I've come to the conclusion that most retail establishments in the U.S. have a death wish. Why is it that most retailers, particularly the mass marketers that are big chains, seem to hire people who have no interest in selling any of their merchandise to customers?
For years, society has complained about the car salesman. We all have visions of polyester-clothed salesmen who will do anything to avoid selling you and me an automobile.
Well, I've got news for everyone: The car dealers realize that they've got a problem,.|.|.and they seem to be trying to change the way they do business. If you don't believe me, visit a Saturn dealership. It's a revelation.
But the rest of the retail world doesn't even realize they have a problem. Sure, I'm going to get letters from folks who tell me how great their store is, but I have to tell you, they are becoming few and far between.
I can only assume that owners don't care, or that in a much larger sense, the economy is so good the only employees these retailers can find are at the bottom of the barrel.
I have had the misfortune of going into any number of retail stores, you pick the company, and either finding that assistance is nonexistent or completely incompetent—I don't know which is worse. When you're interested in buying a technical product, like a computer, heaven help you if you head into one of the big chain stores full of salespeople who don't know why they are paid to be at the store.
I think our economy is so strong, and we're such a strong-willed group of consumers, that we decide to go ahead blindly with our planned purchases, regardless of what we know about the product. We fool ourselves into thinking we have a mastery of the purchase, whether it's a computer or new electric drill.
I don't know if it's better to wander around some mass merchandiser's store vainly looking for someone to assist you or go ahead and make a purchase without having your questions completely answered.
When you do find someone to help, he or she usually knows less about what you're interested in than you do. Whatever the product, you'd better be ready to throw it away if you ever need service. Whatever you do, don't plan to take it back to where you bought it. I guarantee that the folks in the service department don't have any intention of fixing it. Their assignment is simply to get rid of you as quickly as possible.
Move over, Mr. Car Salesman; you're now way down the list of what's wrong with retailing.
Mr. Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc.