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Saturday 13 August 2005

Through the Retail Wringer Once Again

Today’s adventure included a trip to Circuit City, to get a case for my new little computer.

They didn’t have anything suitable — they had cases for portable DVD players, all of which were unbelievably ugly and showed signs of having been designed by people who’d never given a moment’s thought to how these things were acutually supposed to be used, and they had laptop cases for the kinds of laptops that they sell at Circuit City (i.e. ridiculously large). So no.

They did, however, have the JBL iPod Donut I’d been hankering for for a while now, so I bought that instead.

Then began the fun with checking out. Circuit City is really making a name for itself in the field of customer alienation, and the cash-register girl today really stood out.

I put the donut and Nicole’s Coke (you can buy Cokes everywhere now) on the counter She does the rite with swinging the products over the altar of Theft-Deterrence Aeactivation, and causes Beeping Noises to come from the cash register.

She replaces the barcode-scanning thing in its monstrance, and takes my credit card.

She then asks for my phone number. I’m prepared for this, because they always do this at Circuit City. I don’t give out my phone number to anyone if I can help it, because I don’t want people calling me. “No, thanks”, I respond cheerfully.

She looks at me like I’ve just laid a fresh turd on the counter. “We need it,” she says.

“No you don’t,” I say. I try to be polite as possible to people in this situation, because as annoying as these idiotic we-want-your-phone-number policies are, they’re not made by the person standing on the other side of the counter. I do, however, only have so much patience. They need my phone number? Tchah.

At this point, the other guy behind the counter tells her to just put in the store’s phone number. The girl doesn’t know the store’s phone number, and neither does Mr. Helpful, so he starts looking in his cell phone for it.

Eventually, after a very long time, they somehow sort this problem out. “Can I get your name?” the girl chirps.

Ahh, well.

To begin with, I should reiterate and amplify my statement above that I was paying for this purchase with a credit card. It’s not like my aim was to be Mr. Covert Consumer here: I just was operating according to Tino’s Two Chief Retail Policies:

  1. I’m not giving you my phone number unless I specifically want you to call me for some reason, and
  2. Let’s Get This Over With.

Item #1 we’ve already dealt with. Now we’re running into problems with #2.

I have heard that in some cultures, you keep your true name a secret, because anyone who knows your true name has some power over you. That’s pretty much the way I feel about my phone number, since knowledge of it gives people the ability to make noises in my pocket.

My name I’m not so guarded with, but I still don’t like to give it out, at least to people like this girl at Circuit City. You see, my name is more complicated than most, and it involves strange punctuation and letters that do not exist in your Earth languages. Usually I spell it several times, and the idiots still get it wrong. So, just in the name of saving time, I prefer not to give my name out, too.

Well, this is another problem. They need my name, I am told, because the purchase is over $100.

I tell them that this is why I’m giving them over $100.

Blah, blah, blah. Judging by the receipt I got, they eventually entered me into the system as ‘Mr. Xxx X. Xxxx’. Never mind that this girl had my credit card in her hand, with my name printed on the front and encoded on the magnetic stripe on the back to boot.

All of this was annoying enough, but what I really resent was the reaction of the cash register girl to my refusal to pony up my personal information (in addition to money) in exchange for goods. Not a word of apology or commiseration or anything, including common courtesy, did I get from her. When the transaction finally ended, I was just handed my receipt; no bag for my donut, no ‘thanks for spending money here and, in small part, making the continued existence of my place of employment possible’, no anything but a look of hatred and disgust.

So I am establishing another customer service rule:

  • Train your employees to accurately know the customer’s obligations. If you are totally unwilling to sell a product without the customer giving you his name, address, phone number, shoe size, serum cholesterol level, weight at birth, or number of moles, fine. This probably isn’t a smart move, but it’s your business to run as you like. If, on the other hand, you prefer but do not require that your customers jump through certain hoops for you, make this clear to your employees. Train them to not make customers feel unwelcome if they choose not to jump through your hoops, or soon enough your customers will go somewhere where they do feel welcome.

Incidentally, the iPod Donut is great. In some ways, it’s a victim of its minimalist packaging: had the box touted the fact that it has an auxiliary input and can therefore also be used as a set of powered speakers for a computer, I would have bought one months ago. It’s just the right size to sit on top of the Mac Mini.

Posted by tino at 19:07 13.08.05
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I think why the cashier doesn’t know how to deal with people like you is becuase so many people freely give up the information when requested.

Personally when the phone number question comes up I give them 443-555-1212.

And this must be something newish because when I bought a camera at Christmas they didn’t quiz me for all this.

Posted by: Paul Johnson at August 13, 2005 08:34 PM

AMEN, brother!

I am so FUCKING sick and tired of stores trying to track my purchases. What. The. Fuck. Grrrrr.

I myself recently went to return a pair of shirts (all shirts apparently come with 50” waists these days) that I’d bought from Men’s Warehouse and was met by a very courteous clerk, through no fault of his own, who promtly asked for my phone number.

I smiled, nodded, and said, “No, thanks.”

“I wasn’t offering you anything,” said clerk said.
“Neither was I,” I, still smiling, offered in reply.
“I need your home phone number for the return.”
“Sorry. I don’t have your phone number, so I’d rather not give you mine. No offense. Fair’s fair, though, right?”
“I need it for the return,” he replied, sweat beginning to show around his brows already.
“Sorry. I don’t have a home phone.”
“Cell phone?”
“Business use only.”
“……but… I need something!”
“Oh. Ok. Thanks.”
“You betchya.”

Ok. To all marchants everywhere:

For the love of God and all that is Holy, PLEASE don’t profile me before I make a purchase with your company (thanks, Dell), and PUUUUULEASE don’t ask me for my name, phone number, zip code, or address when I’m making a purchase in your stores! If I wanted on your SHIT ASS mailing list, I would have opted in. Thanks.

Posted by: Kevin at August 15, 2005 12:30 AM

The way things are going, at some point you might need this. J Edgar Hoover’s SI# 577-60-1114. Oh, and his mothers maiden name was “Scheitlin”.

Posted by: steel at August 18, 2005 12:24 AM

Particularly in Washingtonia, I like to supply (202) 456-1414 for the people who absolutely insist on getting a phone number: that’s the White House switchboard. For a zip code, 20500 is similarly useful as it’s the White House mailroom.

I don’t mind giving out my zip code, as people asking for this are generally just trying to figure out where to build their next store; but the let’s get this over with impulse is still there. I pay for everything with a credit card; once I’ve given a company a zip code once, they should be able to infer my zip code from the card in the future. It would speed up their process and save them money, too.

Posted by: Tino at August 18, 2005 10:58 AM

I don’t consider my zipcode to be terribly private, whereas I will absolutely not give out my phone number or street address.

Also, if I want to use an Amex at Wal-Mart or Walgreens I have to give it up for security purposes. I actually wound up calling Amex and asking them about this because I had a charge denied when I gave an incorrect zipcode.

Posted by: Nicole at August 18, 2005 02:01 PM

I recent bought something over $100 at the Circuit City on my end of town. I was never asked these questions.

I assume this employ was trying to collect customer data for her own personal gane so that she can later use your credit card data combined with your telephone number (which credit card companies offent ask for when asking for confirmation). Great job avoiding her attempts to coax you out of your information through what we call in the computer industry “social engineering”. There have been alot of instances of social engineering as of late, people asking for sensitive information that they do not have the right to have.

You did the right thing, Tino.

Posted by: Bushido Hacks at August 20, 2005 02:39 AM

I think the JBL donut sounds kind of tinny.

Posted by: Shaye at August 23, 2005 02:44 PM

The donut is a bit tinny, particularly if you compare it to the big rectangular Bose thing that is its main competition.

I don’t know whether I’d go as far as ‘tinny’, but it’s not rich, buttery sound either.

Posted by: Tino at August 23, 2005 02:50 PM