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Why you shouldn't be a jerk this Christmas


While the mood in malls can certainly be confrontational this time of year there's no reason for you to add to the trend by being a jerk to cashiers in crowded stores just doing their job. Yes, retailers pricing and sale structure leaves something to be desired. What was 20% off two hours ago may be 40% off now, and that can be frustrating. But let Uncle Macke give you some tips to help you keep your cool. It may even save you some cash.

Case Study: Banana Republic

I spent a full day earlier this week watching this unfold first hand.

I like Banana Republic dress shirts. XL, Slim cut. They fit perfectly, are made of good fabric and have decent prints that can be worn in and out of the office. The necks are cut big but the torso isn’t baggy.  They aren’t top end but they’re good day to day dress shirts.  They normally sell for $80 which is slightly more than they should.

In search of a deal early one morning I saw Banana was running a 50% off sale good until midnight that night. Two hours later the deal was only 40% off. By the time I got to the office to actually buy the shirts the deal was back up to 45% off (sorry Yahoo, but to be fair this was at 6am and I was doing research).

 I loaded my virtual cart with eight shirts.

As you can see my initial “Summary of Charges” totaled $322 for the merchandise. 45%. Not the 50% deepest discount I’d seen but I’m good with 45% off on a nice shirt. It’s Christmas, no need to fight over $3.

All that was left was to confirm the sale and I was done buying dress shirts for at least a month. Except for one problem: My order suddenly didn’t qualify for the “45% off all items” sale being run. My bill was now nearly $600.

The option of calling customer service didn’t make me feel better. The whole point of shopping online was to not have to talk to other human beings. I picked up the phone. Things were in danger of becoming very unpleasant.

Banana Republic put me on hold for 11 minutes. When poor Tanya resuced me for the hold music she told me the reason my gift code didn’t work was because none of the discount codes were working. 40%, 45% and 50% were all impossible to ring up. In effect Banana was flatly lying to every person who went to Gap.com that morning. It was advertising three different sales but was trying to sell product at full-price.

A lesser man would have unleashed an angry screed Tanya's way and it wouldn't have gotten him anywhere. Perhaps it was my calm demeanor that prompted Tanya's offer to ring me up then give me a 40% refund immediately. I thanked her but passed. The 40% discount I would have jumped at two hours ago was now a direct insult. That wasn’t Tanya’s fault. She works for idiots. It was best for everyone concerned for me to simply walk away and cool down.

I made another attempt after dinner. By then I’d had a chance to cool down. I figured I still had a chance to save a couple hundred dollars on shirts I needed for work.  I loaded up my shopping cart, went to check out, same problem.

I called the help line and waited on hold for 15 minutes. Finally a sweet but stressed sounding young woman named Bree thanked me for shopping at Banana Republic and asked how she could help me. She was on script but I could actually hear her wincing in anticipation of my attack.

But I wasn’t angry anymore. I felt bad for Bree. Here’s what you have to know about her and everyone else dealing with customers this time of year: their jobs stink. Bree works for a company that spent that day doing its best to whip customers into a howling rage long before she had a chance to take their call.

With that in mind you’d have to be an enormous jerk to pick on someone working in customer service in retail during Christmas. Seriously. The store associate you’re yelling at isn’t the person who came up with the Gap’s Alice in Wonderland price scheme. Jack Calhoun is the Global President of Banana Republic. It’s his job to make sure customers don’t have a reason to yell at Bree.

Here’s Jack:

Ok, Back to Bree. Beyond Karmic justice being nice to her gave me an ally in my fight for just discounting.

“Folks must be pretty angry by the time they get to talk to you, huh Bree?”

“They try to be nice Mr. Macke but they’re frustrated. It’s a busy time of the year.”

If I knew her last name I’d put Bree up for Beatification or the Congressional Medal of Freedom or something. I may be wrong but I think she liked me as well, if only because I was the first person in three hours who didn’t call her names or tell her she worked for a thieving group of incompetents.

As a general rule I make it a point to always be nice to the person on the front line of the customer service industry. They deserve the kindness and they have the power to give you what you want which is the exit row seat on the plane, a better table a the restaurant or in my case 50% off on 10 dress shirts with a deal on overnight shipping. I bought the two extra shirts just because I liked Bree so much. Maybe as a bonus it would screw up Jack’s margin a little bit for good measure.

That’s how it works.

1. Relax 
2. Realize it's not "Bree's" fault
3.  Be nice, and get your price

Come to think of it that advice works pretty well for life as well.