What I Hate About Going to the Store

I’ve been sipping at tea quite a bit lately although I still haven’t separated from morning cup of nice dark steaming coffee, no sugar, no cream. My younger son, Jake, re-aquainted me to tea about two years ago when we went to the mall and visited Teavana.

Ironically, I instantly and absolutely hated Teavana the moment we got close enough to be hauled in by their tractor rays, otherwise known as their sales staff. Although I’m sure they are called Tea Associates or Consultants or something equally imaginative. Little did I know when I accepted the paper cup of hot fruity sweetness that I had just accepted an attachment for the rest of my Teavana experience. The TA did not leave my side, commenting on everything I touched and “upselling” other items that didn’t interest me.

Unfortunately, as irritated as I was by the process, she had a lot of success. We bought tea and several accoutrements and nearly expired (well, I did since I was the one with the plastic card) at the cash register. The final insult was hearing the TA chirp: “You have just invested $93.85 in your health and happiness!”

I wish I could say I never went back. Only a mother’s love for her duckling did bring me back again and again to purchase a tea blend that my son formed an addiction to. Oh, I drag him along most of the time since he hates the place as much as I do. As the escalator rises slowly, slowly to the second level, we step off and he will say: “Are you ready for this?”

I am picking on Teavana but many, many other retailers have adopted predatory tactics that destroy my soul. It isn’t just the hovering sales person or the constant upsale attempts. I know salespeople are trained to act and speak a certain way – I worked in retail until about 2010 so I was there myself. Retail executives get shifted around company to company, bringing ideas and practices that are often worthless to their new environments.

Here are some of the practices that are like nails running down a chalkboard for me:

Rewards Programs: this could be a blog post in itself but who really wants to read about them? That person at the cash register asking for your email or reward card has a quota that is strictly enforced by the manager. I sign up out of sympathy for the employee.

Pretense of Charitable Donations: This can take many forms and certainly is not a bad thing for charities. At Borders, we had book drives for various charities and for awhile, Borders would kick in a percentage. Then some bright bulb in Ann Arbor, Michigan realized that we’d make more money just talking people into buying books for children – since we picked up the cost of actually taking them to the kids.

Scripts: Here’s why people use email instead of calling anymore. They are afraid if they call they will get an electronic menu or if they get a human, that human is going to roll of a long string of syllables – sort of like listening to the guy read your order back at the drive in. What idiot executive thinks this technique actually works? Naturally, one of twenty five callers probably takes the bait with “What did you just say?” and ca-ching, a sale is born. The people who write the scripts for employees are so convinced that their sales staff is incapable of stringing sentences together that they insist the words be spoken exactly as written. The result always sounds phony and insincere.

As a matter of fact, this is one of the epic fails of large retail sellers. They have no faith in their employees; they cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. The entire hiring process is dehumanized to begin with by using absurd online tests and relying totally on the scoring before even allowing a prospect in the door.

There was a time when I was a recreational shopper and no, I didn’t have money at the time. Shopping was fun, something I’d go out to do with my sisters or friends usually combined with lunch. Now if I go out shopping, it is with dread and loathing, an experience that fatigues me.

Not all is lost though. There are farmer’s markets and neighborhood shops and boutiques which are still fun to visit. It must be hard as hell for small brick and mortar stores to scrape by and I also know that I am part of the competition. Still, I honor them and continue to patronize them and hope that you do too.

I promise never to rant about big stores again. Instead, I will be proactive and give some feature time to local small businesses. I’d also love to hear about your local artisans and crafters and businesses so feel free to comment about them!