Brick and mortar stores.
With the exception of food, and a few forays to the new Target, I don’t visit them very often. I’ve moved almost all of my shopping online.
This past weekend was an exception.
On Saturday, I broke yet another guitar string (it’s an epidemic lately), and when I plowed through my cannibalized packets of strings, I had nothing suitable to replace my broken G. Doh.
Lately, I’ve been ordering gear from a place called Sweetwater, but they can’t help me on weekends.
Being in a bind, I called up the Guitar Center, verified that they were open, then headed over to South Lake Union. Once there, I went inside, pointed at the Slinky 10′s, and proceeded to check out. The cashier rung up my purchase, somewhere around $20, and I promptly whipped out my wallet.
Now, as I said, it’s been awhile since I’ve bought anything non-food in person. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in an actual shopping mall, unless you count Westlake Center, and even then … I just go to catch the Monorail. This being the case, I was caught off-guard with the conversation that followed.
“May I have your name?”, asked the cashier.
“Huh?”, I replied.
“What’s your name?”, he asked again.
“Uh … Rex”, I mumbled.
“What’s your last name?”, he continued.
“Why do you need my name?”, I asked.
“Oh, it’s just for our database”, he replied.
“I don’t have one”, I replied.
“Don’t have a what?”, he shot back.
“A last name”, I said.
“It’s our policy to get both a first and last name”, he protested.
“Well, I still don’t have one”, I answered, at which point I held up my debit card to show him that I did not, in fact, have a last name.
“Oh”, he said.
The cashier began typing on his keyboard, then finally asked, “Denny way?”.
“Yep! That’s it!”, I lied.
I use a memorized set of bullshit information for every in-person purchase I make, typically for grocery store “club cards”, but I’d never given it to the Guitar Center before. How in the hell did they have it? Jesus H. Christ, this country is scary.
About a minute later, he printed up my receipt and handed it to me.
Thank God, it was over.
As I made my way out, I realized that there was one more person between myself and freedom. The receipt checker.
Now, I used to get into arguments non-stop with these people back in the day. They would tell me that they needed to see my receipt, I would tell them to go fuck themselves, and some kind of controversy typically ensued. Receipt checks are completely voluntary in all 50 U.S. states, but stores count on the fact that most Americans don’t know this. Hell, most receipt checkers don’t even know this. I nearly came to blows one time in Fry’s, and another time, a receipt checker at Circuit City called the cops on me. Fortunately, I was long gone before they arrived. If there is anything that U.S. law enforcement is guaranteed not know, it’s the law.
I thought about telling the receipt checker at Guitar Center to fuck off, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I don’t shop in-person enough to care anymore. One of the main reasons I stopped shopping in-person was the receipt checkers, and trust me … they’ve lost a sizable amount of my money over the years because of it. Circuit City, my former nemesis, doesn’t even exist anymore.
I approached the receipt checker, and noticed that he was already talking to someone, so I quietly held out my receipt for him to ogle. Instead of looking at it and waving me through, though, he grabbed it, held it, and continued his conversation with the other guy.
10 seconds passed.
I stood there, and the receipt checker ignored me.
“Uh, I’d kind of like to leave now”, I said eventually, at which point McGruff the Receipt Dog snapped out of it, looked at me, then dutifully marked the receipt, without looking in the bag to make sure that I had what the receipt said I had.
As I proceeded out the door, I couldn’t help but wonder what the purpose of the little exercise had been. It certainly hadn’t prevented shoplifting. All it really did was delay me. More obedience training for the American citizen, I suppose. Stupid human tricks. “Hold the sausage on your nose til I say when, Rover.” Whatever.
As I walked back toward Downtown, an epiphany hit like a ton of bricks. Circuit City, Radio Shack, Borders … many brick and mortars are failing, and now, I knew why. It took me awhile to fully understand because I lacked recent first-hand experience, but now I finally “got it”.
Stores are a hassle. Sure, they always have been, but in recent years they’ve gotten so much worse. Now, the customer is always wrong. It’s adversarial. It’s confrontational. It’s us vs. them. The customer vs. the salesperson. There’s an undertone of hostility throughout. Overcome the customer’s objections to get as much information as you can, upsell as much as you can, and once he’s paid … wrap up the encounter by accusing him of stealing.
As a customer, you now spend your time in the store trying to keep as much information personal, trying to decline the upsells without too much painful awkwardness, and trying to prove that you aren’t a thief.
Where once they were places to make purchases, today, retail stores are a psychological battlefield.
On a previous occasion, I found myself making a time-sensitive purchase in-person, and I went to Best Buy. There, the salesperson pushed the extended warranty scam so hard that I decided to completely forgo the purchase and wait to buy it at Newegg. It was just that bad. I’ve never had such a high-pressure sales pitch in all of my life.
I thought I was safe with guitar strings, and to be honest … my experience wasn’t that bad … but it was still annoying.
Annoying enough that it may very well be a year or more until I step into a retail store again.