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  • Lance Mannion
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The local Office Max always has their clerks ask for a zip code at checkout. This quickly grew tiresome as I live a mile away from the mall. I have since begun answering 'no' when they ask and then quickly telling the clerk that I mean no personal offence but that it's none of corporate Office Max's business. They usually shrug.
Doing my part:)


Some years back, I went to a weekly meditation group that met on Sunday evenings in a wicker store in Berkeley. It was so pleasant to turn those comfortable chairs into a circle and do our thing and I was grateful for the space. So when I heard that the owner wanted to go to a retreat but couldn't pull together enough staff to keep the store open all week, I offered to give her a day for free. She accepted immediately and plopped a pile of four books into my arms. "Read these - mainly the bookmarked sections, but it would be nice if you could sort of skim the rest and then let's meet on Thursday to talk through the approach you need to take with customers." - Okay, I was a little surprised at the speed-read seminar assignment but I took a dive into the books nonetheless and was immediately and completely appalled by every single notion in those tomes, all of which you can boil down to this: "People have no idea what they want. You've got x number of minutes to make them believe they want something. Here's how to scope out fast which thing is the most likely thing to force on them. If they leave without buying you are a failure."

The owner preferred missing the retreat to having me fill in for 7 hours on a Tuesday in a conscientious objector status to the hard-sell-to-morons school of retail.


And sometimes you can barely find the clerk to pay for an item because the cash register is almost surrounded with last-minute impulse buys, everything from candy to batteries. When the kids were little once, I was in the corner store with them and my stock excuse for not getting any of this junk for them was to keep on saying "sorry, we can't afford it" everytime they asked for something. So you can probably anticipate what happened -- this little old man came up and silently pressed a dollar bill into my hand. Well, I was so embarrassed that I left without buying anything at all.
I asked the clerk about him the next time I was in and he said the man was a little strange, but well-meaning. But I tell you, it was the last time I used the "can't afford it" excuse in earshot of anyone else. I just hope he felt he had helped out my poor poor little kids...


Lance, is that Blockbuster (or whatever chain) physically delayed you, or that they had a sign by the cash register?

Because if it's a sign, somehow I think you've placed a value judgment here.


What I really, really loathe are the groceries (some do this) where, as you're checking out, the checker HAS to ask you (I presume: or risk losing his/her job) whether you want their "Bonus Buy" or somesuch.

it's never ever something I want. And I feel intruded upon. And I know they're playing on my kind nature, where it's hard for me to say no to a request. And that I feel rude telling the cashier "no." It's all a game to break my will and make me buy.

Once I figured that out, saying "No" got a lot easier. But why make the poor cashiers ask every single dang customer? It seems kind of cruel when you're not making a lot of money at your job to also have to shill Fruit Roll-Ups or some dang thing.

I also object to being asked for a phone number, e-mail address. Zip code I'm not so troubled about, simply because I know there's no way for me to be spammed via Zip code. (And I often shop far from home, so giving a non-local Zip code generates cognitive dissonance in the cashier.)


"People have no idea what they want."

This, unfortunately, is often true. I work in a coffee shop, and my basic assumption is that my job is to get people out of there happy enough with us that they want to come back and spend money with us again (and hopefully tip, because that buys my gas and groceries).

A lot of people come in, know what they want and need to get their drink and get on to work. Other people wander in and kind of look at the menu board, seemingly dazed and usually with some of the hurried people behind them. They came in and got in line, so I think I'm safe in assuming they want to buy something, but a lot of times I have to push them towards something (especially when they want to be by the register, maybe talking to me which means I can't give them a quick "do you need a minute to think?" and help the next person).

I'm not a fan of the hard sell--and respond badly to it myself--but while you may walk in knowing exactly what you want, a lot of the public does not. Just a little something to keep in mind. Maybe I should go all deep and comment on the consumer mindset a la "Lost In the Supermarket" here (they want something and don't know what it is), but for now I just try to deal with it pragmatically and help the people who walk in the door, whether they know what they want or not.

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