November 18, 2012

Black Friday

Well, it's that time of year again. First, the good news. Thanksgiving Day dinner with all the trimmings. We will be roasting a 22-pound turkey with a stuffing that includes chestnuts and oysters, plus homemade cranberry sauce, a gaggle of side dishes, topped off with pumpkin pie and maybe a mincemeat pie. That ought to hold the two of us until the grandkids arrive later in the weekend.

Now the bad news. Black Friday. This will be my first one since I started back in retail. Compared to working on an election day, when I might easily work an 18-hour shift, I'm not really too worried about a mere eight hours on Black Friday. Still, it will be semi-controlled pandemonium. I'm working the second shift, so business will be at a peak, as will frayed nerves and tempers. In the spirit of the coming Christmas Holiday--the real one, not the fake made-in-China retail version--let me give you some helpful advice from my side of the counter on things to do and not do on Black Friday, or most other days for that matter.

Let's begin with the Number One thing not to do. Do not--I am begging you--do not come up to the counter, take a quick look at my name tag, and then start calling me by my first name, as if this will somehow be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. So not true. Instead, you will self-select yourself as a half-smart, manipulative goober who thinks I am as dumb as you think I look.

God, I hate that, and so does everyone else in retail. Folks who work in retail can generally size most people up from 20 feet away. Use my first name and a good first impression will be instantly adjusted downwards; any initial wariness will be deepened. You really have nothing to gain by pretending to be my friend. We are there to work, not to be your friend. That doesn't mean I don't have favorite customers, but like all friendships, they emerge over time and out of a basic compatibility. Just treat me with simple courtesy, which does not include greeting perfect strangers by their first name, and you will get the best effort I am capable of at the moment.

Other things not to do on Black Friday? Well, how about not calling the store to find out if that pink and white blouse you saw three weeks ago is still available. Assuming your call ever gets to someone who could actually answer the question, that clerk will no doubt have a line 10-people deep. You think he or she knows or cares about your blouse? Really? And if, by some miracle, the clerk actually goes and looks, and comes back and says yes, we have it, why, for the love of God, do you wait until then to ask if they also have it in a size 12 Petite. ARGGH!

And what better day than Black Friday to inquire about that little mix-up in your order that happened a few weeks back, you can't remember exactly when it was, but you just thought as long as you were in the store you would take care of it, and no, you don't have the receipt and the tags are lost, and I think it cost $19.99, but I'm not sure, could you help me? At this point the clerk is checking out the dark looks from the other customers who have been already waiting in line for 15 minutes. Who to appease, you or the mob? Either way, it's a lose-lose. I give you short shrift and now you are unhappy and the other shoppers are no less irritated. I take the time to deal with you and the angst down the line grows ever thicker by the moment. Sigh. Next.

I remember one year, in the middle of Black Friday, while I had a line umpteen people deep, this little old lady calls up to inquire about the status of her special order of china, the one with a pattern that her Aunt Hilda had when she was growing up and which reminded her of the wonderful summers she spent in East Nowhere, and it was several several months ago and she hadn't heard anything about it, and would I please check the status of her order? All in this soft voice I can barely make out over the din. Wonderful. Let me just drop everything and run back to the stockroom and root around in a pile of papers that hasn't been organized since the Reagan administration and maybe, by the grace of God, your order is somewhere in there. I'll get right back to you. Yes. ma'am, it's no trouble at all.

Which brings up another thing. Please, get to the point. I really don't need all the back story about how you got this dress in this particular color to match the bridesmaids colors in cousin Susie's wedding, but now the bride has changed her mind, all because her mother didn't like that color because it reminded her of the boiled asparagus she had at those miserable Sunday dinners she had to go to at great-aunt Agatha's house when she was a child, and you need a plum-colored dress, so could I please exchange these? I don't care. Really, I don't. I just want to take care of your problem and move on to the next customer.

Not that some stories aren't gut-wrenching tales of misery. There is a bit of the confessional involved when two strangers face each other across a counter. I remember the woman--a rough-looking lady with tats on her upper arms, her angry eyes fighting back the tears welling up in them--returning a whole bunch of baby clothes she had bought for her new grandchild but couldn't give because the daughter-in-law refused to allow her to even come in the house. Or the woman buying a nightgown for a friend recovering from chemo, or the young mother replacing the toaster because her house burned down, and she lost everything she ever had, or the lady going on a cruise that she planned with her husband who since divorced her and ran off with a younger woman, and now she can't decide whether to go alone on the cruise, but she guesses she will, seeing as how the tickets have already been bought and paid for. All these confidences exchanged in the time it takes to ring up a sale. No matter how hardened you get, you still feel some of their pain.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving Day holiday, and shop, if you must, on Black Friday. Just understand that most folks working in retail are no different than anyone else. Given their druthers, they will try to deliver pleasant and semi-competent service. They will do this in spite of seeing more of our hearts of darkness in a month than most will in a lifetime. All for the lowest pay the market will bear, under conditions that would wilt most customers in about an hour and a half. Be the one who brings momentary respite from the storm. For that, we will be truly thankful.

No comments:

Post a Comment