I’d like to be serious for a minute. Can we talk, really talk? Well obviously not because you are reading this and I have already finished writing it, however if I could have your full attention for a minute or two that would be great. I would like to discuss a very serious condition that affects millions of people, PTRSD. This is an annually occurring phenomenon for the most part though relatively minor cases can pop up year round, symptoms include short temper, chronic exhaustion, head aches, anxiety and loss of faith in humanity. Post Traumatic Retail Service Disorder, literally sucks the joy from December like a leech.
My first job was Christmas staff at Winning Spirit in Richmond Centre Mall, the Vancouver Canucks team store that specialized in home team merchandise for all our local teams and the more popular visiting teams. In the early 1990’s the Starter jacket trend was sucking up disposable income at the highest rate possible and it was hard to keep shelves stocked, many items never made it to the shelves as they were sold out of the box as soon as they were opened. It was this year, at 15 years old, that I first contracted a case of PTRSD. Due to my youthful appearance, to one middle aged lady it was obvious that I was in charge and should have fully stocked shelves on a Sunday, the fact that our last shipment had arrived Friday and the store had been incredibly busy all weekend did not factor in to her thoughts. I could not produce a Pavel Bure jersey in the correct size. I would have gladly produced such a thing as it would have been an expensive item that would make me look great on our sales figures. I was not trying to be counter productive the item simply did not exist where I could lay my offended and terrified hands on it. The woman was frustrated searching for this item and her frustration was exploding at a 15 year old boy making minimum wage in a small and busy store. There I was, being berated for something I could not control infront of dozens of strangers for the least amount of money legally possible. I was rescued by the manager, at 40 plus hours a week for not much more money she was having none of it and the customer was firmly urged to consider a gift certificate or another store. I spent many more Decembers working retail, my last I was the manager and it seemed I had come full circle by 2001, my final retail year, I learned to deal with the irate, the theives, the ignorant, the careless, the bullies, and every other nightmare customer that causes PTRSD.
This story is common place. Stores get busy this time of year, until mid January when all the exchanges and returns are done anyone in a store should expect limited selection, especially since restocking is slow between Christmas and New Years, that’s the way supply chains work, retail is seven days a week, ware houses and shipping companies simply are not. That person with the name tag is not at fault, they are not hiding anything to screw with you, they most likely want you to be in and out and happy in a short a time as possible, they gain nothing from withholding, in fact even non-commission sales are tracked at most stores, it may only mean they get to make minimum wage for a while longer but it keeps food on the table and a roof over head. If you are unable to find your item you have to accept that the fault is on you for not getting to it sooner.
This isn’t meant to be a rant on the one side of the issue. Shopping at peak season is awful, the parking, the crowds, the traffic, the schtick over the store’s promotional program and surveys, the mess left behind by other shoppers that over whelms the staff and causes difficulty locating anything. Just last week (yep I was shopping that late) I was in an Old Navy that looked looted, it could have been a set piece for Walking Dead if the mass of humanity milling about had stopped by a Halloween sale first. The staff at that particular store was not lazy just over whelmed, helping a customer becomes like chain smoking and tidying up leads to customer neglect which creases badly behaved customers that have cause to be even more frustrated because they are ignored. It is unreasonable to expect customers to be able to refold and restock merchandise properly, retail veterans may be able to but in general it is an unlearned skill the key to good customer behaviour is not to go through the shelves and racks like a sharknado.
Over the years I have stopped several clerks mid “Do you know about our…” Speech with “No thank you, let’s just get me out of the line and the others through.” I am not trying to be curt just low maintenance, I don’t want to be there anymore than they want to see a line stretching to the back wall, I try to be the customer that I wanted to have, in and out with what I came for, if it is sold out or unavailable that’s on me, no staff member of any store is trying to ruin my day, I do not need to ruin their’s or cause them to do extra work after closing time.
The odds that the person helping you in the store or working the register is making a fortune for being there are the kind of odds that got C3-PO deactivated by Han Solo, astronomical, even if it is the owner of the store. They don’t need to venom and ignorance that comes at them daily to survive, in fact they have to find time to go be customers too and if they go out after enough exposure to badly behaved customers they become badly behaved customers, there in lies the rub of PTRSD, it is contagious. You may not be making much more income than them but in a majority of cases you can not legally be making less either and no one is paid enough to be berated, over worked and under appreciate, think on that for a minute and apply it to your own vocation. Really, pause and think hard, I’ll wait right here. That make you feel like spreading joy and peace as the season is intended or do you want to kick something? How long would your fuse be before you started thinking Mallrats had a point “The customer is always an asshole.”
Here is my desire as I close this out. Many years ago I heard a co-worker exclaim as customers left the store a very poignant farewell. I bid you all to take it with you, not only in your post Christmas shopping but all year long. “Play nice in the mall!”