her problem will just magically appear if she bitches loud enough. I ‘patiently’ (I use that term lightly) waited my turn, and finally, one of the gaggle of ‘specialists’ broke free from the collective hypnosis of the hive to actually see me there and said ‘Can I help you?’
‘Yes, thank you,’ I said, I’m looking for a (insert cell phone brand and model for specified carrier here).’
‘I don’t think we have that in stock.’ the ‘specialist’ replied.
‘Your website said you do.’ I returned, calmly and without even a hint of sarcasm or annoyance.
‘Well, the website is usually wrong.’ the ‘specialist’ replied.
This is one of those ‘all bets are off’ situations for me……when the sarcasm and annoyance come flooding to the tip of my tongue and burst the dam of my patience.
‘So, exactly what good is your website, then, and the ‘check availability’ feature…and why exactly should I purchase an electronic device from a so-called ‘expert’ retailer of them who cannot even keep their electronic stock accurate?’
He looked at me, dumbfounded…..I’d actually succeeded in playing ‘STUMP THE SPECIALIST!!!!’
‘Well,’ he offered after a moment, ‘I really can’t say, but there are other stores that carry that phone in the mall…you might try there.’
Sound advice, specialist….because after corralling my kids and walking out the door into the Mall (which is, to me, kind of like a 19th, 20th ring of Hell so low that even Dante couldn’t envision the horrifying monsters that dwell there) I found another store that carried the phone I wanted, and for 30 dollars cheaper than the big yellow tag with blue lettering folks…I even purchased a one year protection plan on it, just in case my screen cracks again or the on/off switch gets damaged….for the same 30 dollars I saved on the cost of the phone.
And thusly my in-person shopping horrors came to an end…at least for yesterday. I still need to go food shopping. But that’s best left for another day, when I can marshall up the strength required for it.
For now, I’ll just sit and play with my new phone.