Kmart Isn't Supposed to be Starbucks
Have you been to Kmart lately? It’s nearly impossible to check out without a cashier playing 20 questions with you.
Here's how my latest trip went.
“Hi, how are you?”
I’m never sure how to answer this question when an associate poses it. If I am not doing well, am I really supposed to say so? Is that really what the associate wants to hear? If not, why force him or her to ask such a question?
“I’m doing well, and you?”
“I’m doing well also. May I have your phone number?”
“My phone number? No, you may not.”
She punched a few buttons, probably putting me on the naughty list.
“Do you have your rewards card? Or would you like to fill out an application for one?”
“No, thank you.”
“Would you like to give a dollar to charity?” (I cannot remember which one.)
“Holy cow, they make you ask a lot of questions, don't they? No, thank you.”
Kmart isn’t the only retailer doing this.
I used to love Office Depot. The one I frequented changed locations recently and the second I entered the new store for the first and only time I’ll ever go there, the twenty questions began. An associate who was wearing a Kip Winger styled headset met me at the door.
“We have paper on sale today. Would you like to pick some up while you are here?”
“No, thank you.”
He spoke into his headset. I couldn’t understand what he said, but you know how you get the feeling that someone is talking about you? Well, I had that feeling. A few seconds later, a woman in a Kip Winger headset greeted me.
“What can I help you find today?”
“I’m just killing a little time.”
I wasn’t really killing time. I was there to pick up some pens, but I didn’t want her to take me by the hand and lead me to the Pen Promised Land while giving me the rundown about which pens were on sale and then listening to her spiel about why I should buy 64 pens when I really only wanted to buy four.
I shook free from her only to be approached a few aisles later by another associate.
I put my hand up. “I don’t need any help, thank you.”
He said something into his headset, presumably telling the troops to back down.
After choosing my pens, the associate who checked me out asked for my personal information, which I declined to offer.
I don’t know how all of this started, but I think two entirely different dynamics are at work and both of them are based on faulty premises, in my opinion.
The first one is the Starbucks Factor. You walk in, a barista greets you with a smile, you hear soft jazz playing in the background, and you feel welcomed – ready for a one-hour vacation from the stresses of the world. You sit down with your coffee, crack open your laptop or a good book and disappear for a while. Who doesn’t enjoy that experience? And since it is so enjoyable, why not try to transport it to every other business?
If I go to Kmart to pick up a pair of socks, I want to be in and out in five minutes or less. The easier Kmart makes that, the more likely I am to return. You don’t need to ask how my day has been, or tell me about what’s on sale, or ask me to join a cause, or anything like that. Just be polite if I approach you, know what you are doing, and we’ll make an exchange.
I'm all for making a human connection with an associate or another customer, even if I'm in a hurry. But it needs to be organic, not contrived.
The second dynamic smacks of desperation. Brick and mortar stores know that online retailers such as Amazon and iTunes collect our email addresses and our previous buying history and then use that information to market to us. So brick and mortar stores believe they have to do the same thing to keep up.
The problem is, I don’t approach online and brick and mortar shopping with the same mindset. When I shop online, I look for the best deal, I browse, I read reviews and I listen to or read samples. I enjoy the experience. When I walk into Kmart, I just want to be finished as quickly as possible.
If Kmart were to set up a table at the front of the store where I could choose to stop and sign up for their e-mail list, then that would be fine. But don’t force me to listen to your sales pitch at the cash register every time I visit the store. And please don’t ask for my personal information, especially within earshot of the people behind me.
I know … I know, somebody will read this and think I’m saying the equivalent of “get off my lawn.” But here’s the thing … I really want to see retail stores in my community succeed. As such, I just want them to understand how their current practices are pushing me away.
Less really is more in this case.
12/7/2013 03:47:47 am
Lee, you have summed up my frustration so well! I just want to pay for my stuff without an inquisition. One of the worst offenders is the Christian book store who will make you feel like an unrepentant pagan for not signing up for their charity.
12/7/2013 03:59:36 am
Yeah, exactly. I don't want to disengage from people, but I also don't want to be solicited nonstop when all I want to do is buy a pair of socks. :)
Oh BOOM! Lee you are spot on. SPOT ON!
12/9/2013 01:30:07 am
Too funny, Sherry. I am close to my tipping point, so I might just have to borrow your line.
I agree and understand both sides of this fence. I also hate playing the questions games when I'm shopping or ready to check out and get to my next appointed stop. So, while a retail call center associate taking orders from folks from all over the country, I understood the frustration on the other end of the line when it was my job to ask the required questions popping up on my computer screen. I tried to be polite as possible when they said "no" a little louder and sterner with each question. Sometimes I made the choice to get reprimanded by "those listening to my calls" and started skipping through the screens of "would you like..." after it was obvious the customer wasn't interested in adding thing else to their order. ~ So as a customer, I try to remember smile, say no thank you, and clearly but politely state how I'd appreciate it if they would skip through the questions and just let me pay for my merchandise.
12/9/2013 01:27:37 am
Good points, Merrie. I too try to remember that associates are just doing what they are being told to do. You can probably tell from the tone of this post that my beef isn't with them, but rather with the executives who make them ask such questions.
12/9/2013 03:27:36 am
The donation thing does bug me. Who chooses their charity in a check out line - right!? Apparently enough people do for them to keep offering it. I don't even think about it -- the answer is no.
12/9/2013 04:01:30 am
Good point. Can't say I have ever chosen a charity in a check out line, but some must or retailers wouldn't continue to ask. I'm not sure it's worth the risk of pushing other customers away, though.
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