The holiday season is officially upon us, and another year of desperately shopping for the perfect gift has begun. With more than 30+ years in retail management, I was asked to offer ideas about how to be a good customer during the hectic holiday season. While I can do that – it’s awfully tempting (and fun) to share the worst in bad holiday shopper behaviors. Instead, I’ll compromise and offer both – the behaviors of the “devilish” customer and the answer to being an “angelic” shopper.
Hopefully there won't be many of you who see yourself in these devilish examples, but if so, just do the opposite and I promise everyone will have a much better experience.
The Holiday Shopper Walks in the Door
I have so many examples of bad customer behaviors, so let’s just start with walking in the door.
Are you a devil? When a bad customer walks into a store, they do things like interrupt the first employee they see even though the associate is clearly helping another customer. The poor associate then tries to answer their question quickly and return to their customer, but our “devils” never have only “one quick question.” Before you know it, the associate is taking the bad customer all around the store doing their shopping while listening to them complain about the lack of staff and high prices.
Be an angel! Put on your patient hat and wait your turn – and the associate will appreciate your kindness and will help you find just what you are looking for.
Are you a devil? Next is the customer who just walked in the door and proceeds to yell "Does anyone work here?" or "Can I get some help over here?” It won't matter if the salesperson runs to this person, they will still say they've been waiting for at least 20 minutes. To add insult to injury, don't be surprised when they want a discount and a favor – a discount because they had to wait and a favor because they lost their coupon while they were waiting.
Be an angel! Remember that this is the busiest shopping time of the year and sales folks are being pulled in all directions. Couple that with lingering staffing issues and that means there may be fewer people there to help. If you come in with some grace and understanding, it will make shopping less stressful for you and store employees.
Let the Shopping Begin
Now let’s move on to bad behaviors once the customer starts shopping. Keep in mind, many of these people haven't shopped at all since last year.
Are you a devil? My “favorite” is the customer who grabs one of everything because they don't want anyone else to get it, even though they have no intention of buying all the merchandise piled sky high in their cart. Which leads me to the next bad behavior – dumping the things you don't want in random places. This is how clothing ends up in the chip aisle.
Be an angel! After you finish your shopping, do a final lap around the store to return the items you don’t want to purchase to the same spot where you found them.
Are you a devil? Bad customers are especially awful when it comes to the fitting rooms. Even though they claim to be shopping for gifts, they just can't pass up a few good deals for themselves. Our bad customer will take a big load in the fitting room and come out with one item while the rest is left in a heap on the floor.
Be an angel! Most fitting areas have a rack outside the individual “rooms” to return unwanted items – making it easier for sales associates to return the clothes to the sales floor and keeping the rooms tidy for the next shopper to try on their selections.
Are you a devil? If you really want to be rude and make other shoppers (and sales associates) uncomfortable, have a huge argument with someone on your phone loudly, discussing personal information that we can't unhear.
Be an angel! This is an easy one – take the call outside the store or just call them back. Sounds like common courtesy to me.
Are you a devil? Isn’t it great when you are out shopping, and you run into someone you haven't seen and stop to chat? Somehow you don't seem to notice that no one can get around you and your friend as you linger in the aisle chatting.
Be an angel! This unexpected meet-up really is a fun happenstance (most of the time) – but simply find a corner to get out of holiday traffic or meet up for a coffee in 30 minutes. Easy-peasy!
Are you a devil? Parents and grandparents can be guilty of bad customer behaviors when they bring a bunch of kids shopping. The most common occurrence is shopping like you don't even have kids with you, paying absolutely no attention to where they are or what they are doing. I’ve often witnessed parents let the kids get their own cart and fill it with whatever they want and then when they are done, they just leave the full cart behind with no intention of putting the items back. And bonus – the kids usually have a screaming fit since they didn't get anything they picked out, so this is a bad idea all the way around. Kids can also break items through carelessness or boredom. Back in the day, stores would make you pay for the things your kids broke while shopping, but stores don't do that anymore. At the very least, tell someone instead of kicking the broken item under a rack.
Be an angel! Me, I love kids. I’ve raised kids. And now I’m a grandmother. But kids – especially multiple kids – rarely like to go shopping. Add the madness of holiday crowds and it is a recipe for disaster. For those who can afford it or have a good support system, leave the kids at home with a babysitter or family member. If that doesn’t work, make sure you are not shopping during traditional nap hours, make sure you have snacks for hungry little ones, and lay down some ground rules before you get out of the car.
It’s Time to Check Out
The bad customer checkout experience used to really make me want to go home and drink, lol!
Are you a devil? With all the coupons, discounts, and deals out there, it can get confusing about when they apply and how they can be used. Bad customers won't give up trying to get something for nothing. These customers are also the ones who get to the register and remember they forgot something and run to get it. oblivious to the massive line behind them. Finally, they return, but now they are emptying out the entire contents of their handbag looking for coupons that they can't find, leading to another 10 minutes searching their phone – to no avail.
Be an angel! Shoppers who sport halos have their written (or digital) list ready and spend time browsing, too, but a lot less. Their coupons are clipped, sales ads are at the ready, and they understand that it’s best not to get in line until they are ready to go.
Are you a devil? When the shopper finally finishes their transaction, they want the sales associate to review the receipt item by item, explain the price, and verify the total. Lastly, they complain that the store doesn’t have free boxes and gift wrap. Be an angel! When you get to the cash register, watch the screen to verify your items are priced correctly or simply ask if coupons or deals will come off at the end of the transaction. And let’s face it, the days of free shirt boxes are long behind us. Check out the Dollar Tree to stock up on gift boxes of all shapes and sizes.
"Wrapping" Up With a Few Devilish Details...
With my tongue in my cheek – and a little cynical silliness – here are a few clear-cut ways to know for sure you are wearing red horns instead of a lovely golden halo this shopping season:
First, when the store associates see your car pull into the parking lot, they turn off the lights and lock the doors.
Next, if you are shopping in a store that you shop in often and the salespeople work on commission, but they all run when they see you coming in.
Finally, if you are standing at the register, and you hear them bickering about whose turn it is to check you out.
Tis the season to be jolly, so take that cheer – and the angel on your shoulder – and make this a pleasant shopping season for you and the sales associates.
Amy Wittman has 30+ years of experience in retail management with luxury, discount, and specialty companies. She has known her husband Steve since middle school; they have three children and four grandchildren. Amy recently decided to take time off to care for her new identical twin granddaughters.