December is when many retailers make a huge chunk of their annual sales. With unemployment relatively low this year, adding extra staff is proving difficult for some, which can result in crew shortages and missed sales.
A month-long surge in customers can overtax even the best employees, but add seasonal helpers who don't know the ropes and frustrated customers may take their dollars elsewhere.
So what can be done to ease the frustration? I didn't want to commission a study, so to have some fun I gathered a few friends, and in the spirit of Andy Rooney, we came up with some "rules" for how to make this shopping season more enjoyable for all.
Our hope is that if these rather abrupt but realistic rules get read here (instead of verbalized in the stores), maybe everyone will have a more enjoyable time while shopping.
Because each of us had worked in retail at some point in our lives and we all currently qualify as shoppers, we were aware of - and addressed - pet peeves found on both sides of the counter. We'll start with rules for retail employees:
Rule #1: Acknowledge customers. Nothing irritates a shopper more than being ignored. We don't want you to walk past us as if we didn't exist, and if we're standing next to you waiting to ask a question while you're with another customer, we don't want to listen to you drone on for five minutes about your grandmother's favorite cookie recipes.
We know that connecting with customers is good, but superfluous chattiness at the expense of losing other customers is not. At least acknowledge us and say "I'll be right with you." Just that simple act will likely keep us in the store, ready to spend some of our hard-earned money. Our guess is your boss would like for that to happen.
Rule # 2: Show respect. Nobody likes being talked down to, so use respect when talking with customers. True, you may be an expert in something, but just because we've not devoted the hours you have into learning a product's nuances doesn't mean we're an idiot. If you're the expert and we come to you with questions, we want to be educated, not insulted.
On more than one occasion each one of us has walked out of a store without purchasing what we wanted to buy simply because of a disrespectful sales person. This is a truism for many people, and it applies whether the sales person is half our age or twice our age.
Rule # 3: If you're a new or seasonal employee, don't be afraid to tell us so. In other words, don't try to be an expert if you're not. If we ask you a question and you don't know the answer, please tell us you're new and try to find the answer, or someone who knows the answer. Don't just walk away or give us that deer-in-the-headlights look.
And now some rules for shoppers:
Rule # 1: Patience is virtue, so be virtuous. Each store has about three times more customers than usual, but they don't have three times as many employees. If you're used to walking in and getting immediate attention, it's possible that four other people had that same idea ten minutes before you did, and there's just not enough employees to help everyone exactly when it's convenient for the customer.
Rule # 2: Show respect. Just because the person behind the counter is not the CEO it doesn't mean she's a slave. She is probably more than willing to help you, but she's more likely to show enthusiasm and commitment to your needs if you ask her to do something instead of demanding that she do it. Attitudes are often like mirrors. What you project out is probably what you're going to see in return.
Rule # 3: Plan ahead. If you've waited until the last minute and the item you want is sold out, it's not the salesperson's fault. Also, if you need it tomorrow and the employee is able to overnight it, please remember that the employee does not set the rates for next-day air. An ounce of planning is worth several pounds of overnight shipping fees.
So there you have it. Some straightforward words of advice for both buyers and sellers. Too straightforward? Maybe. But again, if we read and heed these words while they're here on a page, maybe we'll all have a more enjoyable time face-to-face and a little more Christmas cheer this season.