Hi, my name is Unknown. How may I help you today?

I need a new refrigerator, range, range hood, dishwasher, microwave, sink, and kitchen faucet.  I have a credit card in my wallet on standby. The contractor is waiting, tapping his foot, and ready to build our new cabinets. All systems are go for a blast off to new shiny stainless-steel goodness.

Simple process, right?

[Sound of buzzer signaling an incorrect answer.]

So sorry, that was the wrong answer and a trick question. I have learned that wanting to buy new appliances is different from actually buying new appliances. It’s a maze of frustration and disappointing retail experiences, and I’m lost in its high walls.

I’m an idiot. I wasn’t even thinking of a blog post when I went to these stores. I have a bunch of pictures of price tags, but none of the nasty stained stainless steel frig, which looked like an octopus made love to it at night. I have to remember to take pictures. Argh.

First there was Lowes on Sunday. My wife and daughter in tow, I walked around the appliance section for 15 minutes. We opened and closed doors, stuck our heads in ovens, flipped through the Consumer Reports kitchen issue, and generally did everything possible to look like customers wanting to buy new appliances, even considering filling the frig with charcoal from the BBQ grill section and putting a match to it.

There were two Lowes employees standing talking to each other, probably about how their Saturday nights were so rocking, and how helping annoying customers on a Sunday was the worst job ever. I refused to go up and ask them for help. Sorry, that’s not my job. That’s their job, which clearly they were under-qualified for.

Second up was Pacific Sales, which I must admit had the cleanest and best layout of any of the appliance stores I’ve been to this week. When the power went out in the store upon our arrival, I should have taken that as a bad sign from the shopping gods. And yet, there were hardly any customers in the store, which I noticed when the lights came back on. A perfect time to shop. Wrong. I saw a lot of employees talking to each other, which makes me think they were buying appliances from each other.

So, after about 20 minutes of confirming our Harry Potter invisibility cloaks worked, and failing to steal a range hood by hiding it in my frayed Abercrombie shorts, we left Pacific Sales, appliance-less.

Last on the list was our sorry experience at Sears. Again, very few customers and two employees standing around talking to each other. And again we left. But I did write Sears about the experience and told them they need to clean house by trimming the herd of employees who don’t help customers. And they need to clean the house because the store was filthy. Layers of grimy fingerprints coated the stainless steel refrigerators.

Several frigs were broken, like the $3K Kenmore that puked the ice-maker onto the floor when I opened the door, making a loud plastic BANG, which delighted my daughter as she was no longer the only family member to drop something in a retail store, she having a wee habit of knocking stuff over when we shop. I’m now in the “dropping noisy stuff on linoleum floors” club. Yay, I made it.

My grandfather took me to Sears when I was young. I loved it. He bought Craftsman tools. I buy Craftsman tools. My mother-in-law worked there for years. I bought a TV there, and Kenmore appliances. But this is not the same Sears. This is the Sears filled with apathetic  employees who will have poor work habits (apologies to the hard-working employees of Sears and mixing them with the ones soiling the company’s name and heritage). It’s not my grandfather’s Sears anymore.

This car is a classic.

These experiences made me think of the following: Retail stores are dead, but just don’t know it, with exceptions of course, such as women’s clothing and shoes, which my wife refuses to buy off the Internet. I can buy clothing and shoes off the Internet. In fact, I prefer it. So wait and watch as Sears and Pacific Sales go under. However, stores like Lowes will probably survive because it’s hard to FedEx 2×4’s and keep prices low.

Leaving the mall where numerous stores were papered up (bye bye Sony store), my daughter and wife had to listen to me rant the entire way home. The problem may have just been me and the fact I look scary with a paper bag over my head.

I worked in retail for over 15 years. And I did well, always a top salesman. If a customer was in the store, he or she was greeted and approached. If there was time to lean, there was time to clean. And we had managers who were crazy about these rules, not shying away from bootcamp-like tactics to make us feel lower than low if we did a poor job or goofed off. I wish we could dig up a few of these Ford Maverick-driving, divorced three times, politically incorrect, chain-smoking psychopaths, and unleash them in retail stores across the country.

The service would be a lot better and people wouldn’t depend on the Internet for product information. And best of all, true, knowledgeable sales people would make a comeback. But we’d probably still order off of the Internet to save a few bucks.

So, change is coming. What will the future of retail stores be? Will they be satellite locations for Amazon where we go to pick up our purchases? I don’t know. But if retail stores continue to provide zero service, they’re doomed. And that is kind of sad.

There won’t be stores and we’ll all be ordering solely from pictures on our computer screen, which in a way is similar to how they ordered products many years ago from catalogs, like the Sears Catalog, which makes me wonder if we’ve advanced. Internet ordering is more convenient and faster, but is it that fundamentally different from 100 years ago and a catalog?  I’ll think about this as I search appliances on the Internet tonight.


10 thoughts on “Hi, my name is Unknown. How may I help you today?

  1. We just went through this, too. To avoid frustration we picked the fridge and range from the internet and just went into the store to make the purchase. It was a comedy of errors. We went to Lowes and they kept telling us they didn’t carry what we wanted, even though it was on their website. I had to give my husband the SKU number over the phone and they finally found it. The actual sale took 2 employees and they screwed up and gave us the promotional discount twice. I normally would have brought this to the attention of the store, but the service was SO poor that I figured we deserved they extra $300 off. Now the delivery process has been a nightmare. What happened to customer service???

    • Stacey,

      Yikes. Retail isn’t what it used to be. You earned that extra discount – and more. How come you didn’t post some pictures on your blog? Great idea for a post, huh?


  2. Great post UC!! Sorry you had such a crappy shopping experience though. This just makes one wonder why, with unemployment running amuck across the nation, the employed sales staff would behave this way? But, I suppose poor management is much of the cause as you have so eloquently mentioned. Love your idea of “digging up a few of these Ford Maverick-driving, divorced three times, politically incorrect, chain-smoking psychopaths, and unleash them in retail stores across the country.” Mavericks and Pintos were great cars!!

    • Larry,

      Nice to hear from you again and get a male perspective. I hadn’t thought about the unemployment angle, but you’re right. I would also think that Sears and other stores could be more picky about who they staff their stores with. I guess these are McJobs without the burgers.

      I agree with you about the Maverick. And I learned to drive in a Pinto station wagon in the snow. I had a blast. But the small Pinto was a rolling fire bomb of death. We have to agree to disagree on that one.


  3. I though poor customer service was just where I live! Glad you are feeling well enough to write thoughtful pieces like this one.

    Hey, I had the gross toe surgery — four hammertoes repaired. Pins sticking out the ends and all! I’ll see if I can remember how to attach a photo.

    • MAL,

      Poor customer service is all over the place, not just TX. We’re all our own sales people with a computer and a link to information on the Internet.

      Glad you had your gross surgery. Please find a way to attach the photo. I want people to be horrified when they see the picture. Pour ketchup on them or something red.


  4. I feel your pain. Usually. However today we happened to have the best experience at Home Depot in the paint department. An employee actually walked up to us (gasp!) and proceeded to educate us beyond what we even knew to ask about a cabinet painting product we were researching. (just bought a house and want the cabinets darker – we are not tackling changing the counters. Yet.). We felt the painting customer service gods were smiling on us today. Usually home improvement gods pretty much suck.

    • Liz,

      I have to say I agree with you about Home Depot’s paint dept. It’s usually the only section of the store where I get good help. And ultra premium Behr paint is awesome. I’m going to use it in our kitchen.

      It’s funny how thrilled we are when we get helped at a store. It should be the norm, not the exception.


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