28 February 2012

Public Assistance

I spend so much time running in and out of stores that it has literally become a sport. Flats or sneakers have become standard footwear. The amount of time I spend in shops has caused me to assess the role my appearance plays in the level of customer service I receive during my visits.

Although outward appearance plays a major role in how one is perceived by sales associates, the issue of prejudice arises when that perception influences associates’ reception of guests into a store. I will never forget one instance last spring when I visited an upscale department store in Philadelphia (its 1818 Chestnut Street address positions it in close proximity to the refined Rittenhouse area). I had just left Tiffany’s wearing heels and a little black dress, and began to walk west on Chestnut Street towards the store in question. Upon entering, my handsome dinner date and I were greeted with a massive amount of enthusiasm by every single sales associate we encountered in every department. On this shopping trip I did not once have to ask for assistance; it was given with no strings attached. Subsequent visits mirrored this one as pre-dinner-date browsing became a ritual.

One afternoon I made the “mistake” of field-tripping to this store in activewear during one of my thirty-block shopping runs. Only one sales associate was willing to afford me his time. Unfortunately I could not take him up on his offer - he worked in the men’s department. I passed through on my way to women’s. Even more unfortunate was the fact that no employee in the women’s department was willing to greet, smile or look at me. Perhaps the store in question does not service women dressed in trainers, I thought. A middle-aged associate upon my approach conducted herself no differently than if a body of warm air had just positioned itself in close proximity. When I inquired after a selection of scarves she, with a countenance one step shy of complete disregard, curtly informed me the full assortment was on display. Needless to say she did not offer any type of input as to my choosing a multi-hundred dollar scarf. I might as well have been selecting paper towels from amongst various brands on a grocery store shelf. Although the moment did not escalate to the scene in Pretty Woman where Vivian Ward (played by Julia Roberts) was disrespectfully treated on her first Rodeo Drive shopping trip, I vowed to never again give my business to this undeserving establishment.

At that moment I became aware that I would have been better received at any grocery store than I had just been received at this particular shop. Crossly I descended the beautiful marble steps of the interior and emerged under the majestic blue awning onto the concrete. I bounded northwestward to Trader Joe’s where Hawaiian-shirt-wearing associates have a wonderful way of treating customers like holidaymakers on an island resort, and who unlike employees of most stores I frequent warm my soul more than any overpriced scarf ever could.



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