Show a little care

Ladies and gentlemen, today we're going to talk about etiquette. Retail etiquette.

To help you understand the early roots of my interest in this topic, I'd like to start with a song from my childhood. It's by Carol Johnson, a singer who heavily influenced my musical upbringing. I listened to this song from the tape deck of my Chevy Astro van, while my mom drove me to and from gymnastics. And in those formative years, long before the advent of Retail Planning, one song forever altered my perspective on proper in-store behavior. The song was called "Show A Little Care."

(Yes, I still remember the words, twenty years later).


Mrs. Jones hangs up the clothes, in the store where she works each day
Folds and stacks, and straightens the racks, arranging a nice display
But those messy shoppers, they get so sloppy, they leave things in a heap -
And a tangled mess, is all that's left, of the work she did so neat.

Would you do a thing like that? No way!
Would you do a thing like that? No way!
Now who would do a thing like that? No, no, no, not me!
Show a little care for the people out there, who care for you and me.


Oh, that poor, dear Mrs. Jones. My heart went out to her. And as the song clearly stated, I was taught from an early age to not "do a thing like that." I wouldn't be a messy shopper. No way! It was burned in my brain.

But is helping out, really helping out? You be the judge. Test your retail etiquette with this fun quiz.

Question 1:
You're in a clothing store. Sweaters are folded neatly on a table. You start looking for your size. You unfold a medium, then a small. The small looks right, so you decide to take it. Quick: what do you do with the medium?

a) Fold it back up as neatly as you can
b) Leave it unfolded
c) Hide it behind a plant

In this scenario, I tend to go with "a." When I unfold something and decide not to pursue it further, I make my best attempt to recreate the corporate-issued, store-perfect folding protocol. But I fail. I fail every time. I wasn't trained! I don't know the sleeve trick! Try as I might, I simply cannot make the sweater look like all the rest. So am I really helping?

My guess is, I'm not. I feel like the correct answer here is "b." The employees are going to have to re-fold it anyway. Still I wonder, do they appreciate my attempt? Do they come over later and say "Aww, this customer really tried!" Or was my childhood direction misguided? Grounded in an ideal reality that would never come to pass? I want to help Mrs. Jones. I just don't know if I can.

Question 2:
Now you're ready to try on some clothes. A salesperson shows you to a fitting room. You try things on, you shuffle hangers, you toss things in the "yes" pile and the "maybe" pile. You finally decide to buy one thing, and leave the other six. Quick: what do you do with the unwanted items?

a) You hang them up, and bring them around the store, putting them back where they belong
b) You hang them up, and bring them to a reject rack just outside the room
c) You leave with the shirt you are buying. The salesperson can deal with it.*

*It's her job, right?

I face this dilemma on a regular basis, and I must admit, I'm not consistent with my choices. On very rare occasions, when the store and staff are nice, I will actually go with "a," because I actually feel like helping. Typically, though, I'll go with "b" if said rack exists. But if I'm tired, or if the staff aren't around, or if the store's already a mess, I'll just walk out. Sorry, Mrs. Jones. Maybe if your dressing rooms were neater or you were nicer, I'd feel more of an obligation.

Question 3a:
Now you're in the grocery store. You pick up a bottle of ketchup, put it in your cart, and continue shopping. Halfway through the store, you remember that you bought ketchup last time, and you totally don't need more. You are now in the paper towel aisle. Quick: what do you do with the ketchup?

a) Bring it back to the ketchup aisle
b) Leave it in your cart
c) Stick it on a shelf next to some Brawny

Come on, people. You know you go with "c." At least, I do.

Question 3b:
What if the item had to be refrigerated? Like cheese, or yogurt?

Question 3c:
What if you were in Whole Foods?

Basically, I think the question "How polite are your shoppers?" can be easily answered with "Well, how polite are your employees?" Because it's not like I'm univerally kind, or universally careless. I mean, I re-fold sweaters in J. Crew, but I also leave ketchup in Aisle 9. This is partly because the staff at J. Crew give me smiles, and the staff at Jewel give me blank looks. People, respect is a two-way street. I would not hide the ketchup at Whole Foods.

I'd like to think Mrs. Jones is retired by now. Maybe her little boutique lives on, run by her daughter. Or maybe The Gap moved in next door and put her out of business. Either way, I'm glad she showed a little care. If stores would show me a little care, I'd gladly return the favor.


Elliott said...

This is so funny. I go with "A" in all cases. I guess I'm a pushover/sap! But you're right, my folds are often not correct. I tend to painstakingly search for my size attempting not to disturb any of the folded shirts and then try to remove my chosen shirt from the middle by levitation or something.

Anonymous said...

I tend to go with A on the folding question, but don't worry if I don't get it perfect. My goal is not necessarily perfection, but my goal is to leave the table organized enough that I'm not requiring the next shopper to dig through a pile of unfolded shirts to even find the rest of the stack. Of course, I also usually just try to avoid completely unfolding the shirts in the first place, so usually not much folding is required. If I have to unfold it all the way to judge size, it's usually going to have to go to the fitting room to be tried on anyway.

For the fitting room, I almost never take things back to the store rack, unless maybe if there's no "reject" rack and I'm going back to that same rack to get a different size. Otherwise, they always go to the reject rack, since there is almost always one, or they are hung/folded neatly and left in the dressing room if there is no reject rack.

But unwanted grocery items always go back where they belong, unless maybe if I'm already at the checkout line, in which case I'd hand it to the cashier. But I very rarely change my mind about a purchase once it's in my cart, so it's not generally an issue for me anyway.

It's the whole girl scout thing - always leave a place as nice or nicer than you found it. :)

sara said...

I am thrilled to hear that I am not the only courteous shopper left. I'm also a bit embarassed that I'm not quite as courteous as others.

Meredith, I don't think you're a pushover - it's not like somebody's bullying you to fold that sweater back up. You do it because you want to. And yeah, it is nearly impossible to remove one without ruining the rest.

Mazlynn, it's really interesting to hear your decision factors, and to know that girl scouts taught you as well as Carol Johnson taught me!

Anonymous said...

What we need here is someone who works as a retail clerk. C'mon people, isn't there someone out there who can give us the proper etiquette for these situations?

Gatherings said...

If I see 10 employees standing around gossiping and flirting - that is one factor on how I make my decision. If I see that everyone is applying best practices, no matter how crazy it is, I will do best practices too.

Anonymous said...

Sara, I still think of Carol Johnson's "I Don't Want To Go To School Today" whenever the weather's really bad outside and I don't feel like going to work. Oh yes, I still remember the words 20 years later!

George Aye said...

I remember being in certain stores where the changing room is already a mess. Like a teenager's bedroom messy. Ugh.

In those times I feel almost obliged to leave a mess of my unwanted clothes.

I agree that respect is a two-way street but also that the environment and staff, intentionally or not, sets the tone for the behaviour within.

When the store feels messy, the people in it act messy.

"Why should I care? No one else is bothering to make an effort."

Anonymous said...

As some one who has worked in the retail environment for 25 years I can tell you I always appreciate the person who tries. I know it is my job to serve you but....some customers are so inconsiderate that they try on every size 2 pair of pants on the sales floor, leave them inside out on the floor of the fitting room and then say "I want this pant but can you get me a fresh pair from the stockroom." Also most retailers run on a very low payroll percent and that person sweating and running around at a ratio of 25 to 1 wants to do their best. Their goal is to make you happy. And just like you want the sales associate to be nice they would like some courtesy from you as well. Like get off the cell phone when you want our help.(oh that is a whole other topic.)

And don't get me started on people who buy on an impulse and return when they have buyers remorse-in most cases the store earned payroll from your sale but now they must cut payroll when they have too many returns.

So...bottom line. The sales associate and managers in your favorite store want to help you and make your day. There are real people behind that corporate sign out front. We aren't the bad guys.

sara said...

Robin, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I'm honored to have you - a real, live retail professional - commenting on my armchair observations!

Most of all, thanks for representing the employee side of this debate. I've truly never known if anyone appreciated my small gestures. If you had said "It makes no difference," then I would stop, and stop doubting. But now I will keep it up. I hope my other readers see your comment!

Finally, maybe I'll write a post about "the things we do while talking on our cellphones," and then you can tell your other story. :)

Hillary Schuster said...

i think that retail stores should have spaces where you leave unwanted items. kind of like how you don't re-shelve books at the library because you might do it wrong - i think that trying to duplicate the efforts that the store has put into their displays and organization seems silly.

this is not to say, however, that i am NOT someone who goes out of my way to be nice and keep things in order while i shop. i always return unwanted merchandise to the rack in the dressing room (if there isn't one, i leave things in the dressing room hung up nicely). at a grocery store, i'll give unwanted items to the cashier (i've done this at other stores, too). also, i will often leave something in a wrong but very obviously wrong spot (so that it's easy for an employee to notice that it's out of place so that they can return it to where it's supposed to be). i rarely return things to the racks they come from, as i'm worried that i've hung it up wrong or will put it in the wrong spot.

if stores had shelves, boxes or racks for unwanted items, i would certainly leave them there in the hopes that it helps both employees and other shoppers.

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Anonymous said...

I'm a clerk at a retail store where the customer experience is of the utmost importance. But honestly, it seems that no matter how much assisstance we offer, the customer always seems to make a mess. We sell intimate apparel as well. But even though you may think your 'folding' is helping...I'm sorry to inform you that it just creates double work for us. The ideal customer (and I think I speakfor the majority of us in this career field) is one that comes in, browses the selection without unfolding the product. If they try something on and change their mind on purchasing it, they HAND it to us, so that we don't find a surprise pile in the fitting room when we go to let the next customer in.
It will also help alleviate the amount of cean up time we spend after the store closes. The clothes don't magically fold themselves...we have to fold them. And when a customer just leaves piles of clothes wherever they feel like, it prolonges our stayafterwards. On a night like tonight, when my team was supposed to leave at 10:30, they ended up leaving 2 hours later due to messy customers. We have families too, and often feel like our job requires us to provide you with an excellent customer journey. Our job is not to miss puting our kids to bed because you left a heap of unfolded clothing we have to fold because you didnt take the time to extend us the courtesy of accepting the assistance we are here to provide you with.

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