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Five games customers play that ought to earn them the death stare but never do January 5, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Breaking the fourth wall, Sheer bloody-mindedness.

Last day at work today til Easter 🙂 top stuff.  No more freezing shop floor, horrid lavender shirts or Covering Shoes.  No more Go And Tidy Down The End, no more trying to keep out of the politics, no more biting my lip every half-hour when Mentioning No Names goes into the shoe cupboard for another can of knockoff Red Bull and expects you to stay focused.  So in celebration of this and acknowledgement of ohgodtheessay that succeeds it, have a list of five games customers on ladieswear departments seem to love playing with the assistants that they wouldn’t dare play anywhere else, and with good reason.

1. The Changing Rooms game

This involves taking all the clothes they can fit on both arms into a changing room, and painstakingly counting them out in front of you (“seven… eight… nine… nine.  Is that too many?”).  This shows conscientiousness, which is all the more irritating when you find eight of the nine items still in the changing rooms next time you check in there, with customer nowhere to be seen as they have headed to the till with one tiny t-shirt that you swear wasn’t among the things they counted out anyway, leaving you with several armfuls of stuff and no free hand to sort them with, wandering round the shop trying to work out where they all came from and whether you can manouvre them back on the rail without breaking your wrists.  The A* hardcore players of this game will stand at the till looking really concerned and say, “I’ve just left the rest of them in there, is that okay?”  This is the cue for everyone else on shop floor to remember they have other things to do and stare meaningfully at the Saturday girl.

2. The “Have you got any cardigans?” game

A personal favourite, this one involves sidling up to you and asking the single question, “Have you got any cardigans/dresses/trousers/leggings?”, and then refusing to answer any more questions about what colour, price range, make or anything else vaguely distinguishing until you personally take them around the entire shop pointing every separate cardigan out, in all sizes, materials and colours.  If you don’t take them around personally they will wander about the shop looking entirely lost, and always just within your line of sight, until you reconsider.

This game is particularly effective because the customer doesn’t even necessarily have to be present.  I have played it over the phone before (by a woman who wanted a cardigan, not v-necked, and not polyester, in size large-ish), and then there is the mother of all cruelties which is sending their husband in to play by proxy.  A few weeks ago a gentleman came in looking very apologetic saying, “My wife was in here last week.  She saw a green top she liked, apparently it was over here somewhere…” (gesturing widely at a collection of three displays in lime green, bottle green and teal respectively).  The nature of the top any further than this, or the size of the woman, he could not say.

3. The Shop Assistant Knows All Game

I hear complaints all the time about customers who assume that because you’re a shop girl, you know nothing.  I’ve rarely had this problem – there’s always one, obviously – but a problem I have had is the customer who assumes that because you’re a shop girl, you know the chest/waist measurements, material composition, maiden name of the first wife of the manufacturer and ethical integrity of each and every single garment on shop floor.  After a while I learned off by heart the conversion from continental shoe sizes, care instruction symbols and some of the symbols on shoes to tell you what they’re made of, and of course being a knitter helps because you know a bit more about a few of the materials because you’ve worked with them yourself.  However, being presented with a hat and asked, “Was this angora ethically farmed?” is somewhat beyond my line of ordinary knowledge.  It’s also not fair to ask a question about a garment while deliberately witholding the information on the label.  Nobody’s that good at guessing.  Even if I can now spot alpaca from thirty paces.

4. The Am I Being Served Yet Game

This one is only ever played in two situations: when I’m wrestling with the hoover and have cables all over the floor, and when I am five minutes away from my lunch break.  The customer will try and get your attention to whatever they would like you to help them with.  If you are hoovering, they will follow you around the shop with an increasingly sour expression until you drop the hoover and attend to them.  If you drop eye contact for a minute they will exclaim loudly to the world in general, “Is anyone serving here?”  Clearly not, at the moment.  If you are raring to go on your lunch break, anything up to a half-dozen of them will play the game together, with five of them following you around shop floor while you serve the sixth, who also expects your undivided attention.  This one is easiest to fall for when fitting shoes, partly because they have you stuck in one small corner of the shop, and partly because not on their life does anyone else want to come and help you.

5. We Would Like To Remind Our Customers That The Store Will Be Closing In Five Minutes’ Time

Shop time works differently to any other time.  If it is your tea break, fifteen minutes is synonymous with twenty-five.  If it’s the last half-hour of the day, that lasts about four times as long.  If a customer hears that they have five minutes left, that means at least ten, and probably closer to fifteen.  Some of them will attempt to placate the nearest shop assistants with, “Don’t worry, we’re going to buy something!” to which the standard response is for everyone to gather by the till and mutter that you couldn’t care less, and that they’re only paying you til half past five anyway.  One glorious couple a few years’ back wandered around the shop explaining to each other and the rest of us that in Costa Rica, it wasn’t like this at all and if you wanted to shop they’d keep the store open for you.  It didn’t go down very well.  Whenever they left a department for the next one, we turned off all the lights in the place they’d just been.  Eventually, they marched down the no longer moving escalator, and left.



1. Jenny - January 6, 2010

I quite like that my job basically requires total lonerism. I send the odd email, polite, nice, but distant, and I get sent a load of interesting things to read, and I send them back again, and someone gives me money. SImples :P.

What I mean by this is, wow, customers can be annoying. And I’ll be much nicer from now on I swear…!! xxx

2. gflawrence - January 6, 2010

Tell me about it. The EWM classic was 5.27pm the whole coachload of japanese tourists huddle in with four words of english between them (Not blue, pink, discount, and an awful lot of handwaving) and a bizarre NEED to unfold every cashmere jumper they can get their hands on (which I’ve spent since three folding and refolding the whole shop through). If you’re unlucky, they also ask for a VAT receipt. Which you then have to explain to them. Even though you don’t speak japanese, and their english was exhausted at “Eex Ess?” and they took it as a personal insult that you struggled to communicate that the sizes go no smaller than Small. And they don’t have their passport.

And my mum’s doing tea at 6pm even though she knows you never get out on time and it does take half an hour to get home and she’ll still be angry that you’re so inconsiderate as to be late. ¬_¬ Everyone who goes into a shop should’ve worked in one at some point, and that’d make everyone *better*.

I have so much respect for people who do that job full time and haven’t gone stir crazy.

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