I was just washing my hair (at the moment my head is still sporting the towel) when I started ruminating on the weirdness that I’ve noticed enveloping the retail industry. If you work in retail, you know about “up selling.” If you don’t work in retail, maybe you’ve encountered the weirdness and attributed it merely to rudeness, or just walked away with the feeling that you’ve entered a portion of “The Twilight Zone.” No– not the one of shimmering vampires or hunky werewolves, but the Rod Serling one from the days of black and white TV that had weird storylines ranging from the faintly odd and unexplainable, to William Shatner trying to rescue an airplane full of people from the evil gremlin on its wing that was hell-bent on bringing it down. Anyway, the weirdness I’ve encountered has gone way past the “Do you want fries with that” aggravation that must have translated into a gazillion dollars worth of sales, because it seems to have worked its way up to in between and high-end boutiques, beauty salons, and probably retail arenas that I haven’t yet, and may never venture into. Have you had the experience of purchasing an item (perhaps a somewhat expensive item) and having the feeling that the salesperson was somehow mad at you? Have you gotten a haircut, just a haircut, and toward the end had the stylist treat you as if you had done something to offend them? Even if all the two of you had discussed, politely, was hair products that the salon sells and whether or not you wanted to get your hair colored or permed? And after that, had your 15% tip treated like valueless paper? I have.
Things I’ve learned during my recent job search, along with some new knowledge about “up selling”, have given me what I think is an accurate explanation for what’s been going on. If I and so many others worry about how to make a living in this truly difficult job market, it stands to reason that those of us who do have jobs would be worried about how to keep them. What if you’re actually penalized by your employer if you can’t get someone to purchase more than what they came in for? What if you had to sell me at least two extra things in order to meet your quota and have some measure of job security? What if that was the case with every single customer? Could I work that way and not care? Not to say that if someone offers me a retail job I wouldn’t take it in a heartbeat and give it a hell of a try. It would be unfortunate, but I might feel let down when you insist on buying only one thing. I’m not proud of that, but it’s probably true. I can see how another person might manifest that disappointment as anger. That doesn’t mean that I now don’t mind the reaction. I still do, but what really makes me sad about it is that the companies that adopt these quotas are penalizing their workers for the fact that every customer doesn’t possess an infinite amount of disposable income, or the desire to buy more than they anticipated.
I’m sure policy makers in retail would argue that my interpretation of this issue is too one-sided, and that the problem lies with the specific salespeople I’ve encountered, but that’s because it’s difficult for them to see any of us, salesperson or customer, as human beings. They have the right to want their companies to make a profit as much as any of us want to have a decent job to support ourselves and our families, but do they really think the best way to accomplish that is to ignore the good that our humanity implies? We rarely use the word humanity to refer to horrible things. We mostly use the word to refer to our ability to take into consideration the common good. I hope this doesn’t sound too strident, and I’m afraid that it does, but this whole thing reminds me of the real estate boom of our recent past (the artificial real estate boom) and the continuing “use your credit card even if you know you can’t pay the bill” mentality that corporations have used to get us to buy as much as possible, because they know they can survive the ensuing mess, even if the average consumer can’t.
My main point here is that although I hate being treated rudely, especially when I spend my money somewhere, I’m beginning to see that the answer is way more complicated than just complaining about it. Can you imagine how that would go? Someone possibly getting yelled at, browbeaten or fired for not doing the impossible? Or having a specific work edict of fake smiling and acting like it’s okay with you if you lose your job, foisted upon them. I don’t have an answer that would actually be implemented by retail corporations. I know I’m not the kid who can point out the emperor’s lack of clothes, and have everyone suddenly see. What I can do is not be silent about what I think in places like this one, and probably skip the tip if a person is rude (sorry, but if the tip doesn’t help you enough to be polite in the most basic way, I’m keeping my money). I can walk away from these weird encounters knowing that I haven’t done anything wrong, and that I can’t personally sweat every sad detail of life, even if one of my deepest wishes is that all the details become fairer for everyone.