Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chapters at Christmas

Went to Chapters (our only bookstore in this town) this week with my ten
year old because we both love to browse books. But I forgot that in the
Christmas pre-season, Chapters takes on extra staff, and browsing is no
longer possible.

I sent my daughter to the 9-12 year old section, then headed to the
washroom. On my return trip from the washroom to the kid's section, I was
approached 12 times (literally, no exaggeration) by Chapter's staff asking
"Are you finding everything you want, sir?" Each time I crossed to a new
category of books, a new clerk would emerge to ask the exact same question
phrased in the exact same way as I passed through their territory. When I
paused in one section, my eye having been caught by a couple of titles,
the same young man approached me threetimes in the space of about six minutes -- what, he didn't recognize me from
30 seconds earlier? He thought that since I had been standing in the same
spot for over 60 seconds I would now be prepared to admit that I was stuck
and needed his help?

I'm telling you, it was like a bloody feeding frenzie.

The first few times I replied with the usual, "Fine, just browsing, thanks!"
By number 8 this had been abbreviated to "I'm good, thanks!" and then just,
"I'm good!" By number 10, I was feeling positively harassed and may have
said something slightly more curt "Just browsing!" By number 11, I may have
exhibited a certain level of crabbiness. "What is wrong with you people! Get
away fro me! Leave me alone!" The youngish clerk in question turned tail and
literally ran away around the end of the bookstack to the next isle. But, no
sooner had she disappeared round the corner and I was feeling just the
tiniest bit guilty over my outburst when -- unbelievably -- #12 simultaneously
approached me from the other direction: "Are you finding everything you
want, Sir?"

I may have lost it at this point. "Number 12! You are the 12th
person to approach me in as many minutes! You are draining all the joy out
of browsing. You are killing me here! Go AWAY!" Or words to that general
effect. And maybe a shade or two too loud.

The clerk, an older female, looked completely taken aback. Her expression
suggested that she was torn between the impulse to apologize and the urgent
need to call store security. I tried to reign in my temper and muttered
something along the lines of, "Sorry, it's not really your fault, you
couldn't know, but really, you're the 12th clerk to approach me in as many
minutes, and it is just completely exasperating."

To my surprise, a female customer standing reading at the shelf a few feet down, turned and supported
me. "I've noticed the same thing, myself. It really does make one crazy."
(She may have nodded toward me as she said the word, "crazy", but I nevertheless
appreciated the implication that it wasn't just me.)

So the clerk settled on issuing a blanket apology, and I went on my way to
the kid's section, where Tigana was sitting quietly reading the book we had
come to buy. "Dad, is it okay that I was reading here for a couple of

"Sure," I said, "how else would people know if they liked the

"Yeah, only four different clerks have asked me if I needed help
since you went to the washroom, and I got the feeling that they thought I
should just buy the book and leave. Like I shouldn't be here."

And that explains why on-line shopping is looking better to us all the

Though, in the bookstore's defense, upon subsequent reflection, I realized that
it wasn't just poor training that turned all of their sales staff into
one-line Daleks. It's the expectation that Christmas shoppers are buying
books for someone else, and probably DON'T have any idea of where anything
is. Relative X has book Y on their Christmas wish list, so they go to the
book store to buy it, with no thought of browsing, and no clue how to find
anything, never having set foot in the store since the previous holiday
season. Which has to be a sad commentary on the state of the world, as much
as an explanation why it's not working for us 'regulars'. (My 10 year old, I
should note, is better at using the instore terminals for locating books in
the store than the Christmas help were, because she clearly has had WAY more
experience at it than they had. *Sigh*)

In any event, as we finished our purchases and went out to the
parking lot, clerk #12 chased me down and presented me with a $5 gift card.
She had written on it, "A random act of kindness" which I thought was a good
deal more tactful than "placate dangerously disgruntled customer". But I was
mostly embarrassed that she had felt this necessary. So I might have been
just a bit over the top there.

I'm assuming she was sufficiently senior to authorize the disbursement from
company funds, and that "Random Act of Kindness" is an accounting category
under "store security" and not that she personally paid for this, which would make
me feel REALLY guilty. But the gift did cheer me up a bit.

Though we will wait until after the Christmas season to go back and make use of the gift card...

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