Those of you who know me also know that I work in the retail arena, specifically a book store: one of the big ones. I love books, music, movies, and all the other add-ons that we carry year-round, my particular weakness being mysteries, old movies, and orange-cranberry scones. The smell of new books, the aroma of baking from the café and, most of the time, the music play list are all things that make me hurry from my car at the edge of the parking lot to the green double doors.
There’s a ‘but’, you ask? Ah yes…all good things have a downside and in this case the ‘but’ is that one-month period of time we have named “The Holidays”. This encompasses the week before Thanksgiving and lasts through Super Bowl Weekend. Or so it seems to those of us in Retail (capitalized because Retail becomes a country during these times, with a culture all its own). As Jack Paar (who?) once said, “I kid you not.” Hunger Games has nothing on Retail during the time between feasting on turkey and noshing on chile con queso and chips while yelling at the refs on TV. Even Katniss would be fearful of stepping out the safety of the wind and cold into the square footage filled not only with books, kits, elves that dwell in boxes on shelves until freed by some charitable shopper, and customers whose sole drive is that quest for the items that will cause smiles and “thank-yous” on Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and New Year’s (not forgetting presenting for those whose birthdays fall in this period of celebration). Most of those who enter the venues (in any retail store but I can speak only from my own experience in book and music selling) have lists in hand and only need to be taken to where we can put the item in their hand…and suggest something in addition to (or sometimes in place of, should that item be mythical rather than real…out of print or not on disc) before wishing them a good holiday season (for reasons to be explained in another post). They thank us for our help, wish us the same, and sometimes stop for coffee and a scone before heading to their next stop. Many of these people are regular customers and we know their tastes, their preferences, and often their budgets. They are a joy of the season.
Yes, another one. The optimist in me tries to convince me that I overreact to rudeness at this time of the year, but the fact is, the holiday shopping season can also bring out the worst in shoppers (I can be as guilty as the next person on this, but after engaging in the culture of Retail for over ten years I really try to be patient and kind). These customers are on a hunt of their own, following explicit directions to get “only this book or CD or movie or toy”. They want to know where our computer software for the X-Box 360 is and seemed offended that we don’t carry it. They don’t want to wait for us to order an out of stock item in; they simply can’t understand why we don’t carry it in quantity. Or worse, why we’re out of stock on one of the season’s hottest titles just at the very moment they come in looking for it. Waiting is not in their agenda…even if we’re all busy trying to pare down the lines at the registers, guide other customers to books or games. They interrupt our service to the person we’re with and seem insulted when we request that they wait a moment. Please. We understand their need to be helped. We do. And in my store we do our best to get to them as soon as humanly possible, but customer service is what we try to do best…that’s our quest.
Of course in most cases, and on most days, these people are in the minority. This year, with the shopping season so short and shipping deadlines so early, well…it happens. I wouldn’t be a postal worker at this time of the year for any amount of money. I’ve been in those lines too. What I can do is offer this advice to anyone heading out into the fray:
Make a list. Even if you don’t know the exact title of something, if you have any info at all we can usually help. We can cut your search short for those unavailable items and find you products that will work as well. We can give you gift receipts so the recipient doesn’t end up with three of the same thing. We have gift cards. We want to make your holiday, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice as good as it can be.
Unzip your coat, take off those gloves, try not to get overheated. That can make anyone cranky.
Be patient. Believe it or not, we have to be patient as well, especially when hunting down those elusive items on someone’s list. We want to help but it can take time.
Smile back at us and say thanks.
If you can, donate a book for our annual Book Drive. Giving a gift to someone who might not otherwise get one is a good thing. If it doesn’t fit your budget, we understand. And we’ll still thank you for coming in.
If we offer to order or locate something for you, and the time frame is good, allow us to help. You won’t have to look everywhere for it and end up ordering online.
One last thing. Whether you’re shopping in a big box store or a local business, the money you spend here stays here. It keeps jobs local and that is a present to us all.
Mae would second every word of this. In her travels following Drum she’s held many a job and has seen all of the above. Right now she’s still sitting on that bench in Jackson Square, but that coin on the pavement will lead to a new acquaintance and a new adventure in The Big Easy in just a bit. Right now I’m donning my quiver and arrows and getting ready to enter the Arena.
Happy Friday everyone…and happy Holidays as well.