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Volume 16, Issue 49 - December 4 - December 10, 2008
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A Shopper’s Advice

I give my business to stores that aren’t naughty but nice

Merry Christmas.

According to my digital stopwatch, it takes between one and one and two-tenths seconds to wish one such a happy holiday. But (no) thanks to modern technology in the retail workplace, we just might hear fewer such greetings. It can’t be blamed on the old excuse that two words, Merry Christmas, could offend some non-Christians, the defense used by Macys, Kohl’s and many other giant retailers a couple years back.

Customer Disservice

I was distressed to read in The Wall Street Journal a new concept of retail profit. Via the miracles of computers, checkout clerks have only so much time to ring my purchase. If they fail to come within 95 percent of the established time, they can be enrolled in special hurry-up training. If that doesn’t reach the retailer’s perceived time, which wasn’t mentioned, they can be fired. Merry Christmas.

The clock starts ticking the moment the customer’s first item is scanned, and it doesn’t stop until the cash register spits out a receipt. Would a closely monitored clerk take a second or two for a greeting that might lead to a few additional words? No way; that clock is ticking, a job could be on the line. We end up with a hurry-up silent scanner system with no human aspects. We get the cold shoulder as a thank you.

This isn’t just happening at Shelby Township, Mich., where the Journal’s story originated. The list has already reached more than 60 retail chains, some in our area: Toys R Us, Nike, Gap, TJX and Office Depot. This is done in the name of helping retailers improve worker productivity. Ignored is the inherent stress involved on both sides of the scanner … plain old customer service … lost sales … maybe even lost customers.

Two years ago this time of year, as I checked out at the big Office Depot in Severna Park with office supplies, I noted a sign advertising all high line brands of fountain, ball point and roller ball pens at 50 percent off. What a buy for Christmas gifts for my four siblings.

I asked the scanner where the pens were. She promptly led me some distance in the store, pointed them out, told me she would set my other purchases aside until I looked over the writing wares, then ring them all up at once. I purchased more than a couple hundred bucks in pens for my siblings and me. Does the new-fangled checkout brainstorm suggest I can no longer depend on such customer service that put me where the merchandise I wanted was?

If I am to ask questions in the checkout line, will I get a rolling of the eyes and a quick point in the direction of the merchandise? What if I’m slow at the cash register — looking for the right credit card or digging deep in the pocket for that final dollar bill or coin to complete the transaction? What about the fumbling woman who carries everything but the kitchen sink in her purse? Are we putting a job at risk?

Will checking out henceforth mean avoiding even eye contact that might lead to a question or two as clerks try to live up to the boss’s mandate to save labor costs five to 15 percent? One footwear chain estimates the saving of one second in checkout could spare $15,000 in labor costs in each of its 34 outlets.

False Economies

Curiously, all of this comes at a time when retailers are trying anything to get customers into their shops and buying as the economy continues its slide. When you’ve got a stressed checkout crew matched with stressed shoppers fearful of ticks of the clock, much of the joy goes out of shopping. It becomes as frustrating as finding only three of six checkout aisles open, all with long lines.

If I were managing a retail chain in these troubled times, my priority would be friendliness, convenience and goodwill. That’s probably why I sell words from my home office, where the only time that matters is the deadline for the column at hand. Words per minute matter not. I take my time and am accurate — unlike the scanner, who the stress of hurry-up can lead to costly inaccuracies.

Giant retailers take note: You’ll not find me (and I’m sure many others) lined up at your checkouts. My shopping will be in a store that’s more stress-free, more in the spirit of the holidays. I still believe in the kind of customer service you find in mom and pop shops.

Enough said …

Aidan Saves the World from Global Warming

reviewed by Grumpy and Gramps

If you’re interested in a Christmas stocking gift for a youngster without the hassle of retail shopping, I came across a good one. Edward Allan Faine — once the How-to Cowboy on the Not Just for Kids page of this publication — has authored his ninth children’s book, the 24-page Aidan Saves the World from Global Warming, which carries a strong yet interesting message for kids five to 10.

This book of numerous illustrations in full color by Joan C. Waters takes Aidan through the daily routine of living a life of eco-friendliness, showing things kids can do and see that will help combat global warming. As Aidan watches ice melt in a glass, Daddy says “When ocean ice melts and turns to water, the ocean rises and people living by the ocean (like Grandpa and Grandma) just have to move.” Granddaughter Grumpy, six, my co-reviewer, liked that line.

An inexpensive picture book ($2 to $5 depending on bulk or individual purchase) published by IM Press, Aidan Saves the World from Global Warming just might at an impressionable age turn that child’s awareness in the right direction. We need more of them, books and like-minded kids. Call 301-587-1202 or punch up efaine@yahoo.com


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