I thought I’d start this little piece as a sort of cultural examination on the American love affair with retail shopping. Everyone has walked into the polished stores with their overfilled racks at least once in their lives but not near as many have stood on the other end of the register. I come to offer that point of view, enjoy.
As I arrived at work yesterday to clock in five minutes early (those five minutes matter) I was greeted by my coworkers slumped over their phones in the break room. Once the necessary but trivial “How are you”s were over, I fastened on my name badge and began the walk to the service desk, hoping to dodge any needy customers right away (Come on I just got here). Once that perilous journey was completed, I went to find out what my role in the corporate machine would be for the day. Mine, like most other days, happened to be commandeering the service desk. I felt tempted to go over the PA and announce to my patrons that the captain had boarded ship and takeoff would commence briefly but my daydream was cut short. It looked as if we would be taking off immediately, as an elderly lady stepped up to the counter.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against old people, I love my fair share of the elderly but we all know that when they’re bad, they’re very bad. This particular lady crept to the counter with a slightly hunched back, each movement grinding her physical gears. One couldn’t help but take pity on her physicality until she opened her mouth to speak. She was the type of lady all retail employees hope to finish a shift without encountering, whether they admit it or not. After waiting for her to place all of her items in the specific order she deemed necessary for checkout, I began to scan them and hopefully place them in the bag to her standards. “Three items in without a remark, I must be doing good”, I tell myself right before she proclaims “Oh! I’ve got a return!”. Those five words crush all prior success. As I take a very deep, forceful breath, I flash her my best customer service smile, ensuring her it’s no big deal and that I can just continue the transaction after I complete her return.
That’s when it happened. My eyes scanned the receipt, viewing the items she had purchased, when suddenly they cut to the transaction date: April 13, 2010. APRIL 13, 2010, this woman has had these items for almost five years and is just now deciding that they won’t work for her. The days of sitting in the closet with the occasional cat’s bunting are noticeable. I can’t help but wonder if the card she purchased them with still sits in her receipt cluttered wallet or if it’s already met its end with a pair of scissors and a trashcan. As I take another long drawn deep breath, I prepare to deliver the news. “Ma’am this transaction is from 2010 making it far past our return policy, I won’t be able to give you your money back in it’s original form but I’ll be glad to give it you in the form of in-store credit.” That simple, honest phrase set off a chain of events unlike any I had ever beheld. As the woman released the short amount of air from her lungs in disbelief, she muttered “You’ve go to be kidding me”. A crazed smile almost crept to my face as I realized she was actually questioning why she couldn’t get her money back. This was no joke, she was completely serious.
I was forced to repeat myself at least three times before pointing out the store’s return policy listed at the bottom of her receipt. Her eyes almost smudged against her spectacles as they strained, putting all of their effort into turning blurred blackness into legible words. Still, after multiple explanations and assisted reading of the companies policy, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I once again reinforced the policy, her frailty seemed to fade a bit and she proceeded to bang the counter and announce “I’m 90 years old, is this how you treat your elders?”. I strongly fought the urge to scoff her idea that age overrules legal policy. Turning quickly, I called my manager to the front, where the problem was quickly resolved. To prevent any further drama, my manager allowed her to get cash back. I stood looking into the opened cash drawer in defeat. This woman borrowed a tactic used by humans on the polar opposite side of the age spectrum to get her way. Thus proving once again, the customer is always right…
Once I gave the ridiculously earned money back to the lady, she regained her weak stature and innocent appearance. Finishing her transaction, I stuck her receipt in the bag and told her to have a nice day with heavy sarcasm. She simply smiled, winked, gave a nod of approval and scooted out the door.
(This story is heavily dramatized in several areas but is drawn from a VERY similar situation. I hope you enjoyed.)