September 11, 2009 / 9:36 AM / 10 years ago

New book recounts work, customers in "Retail Hell"

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Meet the Piggy Shoppers, the Discount Rats and the Bloodsuckers — all of them customers who shop at fine stores, terrorize the sales staff and now are exposed in a new book, “Retail Hell.”

Author Freeman Hall, after many years working in retail sales, provides an entertaining look at the view from his side of the handbag counter at a Manhattan store he dubs “The Big Fancy.”

As designers show their spring and summer collections for 2010 at New York Fashion Week, hoping to inspire recession-weary consumers back into stores to spend, Hall is ready to bare the customers’ dark, far-less appealing sides.

Among the most gruesome, Hall writes in the book published by Adams Media, is the Piggy Shopper who stampedes through store aisles “eating and drinking. Breaking and ruining. Tossing and dropping.”

The Discount Rat begs and lies, stopping at nothing in search of a bargain, while the Picky Bitches take their time to peruse, and reject, every single item on sale.

Other customers visit nearly every day, looking for companionship but buying nothing. One customer called each evening to ask for handbags be placed on hold but never once appeared in person to buy them.

The Bloodsuckers, meanwhile, are so tedious that the attending sales associate “goes pale, then limp, completely bled dry, falling into a helpless heap of exhaustion in need of B-12 shots and a keg of beer,” he writes.

What makes such clientele so difficult is official store policy emphasizing service, forcing the staff to be civil and nice, no matter how awful the behavior, Hall told Reuters.

“The culture of customer service is a good thing, that companies are trying to give the best service ever, but what happens on the other side of that is the bad people take advantage of it,” Hall said.


The “dirty little secret,” he added, is that at many retail companies, sales are far more valued than customer service, even if the stores claim the opposite.

Take the case of “misfiring,” when a sales associate does not sell enough merchandise and the store pays an hourly rate instead of a commission, he said.

Misfiring three pay periods in a row, no matter how good the customer service, meant getting fired.

“The bottom line is you’re only as good as your last sale. They don’t care that you have 500 clients, and you’ve been with them for 20 years, and you give fantastic customer service, and you’ve won all these awards,” he said. “It’s ‘You’re negative this month, so goodbye.’”

Lurid tales of lousy customers are accompanied by Hall’s stories of learning never to call a handbag a purse and to distinguish among roll bags, drawstring feedbags, totes, barrels, hobos, messengers, duffels and convertible buckets.

That’s not to mention colleagues who steal customers, vindictive managers and morning motivational sales rallies.

Hall started in retail at Macy’s and spent 15 years at Nordstrom’s, all while hoping to write Hollywood screenplays.

His intention in writing “Retail Hell,” he said, was to describe the absurdity of working in retail, not to slam his former employers. “I hope they laugh at it,” he said.

Now, he added, he is one of the nicest customers to be found. “I try really to be the good customer and be light and a smile to whoever is working there,” he said.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Philip Barbara

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