Monday, December 15, 2008

Let's Make a Deal

I don’t want to be the grinch who stole Chanukah, but holiday shopping this year, even on a limited scale, is frustrating at best, deadly at worst.

We’ve all heard the tragic news story of the security guard at a Long Island Wal-Mart, who was trampled to death by an out-of-control, bargain-hunting Black Friday crowd. The mob mentality ruled that ugly morning, as shoppers stepped over, around, and even on the victim, in their zeal to score good, nay fantastic, deals. Gunfire broke out in the parking lot of a toy store in California, when two shoppers continued their in-store arguments over merchandise.

Are these incidents the result of shoppers who are frustrated before they ever walk into a store because the economy is in the tank and the holidays are going to be spare, if at all? Is it the American competitive spirit now taken to the cash register, with shoppers determined to find the biggest bargain and get the most bang (literally at times) for the buck? And what, if any role, do the stores play in this madness?

I suspect there is more than enough blame to go around. Undoubtedly, there is an urgent need to switch the focus from the materialistic to the spiritual side of this holiday season. As thoughtfully discussed by Marilyn, Susan, and Maggie last week, this holiday season we need to give more of ourselves, and less of our pocketbooks.

But since many of us are still buying a few gifts this year, even if the number and cost have been drastically reduced, here’s a plea to the storeowners.

I understand that the holiday season is, for many of you, a make-or-break time. In the best of economic times, many retailers net half their profits from October through December. But these aren’t the best of times – not even close. I want you to stay in business, you want me to buy your products. It can be a win-win – but here’s what you need to do.

1. Cancel Black Friday and any other events that encourage a survival of the fittest, mob rule mentality. When you offer four free video systems – or frankly anything else – and you have a crowd of 200 who've been waiting out in the cold for hours, it’s a recipe for disaster.
2. No more gimmicks. I want to look at a price on an item and not wonder if I have brought the right coupon – or somebody else in line is getting a better deal. One price should fit all.
3. Hire sales help who know your merchandise. They should be able to do more than ring up the sale. You want a staff that understands how to “make” a sale as well: Suggest a tie to go with the shirt; discuss which books might be appropriate for a beginner reader; tell me what are the hottest new games in the Wie universe. And it would be nice if they did it with a smile and good grace. As the Southern half of Evelyn David nicely summarized: a salesperson should be a problem solver instead of just another problem for the customer.

In exchange, I promise:
1. To honor that this is a business and you need to make a profit. I won't try to take advantage of honest mistakes in pricing or abuse your return policy.
2. To treat your merchandise carefully as I search for the perfect gift so that if I don't buy it, someone else can.
3. To behave with good grace and a smile; to wait my turn; to follow the golden rule and treat you and your sales staff the way I hope to be treated.

Let's put some fun and dignity back into holiday shopping. What else do you think businesses should do to make holiday shopping a better experience?

Evelyn David


  1. Can I get an "AMEN"? Excellent, excellent post. The Wal-Mart Black Friday incident has stayed with me since that day. I still can't imagine the mob mentality that took over in that store and why, to this point, I still haven't seen anything approaching an arrest or even blame placed for that poor man's death? As I keep telling my kids, "we don't need any more stuff. We need to be each other."

    I went into our local UPS store the other day to ship some books out. A woman was in front of me, saw me holding a box containing about fifty copies of "Quick Study" and said, "Hey, get in front of me...that looks heavy!" She smiled and helped me get the box to the counter. When it came time to pay, she said, "I'm in no rush...take your time." Simple gesture. And lovely. Thank you, UPS lady customer. Maggie

  2. Great ideas! I've been fortunate since most of the shopping I've done has been at places like boutiques where I was selling my books--though I did go out on Black Friday with two daughters, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters. I was glad to be able to buy something the two granddaughters wanted--they are far too picky to just randomly pick up something I think they might like.

    Everyone seemed to be behaving where we were--a Target with lots of sale items, then a super fancy mall. Or maybe I was just to sick to notice.

    I know one daughter managed to get an on sale TV because someone changed her mind about getting it.

    Other daughter asked about one item she wanted to buy and couldn't find, and the clerk told her exactly where it was hidden away.



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