Retail Chronicles #1: “The customer is NOT always right”

It’s Saturday, the customers are flowing in and have been since unlocking the store doors at ten o’clock.  “I don’t know why these people are so ready to come spend their money on these cheap ass shoes.”  Pat mumbles while briskly walking through the swinging door into the stock room.  They keep the left shoe from each pair of name brand shoes in the stock room to deter theft; so far it was working.

As Pat emerges from the swinging door again, she notices more customers have entered the store.  How do they expect me to do all of this by myself and make sure someone is not stealing?  The frustration of this company is really eating at her today.  Most days she’s good, doesn’t really bother her, but today didn’t seem like one of those days.

Checking a customer out of line, Pat can only think about taking her break.  As soon as Tracy, her manager, clocks in, she will be clocking out.  Pat empties the sales floor.  The short minutes of silence allow her to think.  Being in retail for quite a few years gave her all the tools she needed to excel at a slower paced environment.  She could do this with her eyes closed and still run circles around Tracy.

As the foot traffic in the parking lot starts to pick up, Pat can see Tracy parking her silver Mazda.  “Ah, my relief is here.” she says to herself.

Pat doesn’t really care for Tracy, but no one would ever know by how well they work together.  Pat understands that they are only co-workers and would probably be nothing more.  So the few hours here and there on the days they did work together, made it easier to put on a professional face and be cordial.  Pat didn’t like that Tracy was lazy and always complained.  I hope she came ready to work today.  I don’t have time to hear about her knees and feet hurting.  All that complaining is only gonna make this day worse.  As a customer exits, Tracy enters and scans the store.  “Hey Pat.”  She is always slurping on a large cup of soda.  “Hey Tracy.”

Tracy sits her things down while Pat briskly seeks someone to offer her assistance so she is not stuck in small talk with Tracy.  Once the small crowd clears out, Tracy already looks blown out.

Being two decades Pat’s senior, it wasn’t easy for Pat to relate to the older white woman, but she did.  Tracy was common law married, with only a step-daughter whom she expressed disdain for frequently. She’d been a manager at a couple of large chain department stores and even though Pat had more experience than her, being the black assistant manager was perfectly fine.  Tracy is the old white (general) manager, Pat is the black Assistant and then there’s Becky, the younger (but 5 years older than Pat) white manager; as customers often referred to them.

Pat didn’t want the responsibility of store manager, she’d been there and done that already in her short career in retail sales.  There was nothing satisfying to her about it.  The job simply paid a few more dollars an hour to experience more hell, and Pat wasn’t putting herself in that position again; especially after giving birth to her son.  Plus Pat knew the District Manager wasn’t fond of people with darker shades of skin.  So it probably wouldn’t work out well.

“Have we been this busy all morning?”  Tracy asks Pat.  “Yep since 9:59.  There were customers when I pulled up at 9:30 and they were yanking on the door right up until opening time.”  Pat knew where this line of conversation was going.  “What could possibly be in here that is so important that you have to be here when we get here?”  The complaining was already starting, and with no music to drown her out, Pat tries to tune her out while straightening the sales floor, preparing for its destruction by the next swarm of customers.

As the aisles fill with shoppers, Pat assists the parents in the kids section.  While on her way into the stock room, a customer gets her attention, “Um…Excuse me ma’am…”  Pat already knows the next statement.  People always ask stupid questions and Pat is sure this one is no different.  “There is only one shoe in the box.  We can’t find the other one.”  In a haste, Pat informs the woman that she will have to get the left shoe and hurries to the stock room then straight to the register to give another customer the left shoes for their purchase.  With only herself and Tracy on the clock, Pat can feel impatience and tempers rising in the atmosphere.  She heads back to help the woman and daughter duo.

“Yes ma’am, which shoes did you need lefts for?”  The woman’s daughter is holding two blue boxes of kids K-Swiss.  Pat politely asks for both boxes of shoes in order to verify the sizes and to ensure she returns with the correct shoes when the woman aggressively interrupts her, “No, I don’t need that one, its only this one.”  She attempts to give Pat only one box of shoes.  “Yes ma’am I understand that, but I still need to see this box.”  Hostility is growing in the woman’s voice.  “But I don’t need that one.”  Pat tries to keep her cool.  She should have just taken her break.

“I understand that ma’am but I still have to check the shoes.”  For reasons unknown to Pat, the woman insisted on her getting only one box.  In retail, non-verbal communication 101, this seems likes grounds for a possible theft.  The woman’s attitude is obvious now and Pat’s temperature is on the rise as well.  She assertively, and firmly states “I understand that ma’am, but it’s my job to check the shoes regardless of which shoe you need.” The woman can hear Pat’s attitude as well.  This isn’t going to go smoothly.  This is going exactly where Pat didn’t want to go.

“But this one already has two shoes in it.”  Again, said sternly this time with a hint of sarcasm, “Yes but seeing as though customers come in sometimes and put shoes in boxes thinking that they have a pair, they end up with two right shoes.  Which is why it’s my job to check them.”  Trying to explain to the woman was in vain.  Pat gives up before it really starts to get ugly.  “Ok, I’ll be right back with your shoe.”  She abruptly disappears through the stock door.   Pat tried to continue to sound friendly through her frustration.

Coming from the back, she can hear the customer and another woman discussing her.  “She don’t know me, I’m from New York.  And where I’m from we would have took her ass outside about that attitude.”  the mystery voice co-signs. “I know that’s right.”  Pat almost collides with the woman, at the end of the aisle. “Here you are.”  Damn saying ma’am, she don’t deserve that anymore.  Pat walks off.  “She don’t know me.  She better straighten up, she need this lil job.”  That was it.  The gloves are coming off and Pat doesn’t care.

“You don’t know me either.”  She responds.  Pat bite your tongue, don’t do this today.  The self pep talk isn’t working.  “Who she think she talking to?”  the woman is already there.  “You.  We don’t have to wait to take me outside all I need to do is take my work shirt off.  I mean really though, who fights over a $25 pair of shoes.  Really?”  Pat is trying to make the woman feel foolish which only arouses the situation.  Now all eyes and ears, including Tracy’s (who is cashing out a customer) are tuned in to their tongue wrestling match.   Pat knows she should stop but her mouth can’t seem to stop moving.

“You don’t know me either.  And you can’t threaten my job.  You can’t do nothing to me God won’t allow.”  Throwing God in the mix always stirred the pot.  Pat is now assisting a teenager, and with her back to the irate lady, throws up her hand and shoos the woman. “Don’t bring God into this, he ain’t got nothing to do with it.  And where is your manager, do you know how to shut up?”  That was it.  “God always has something to do with it.  You and nobody else can make me shut up.  I was simply trying to help you”.  The woman is now yelling and can probably be heard outside the store.  She refutes that Pat was helping her; saying Pat had an attitude from the moment she encountered her and snatched the shoes from her child’s hand.  Untrue.  And Pat was not about to let that lie be told on her in front of all these people.  “No I didn’t. That’s a lie.  I would never snatch anything from anyone’s kid, I have 2 of my own.  Why would I do that?.  You were the one insisting that I not do my job.”  The woman is furious and so is Pat.  “Thank God for Georgia, cause it has really changed me.”  Pat can’t help herself “Thank God for Jesus because he really has changed me.”  She can hear other customers in the store agree.

A customer tries to pull Pat from the situation, with a smile and joke about how crazy women are about shoes.  Minutes later, Pat can still hear the other woman now yelling at Tracy.  Tracy is standing quietly behind the counter, simply listening, in an attempt to understand and rectify the situation.  But that doesn’t calm the woman.  Pat slowly eases into the circle of the conversation.  After each accusation, Pat chimes in a defense.  “Are you gonna make your employee shut up.  She is so rude.  I just don’t understand where all the hostility and aggression came from I was simply asking about a shoe.”  Pat rebuttals.  “That is not how it happened and you know it.  You were the aggressive one when I tried to check your shoes to see which lefts you needed.”

As more customers trickle in, Pat doesn’t want people to think of her in that light, so she calms down and walks away.  Once the rude customer leaves, Tracy looks like she needs a vacation.

“I’m about to clock out for my break.”

Letoya “Penz4Lipz” Williams (c)2016.


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