I deal with a lot of people who come very close to provoking me to commit violent acts. And it struck me: People just do not know how to behave! They are immature, rude, or too demanding, and they just don't know how to treat a fellow person just because said person is wearing an apron and nametag. News for those folks: We in the retail world are much less likely to do everything in our power to help you if you are a jerk. Come up prepared, civil, and without unrealistic expectations, and we will usually be happy to help you (unless the particular associate you talk to has an attitude problem, then it's them who needs a spanking).

Here I am going to outline for you a guide to being a good customer. This way, our interaction will be pleasant, you can get what you want, and I will not want to put you in the hospital. These outlines were derived from my experience working in my bookstore, but most can be generalized to retail and customer interactions in general.

At the register

The stellar register customer:

  • Comes up to the register with purchases in hand, puts them on the counter, and either produces a store discount card/other promotional materials or listens politely to the offer to give/sell them one. (Normally associates HAVE to ask you or they will lose their jobs to a secret shopper visit, so if you don't want whatever it is, just listen and politely refuse, you have lost nothing.)
  • Listens well to various questions (i.e., do you need a bag, where would you like your receipt, et cetera), and answers appropriately; has come to the counter ready to interact.
  • Treats the cashier like a human being.
  • Provides prompt and appropriate payment for purchases.
  • Leaves the store leaving behind nothing foreign.
  • Thinks before he/she speaks in order to ask intelligent questions that lead to the desired answer.

This is not so very difficult, so it surprises me that so few people can follow these steps. I could make a "do and do not" list, but any "do" can be turned into a "do not" and vice versa, so let's just call this the "DO NOT" list.

Register DO-NOTs

  • DO NOT argue with the cashier about perceived discounts when an explanation has been made. The cashier is more likely than you to know what is on sale.
  • DO NOT get upset with the cashier if he/she does not know information that can be acquired at Customer Service (i.e., release dates, product placements, other store locations).
  • DO NOT give employees shit when you are trying to return things. Returning is a privilege the company has afforded you to encourage your future patronage; if it is fishy for any reason it can be denied. So for God's sake do not try to return things to Books-A-Million when they still have a Borders sticker on them.
  • DO NOT forget about the fact that most items do have tax.
  • DO NOT talk on your cell phone while the cashier rings you up. They have things to ask you and they cannot do it while you are on the phone. Not to mention that you are not dealing with a machine; the cashier deserves your attention just like you deserve his/hers.
  • DO NOT do anything unnecessary at the register that holds up the people behind you (i.e., organizing your wallet beyond getting everything back in, continuing to browse impulse buy displays in the middle of traffic, hitting on the cashier, et cetera).
  • DO NOT insist that your discount card or coupon has not expired when the date on it clearly shows that it has. If you know you renewed it, perhaps you gave the cashier the wrong card. If there really is a mix-up or misunderstanding (which happens, maybe an inexperienced or brain-spacing cashier wrote the wrong year), be graceful about getting it straightened out.
  • DO NOT offer the spelling of simple words or names unless they are different from the standard. If the employee has a question about how to spell "Smith," he or she will ask.
  • DO NOT expect freebies. Associates can get in trouble if we "just come on let you" use a coupon that expired last month, or "throw in" an item that costs money.
  • DO NOT get upset when the store cannot provide special services. We refuse because we cannot, not because we do not want to. Our store doesn't have gift receipts, complimentary wrapping and boxes, or automatic senior discounts. If you ask and we tell you the answer's no, please accept it instead of whining or threatening to call the manager (as if that gets anywhere).
  • DO NOT get upset when supplies have not lasted when you see a deal that says "while supplies last."
  • DO NOT get annoyed at the requirement that writing a check requires you to produce an ID. This is standard almost anywhere and it does not mean we think you are dishonest. It means our bank requires a driver's license number on the check.
  • DO NOT try to convert the cashier to your religion.
  • DO NOT assume that a suspicious lone product that you found on a sale table should be discounted just because you found it there. We cannot stop roaming customers from throwing shit anywhere they want. Sale products are specially marked as such, so if that book you want is not marked as a sale book, it is unlikely that its proximity to other low-price books will bring it down in value.
  • DO NOT attempt to insult the cashier when he or she must send you to Customer Service to answer a question. You have gone to the wrong place and it is not the cashier's fault that the computer does not have the option to look up books.
  • DO NOT go through an entire sale and complete payment before realizing that you've spent too much money. If you're not sure you have enough or you want to reconsider, do it before you've signed the credit card slip or completed a transaction.
  • DO NOT wait until you are at the register before you decide which products you do and do not want. It is quite aggravating to watch a line form behind you when you could have made your decision in a location where no one was waiting for your indecisive ass.
  • DO NOT give the cashier crumpled or rolled money, if you can help it. And unless it is raining outside, I do NOT want to know why your dollars are damp, and I do not want to handle them.
  • DO NOT put wet, dirty, or smelly things on the register counter. This includes your drink, your umbrella, and your baby's diapered ass.
  • DO NOT leave carts and/or baskets in the way of other customers. Just take the carry aid back where you found it, since it's ON YOUR WAY OUT.

At Customer Service or in the store

The stellar customer in need of service:

  • Is prepared with enough information to make it possible to find the product.
  • Is understanding about lack of availability if said product is difficult to get.
  • Is willing to wait if others are obviously in line ahead of him/her.
  • Listens well to the clerk.
  • Asks specific questions.
  • Is understanding if the answer happens to be "no."
  • Thinks before he/she speaks in order to ask intelligent questions that lead to the desired answer.

Question-asking DO NOTs

  • DO NOT describe the product (i.e., a book) in the absence of pertinent information (i.e., the title or author) and get upset when that is not sufficient to find your desired product.
  • DO NOT expect a store employee to be able to recommend a gift if you give them nothing to go on.
  • DO NOT assume a store employee is "incompetent" if they are not as knowledgeable about your interests as you are.
  • DO NOT come to the desk unprepared and get upset if the customer service representative cannot make up for it (i.e., not knowing what's on your own school reading list and blaming the store for not having a copy, et cetera).
  • DO NOT assume that the store has a book just because the Web site's inventory of the warehouse said they carried it.
  • DO NOT interrupt an associate who is talking on the phone.
  • DO NOT insult an employee for any reason.
  • DO NOT demand that an employee "check in the back." If we had "the back" organized like an extension of the store, we would let people shop in there. Unless you want to dig through the several hundred unorganized boxes to find one book that may or may not be there, do not suggest this.
  • DO NOT try to tell employees how to do their job, please. If you think there is something they could do to help you that they are not doing, ask if it is possible rather than demanding it. Chances are in favor of the employee knowing their job.
  • DO NOT threaten to go to the competition in order to achieve better service. Anyone who is not giving you the best service they can is not going to be rattled by your threat to shop elsewhere.
  • DO NOT use the customer service phone to call your boyfriend and chat about what a slut his ex-wife is.
  • DO NOT become impatient when you have asked the employee to perform a time-consuming task (such as finding the availability of every book on a list of 30 that you got from school). They're not having fun either.
  • DO NOT get upset at an associate if you can't find a product that you just saw yesterday or last week. If you didn't buy it or put it on hold for future purchase, you have no one but yourself to blame.
  • DO NOT offer the spelling of simple words or names unless they are different from the standard. If the employee has a question about how to spell "font," he or she will ask.
  • DO NOT expect good deals and wide selections on items in which the store does not specialize. We do not have that hard-to-find architecture software or Mylar Spider-Man balloons.
  • DO NOT ask a question when you are not ready to receive the answer (i.e., ask the associate to point where the restrooms are when you are busy looking at your child to make sure he doesn't run away).
  • DO NOT assume that you have to use special enunciation when stating your name or a book title. If the customer service rep does not understand you, he/she will ask for clarification.
  • DO NOT attempt to shame an associate by exaggerating the time you've had to wait for their services. If they did it on purpose or through slacker tendencies, they will not care about your comment. If they did it because they were busy, the comment upsets them because they were doing the best they could and you still weren't satisfied. There is absolutely no constructive way to make this comment.
  • DO NOT expect the store to accept the blame for not having a product for a last-minute obligation. This includes that special gift, the book club book, or something for a school requirement that you left until the last weekend. If you are pissed that we'd have to order it and it's really that important, you probably should have looked at the problem when you still had time to solve it.
  • DO NOT call the customer service desk and hang up after you've been on hold less than two minutes.
  • DO NOT take out your anger on a customer service rep for any reason. It is not their fault--or their problem--if you have been to six stores trying to find this product and we are out too. There is probably very little we can do, but one of the things that is definitely not in our power is magically making things appear if you are angry enough.
  • DO NOT repeat irrelevant information that does not seem to be helping. The fact that Money magazine did an article on this book in their January issue does not help us figure out the title, unless it happens to be January and we can look it up in that issue.
  • DO NOT repeatedly check on the status of an order. We said seven to ten days, and we get shipments one day a week. There is no possible way we could get it before the time we mentioned, so "just checking to see if it's there yet" wastes your time and ours.

Shopping in the store

The stellar shopper:

  • Puts everything back where he or she found it.
  • Is responsible with food and/or beverages if they are taken out of the designated areas.
  • Watches any children to avoid messes or damage.
  • Asks for permission before opening any packages or wrapped products.
  • Politely asks questions if he/she is unable to find a desired product, rather than assuming the store doesn't have it.
  • Thinks before he/she speaks in order to ask intelligent questions that lead to the desired answer.

Shopping DO NOTs

  • DO NOT delude yourself that you are "giving someone a job" if you leave shit around.
  • For God's sake, DO NOT take a crap in the urinal. (Or mess up the bathrooms with your bodily functions. We are adults, and if we are not, we need to bring someone to clean up after us.)
  • DO NOT "camp" associates. Following them around while they're with someone else just to make sure you get service next is rude. Please go to the desk where they will help you in the order you arrived.
  • DO NOT ever snap your fingers or whistle to get an associate's attention. Saying "excuse me" is the proper attention-getter for a human, and most stores don't employ dogs.
  • DO NOT assume that the big 40% on a sign applies to anything near it. Please do read the sign to avoid a surprise at the register.
  • DO NOT use the store as your personal resource. If you are browsing through the books to see if they're what you need, that is perfectly fine. If you are using them day after day to study, you are taking advantage.
  • DO NOT open anything that is sealed without asking first. That includes wrapped books, toys, and magazines.
  • DO NOT creatively rearrange the store.
  • DO NOT place unwanted items horizontally on top of the shelves. If you have taken something from its intended place and honestly cannot remember where it belongs, please ask an associate or at least leave it with an associate rather than just leaving it for them to find.
  • This goes without saying, but please DO NOT steal things from us.
  • DO NOT use any area of the store to study, sleep, or do non-shopping activity and then complain if the environment doesn't suit you (i.e., too noisy, too cold, et cetera).
  • Please DO NOT hit on the associates or ask for their phone numbers. That is really fucked up.
  • DO NOT ask associates if they work there. There's a good chance they work there if they are wearing an apron or a nametag with the store's name on it. Look for these clues in order to avoid embarrassment and unnecessary questions--and in order to avoid being mocked among employees when they have their lunch breaks in that fabled back room.
  • DO NOT attempt to pay for things by tossing money onto a counter or chucking it at an employee. (This mostly goes for old men buying newspapers. It is a widespread phenomenon. In most situations there are a select few places where payment is accepted, normally all transactions must take place at registers. Whistling at me and tossing money on my counter is not appropriate.)
  • DO NOT take things off of employees' carts. If you see something you want, please ask; it may be important that it stays where it is, and taking it out may mess up an inventory count. Also please don't open any boxes that are in the process of being unpacked. You don't know what you're messing with, and we would prefer that you leave such things to people who do.
  • DO NOT attempt to transplant discount stickers onto undiscounted items.
  • If you are going to be such a bastard that you cannot drop your trash into the can on your way out, at least DO NOT wedge the cup, plate, or other future biohazard receptacle in a hard-to-find spot so that it is only found when a bad smell alerts employees to its presence.
  • DO NOT take up lots of an associate's time to find products for you, then thank them by leaving the things you decided against in a pile or in the wrong place. I tend to feel offended and sometimes even betrayed when someone does that, and I feel less likely to be helpful for a while. You directly impact an employee's worth when you show them through your actions that helping isn't worth it.
  • DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, expect that a store's display toys or entertainment centers should be a substitute baby-sitter. If you have a child who is young enough to be entertained by that thing, he or she should never be left alone, if not only for his or her own safety, than to avoid having the child destroy (or at least mess up) items on the shelf.
  • DO NOT just leave a mess your child has made in your rush to get an upset, sleepy, or angry child out of the store. It also does not help if you just scoop up a pile he or she has made and throw it on a shelf, so if you are going to be that irresponsible, just don't bother. If your child is prone to random temper tantrums, just don't let him/her remove items from their designated places in large quantities.
  • Please, DO NOT come to our store to sleep.
  • DO NOT use the store's wheelchair if you don't need to.
  • DO NOT get irate that the store does not provide some service or have available some machine (i.e., a copy machine, pay phone, wireless Internet connection). Exploding about it, or worse yet, insisting that we have said devices for ourselves but aren't letting on, will not get you anywhere, as we physically do not have them.
  • DO NOT wait outside the store before opening and periodically tug on the door handle. It opens manually and ONLY manually, I promise. Tugging on it does not do any good, nor does it let you in any earlier than you would have been let in otherwise.

This concludes the tutorial on how to be a good customer. Perhaps now you will be able to come to my bookstore without having your head ripped off or ending up on the Page of Stupid, where I publicly log amusing transgressions. Happy shopping!

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