Friday, July 23, 2010

Dear retail store

Here's why I don't buy things from you anymore.

Today I was at a bookstore getting some professional books for my graduate work. Yes, I could have ordered them online, like I usually do. But I read them first in your store, and wanted to be fair about it. So here I was at your checkout counter with about a hundred dollars worth of books.

But instead of simply ringing up my copy of Psychotherapy for Fun and Profit, you started asking me a whole bunch of questions. It went something like this:

"Do you have our membership card?"
"Sorry, I do not"
"Would you like to purchase one? It is only $25."
"No thank you"
"But you would save $14 on your purchase today if you bought one"
"No thank you"
"So tell me, do you live around here?"
"Yes"
"Well, then, you would certainly save money if you purchased this card. You are more than halfway there already with today's purchase."
"No thank you. Really."
"Don't you buy enough books to make this worthwhile?"
"I usually purchase my books online"
"Well, your membership will save you money on our website as well"

For a moment there I honestly wanted to be helpful. I wanted to explain sympathetically that there were too many cards in my life already, and that the thought of netting $7.63 a year didn't really excite me. But then I wondered, philosophically, what has led us to the point where businesses routinely subject their paying customers to interrogations like these? I thought it was their job to serve us, not the other way around.

So I just stood there with a quizzical expression on my face, and you then let out a deep sigh and continued blathering on about how you couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to save money, as you finally rang up my purchase. And I will leave it as an exercise to the reader how anxious I am to return.

Of course, I realize this isn't really your fault. Or the fault of the boss who pressures you to act this way. Or even the corporation that probably makes your job dependent on selling enough of these memberships. It is really the fault of the law of unintended consequences.

You see, once upon a time, some brilliant person at your headquarters discovered that by hassling Every Single Paying Customer to purchase these memberships, their revenue went up. And so upper management probably gave this person a raise, and then ordered you folks on the front line to annoy people as, silly us, we would try to buy your books.

Of course, this makes us buy more online so that we don't have to deal with Dracula behind the counter. Which leads to market declines you blame on everything from the economy to your debenture financing. Which leads you to pressure your staff to sell, sell, sell even more, as we retreat further to cyberspace and develop even less patience for being "sold." See where this is heading?

As a postscript, I had this conversation with nearly *every* store I went into today, each of which wondered why I wasn't using their specific Discount-a-palooza card. I am still not sure why they haven't figured out the idea of just discounting their products and treating me nicely. But while they ponder that, I am heading back to my computer.

2 comments:

Patricia V. Davis said...

You left this link on Jane Friedman's FB page in reference to the Borders closing, and I'm glad you did. I so agree with you.

Rich Gallagher said...

Thank you Patricia!