Sunday, August 23, 2009

We're talking beads and paper and silk flowers... right?

At our store, we start making closing announcements 20 minutes prior to lock-the-doors time. Follow-ups are done every 5 minutes after that.

"Good evening, (store name) customers. The time is now 8:40 (or :45, or :50), and (store name) will closing in 20 (or 15, or 10) minutes. Please make your final selections and bring them to the front of the store for purchase. Thank you, as always, for shopping at (store name)."

We also turn off the in-store mood music. A subtle reinforcement that it's time to saddle up and ride on out.

At 5-minutes-to-close, the content changes: "Attention, customers. The time is now 8:55, and we are closing in 5 minutes. Please bring your purchases to the front checkouts. Thank you."

Nevertheless, some folks' ears are just tuned out to these simple and informative statements. They browse, they wander, they chat -- floating along in their "everyone but me" orbit. Sometimes they're joined by the let's-walk-in-at-8:55PM-and-take-our-sweet-time set. Even "the time is 9:00, and we are closed" doesn't put a spring in their step. I'm here 'til I'm done, baby, and that's how it is. I'm shopping for essentials that won't wait until tomorrow.

Some night we really have to try the bartender's standby: "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

On the other hand, morning brings the doorbusters -- especially on Sundays. They'll huddle up around the door, some with hands cupped against the window, maybe 10 or 15 minutes ahead of opening. They must have us confused with the ToysRUs that has exactly two copies of the season's hottest, must-have, video game. I can't imagine the behavior exhibited if we actually sold something vital to life -- say, H1N1 vaccine, or defibrillators, or even food.

Too much time on our hands, folks. Too much time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Coupons?

Unless I missed it in the paper, the U.S. Constitution hasn't been amended to include the right to receive coupons from retail stores. But people sure act like it was uppermost in the minds of the Founding Fathers.

First, a little background: my employer, like many retailers, puts a sales flyer in the Sunday papers. In general, it comes out every other week and includes a coupon good for 40% off one regularly-priced item. The coupon is good for 7 days (always a Sunday thru a Saturday) and is printed with its "valid" dates and a list of items it can't be used on. Oh yeah, and there's this written caveat: "one coupon per customer per day." Sometimes the flyer has a bonus coupon of some sort -- say, an extra 25% off on picture frames.

Another savings opportunity presents itself at the checkout line. It's called a "bounce-back" coupon. One prints out with the receipt, and it's valid for the following calendar week.

Pretty straightforward, right? Not exactly rocket science? I used to think so. The following events are all true and happened to me within a 2-hour period:

LadyA walked up to the register with two small children and their elderly grandfather. She put down three packages of stickers ($1.49 each) and a Sunday paper coupon. I rang them up, took her cash, and handed out her bounce-back.

She then had Child#1 lay five sheets of paper (89 cents each) and another Sunday coupon on the counter. I decided not to argue the finer points of "one customer." LadyA handed me the cash; I gave her the change and receipt. I crumpled up the bounce-back and threw it in my wastebasket. She grumbled something under her breath to Grandfather.

Then Child#2 placed an item ($1.99) on the counter with yet one more Sunday coupon. I rang it up and LadyA handed me the cash. I gave her the change and receipt and tossed the bounce-back. Another grumble, and then:

"Why are you throwing those away? They're my coupons!"

"Because that's not the intention of the coupons. It's one per customer."

"There are four of us here. We are all customers."

"You're the one paying for all of these items. You all count as one customer."

More grumbling and a huddle with Grandfather. Then he came up to the counter with a poster board ($1.49) and, yes, Sunday coupon #4. (Did you raid all your neighbors' doorsteps and swipe the flyers???) LadyA put the cash in his hand, then he passed it to me.

And I just had to go there. Handed him the receipt and threw away the bounce-back. And the beast was unleashed.

"You can't do that! He's a customer!"

"You gave him the money, and you're abusing the system. This was all *one* purchase. I gave you the courtesy of accepting the additional coupons."

"I will never shop here ever again." I miss her already.

And along comes Mrs. B. She's got 24 or 25 assorted skeins of yarn and several large picture frames. She hands me our competitor's sales flyer for the week.

"You price match, right? They've got the yarn on sale this week."

"We do, as long as it's the same brand and variety." (Pause to look it over.) "It is. You'll get 60 cents off on each of these."

I go through the process of individually overriding the price on each skein. It's slow and a pain, but she's a good shopper who just saved 12 bucks on yarn. And I ring up the frames.

Then she hands me our flyer, and, "I want to use this, too." She points to the "Teacher Appreciation" 15%-off-your-total-purchase coupon. The "my name" and "my school's name" spaces are blank.

"You didn't fill this out."

"No, I didn't."

"Do you have a teacher I.D.?"

"It doesn't say I have to." (Not, "It's summer and I don't have it with me" or "My school doesn't issue them." We're going to argue the legalese.)

"It's not printed there, but that's the idea. It's back-to-school time, and we're trying to help teachers get their classrooms ready."

"Well, it's not in writing."

"Well, I'm not taking it without proof."

She skulked away with her yarn (in muted, very grown-up colors -- not the bright primaries you'd use for student art projects) and over-the-sofa frames. That was fun.

Then, Picture Man came up with ten heavy, oversized frames.

"These are on sale. Do these qualify for the extra 25% off coupon?

"You bet. It's a nice deal."

I rang them up. We stood and looked at each other.

"I just need your coupon to scan."

"I don't have one. You can't just scan something?"

"No, you actually have to give me a coupon."

"You can't just take out another one and scan it?"

"I can't. Believe it or not, they actually count how many we collect and compare that to how many were scanned."

He stared. I stared back. He walked out, minus frames.

Finally, a little more insider info: Whenever there's a Sunday flyer ad, we display a copy at the store entrance. It's dry-mounted to piece of foam core poster board (24x36) and sits on an easel.

We used to have a bin next to the easel. It had "extra" copies of the flyer. About a year ago, the company stopped the Extra Flyer hand-out. Why? Because people would grab 10 flyers, rip out the coupons, and leave the rest as trash all over the store. So now we're on the Display Only system.

Three times last night -- that's three -- someone walked up to me holding the poster boarded display ad and asked:

"Do you have more of these?"

"No, we just get the one to display."

"I didn't bring my coupon. Can't you just scan this thing?"

At least nobody's tried to peel the ad off the board. But it's early yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's Official... Xmas in August

Oh dear.

Christmas ribbon has made its 2009 inaugural appearance at the store.

Forget summer, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving.

It's officially The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mrs. Reaper, I presume?

I like my job. The people I work with are funny, and I'm only there part-time, so the whole thing is fairly relaxed. I'm fairly sure I give off a laid-back and jolly sort of vibe. We're selling craft supplies, for cryin' out loud. But I guess you never know.

An extremely thin woman came through my checkout line today. That was the first thing I noticed --that she was painfully, scary, just-a-bit-of-pale-skin-stretched-over-bones, this-is-anorexia-or-cocaine-or-something, Stick Thin. And she was sort of a here-but-not-here personality. Hey, it's arts and crafts. We do eccentric.

She put down a melting pot for chocolate and three small cardboard storage boxes. I scanned and bagged everything, and told her the total -- $29 and change. She stared at me and uttered a cold, flat, "No."

"I'm sorry?"

"I have a coupon."

"Oh, okay. No problem."

Her skeletal fingers slowly rummaged through her wallet. After several false alarms, the coupon was finally located and handed over.

Icicle Voice continued, "I told you I had one. I wrote 'chocolate pot' at the top."


Scanned the coupon, which brought the total down to $20.49, or something. I announced the adjusted total, and again we experienced The Search -- this time for cash. It was like watching two spiders crawl over the wallet. Three $5's and a $1 were produced, and finally another $5 came out of hiding. I counted back the change and was rolling into my patented "Here's a coupon for next week; have a nice evening" rap, when Madame Skeletor stopped me cold.

"You look like you can barely stand to be here. Clearly you hate it. You should find a different job."

I was so wrapped up in mentally replaying the assessment that I didn't even notice she'd walked out without her shopping bags. I set them aside, picked up some other work, and played a few more quiet rounds of Sociopath-or-Pharmaceutical-Side-Effect? She returned a few minutes later -- shot me the evil eye, collected the bags, and was back out the door.

Mom always told me, "It takes all kinds." Hopefully, there's only one of that variety.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Halloween Costumes -- Do's and DON'Ts

To Paint or Not To Paint?

It's a reasonable question if you're talking about a wooden chair, or a wall, or a house. But the human body? Probably best to leave it paint-free.

I was reminded of this recently, as the Halloween displays have started popping up in the store. Seeing the gargoyles and ghouls got me to reflecting about last year and one of my notable retail moments.

I was working on Halloween night, when a 20-something guy happened into the store. He asked where he could find the spray paint. I pointed him in the right direction (Aisle 8, left-hand side) and didn't think much more about it. He came back to the service desk a few minutes later, spray cans in hand:

"How many of these do you think it would take to cover me?"

"Sorry... what?"

"How many cans of paint do I need to cover myself with it?"

"Uhhhhhhhhh... you want to spray paint yourself?"

"Yeh. I'm going to a Halloween party, and I want to paint myself. I'm gonna go as a black dude."

Okay, which issue to address first: the fact that covering oneself -- including the face -- with an aerosol-propelled, latex pigment probably ain't the best choice for one's physical health? Or, the fact that going to a party as a "black dude" is a moronic choice that could set oneself up for a well-deserved beating? I chose the first path, more or less:

"I really wouldn't use this on your skin. It can't be good for you."

"Ahhhhhhh, I'm not worried about it. It probably comes off in the shower."

I stressed several more times that his plan, "even if you do close your eyes first", was not the way to go. He still bought two cans and was off into the night. I never saw him on the news or in the local paper. Presumably he wasn't poisoned or soundly thrashed.

But Halloween doesn't claim sole ownership of Stupid Self-Painting Plans:

Guess what happened this past 4th of July? A woman came in looking for liquid paint in Day-Glo colors. Why? She was going to paint her eyelashes before going to the local fireworks. Yes, the eyelashes that are a scant millimeter from your eyeballs. Yes, the eyeballs that give you the gift of sight and hurt like hell if one unpainted eyelash touches them.

Another can't-miss stroke of genius. She hasn't come back wielding a white cane... yet.