Thursday, September 14, 2006


Appropriately on the heels of my Labor Day post, I went shopping at the erstwhile Hecht's (which is now Macy's at lunch the other day. I needed new shoes, and I had a few gift cards which I needed to use before they started expiring.

I spent a little time walking around the shoe department visually inspecting the display shoes. I eventually selected one or two that I was interested in trying on, asked the salesperson to bring out some in my sizes, and started trying them on.

My salesperson was named Rodney, and he was very nice. I had selected two pairs of lace-less black shoes (I have a thing for shoes I can just slip into but which look decent with either dress pants or jeans), and he brought out for me both the lace and non-lace version of the shoes. I gave him thoughtfulness points for that, even though it wasn't what I wanted.

Because I was using gift cards, I wasn't terribly worried about cash. Sure, I didn't intend to buy obscenely expensive shoes and intended to stick to stuff labelled "SALE," but I had a little more flexibility knowing my credit card wouldn't take a hit. In the end I tried on two pairs of Steve Maddens and a few Kenneth Coles, each of which were in the $70 to $90 range. During those times I was waiting for Rodney to get me new shoes, I wandered into the nearby men's clothing section and managed to snag a pair of shorts too.

Eventually, having tried on some six pairs of shoes, I settled on two pairs for purchase. (Normally I would have just bought one pair, but again, gift card in use.) I walked back to the register with both boxes and the pair of shorts I had picked, and waited for Rodney to ring me up.

"Have you decided?" Rodney asked upon his return to the register.

"Sure," I told him. "I'll take both of these pair, please." (That sentence looks and sounds awkward for some reason.)

The total for both shoes came out to something like $160. The look on Rodney's face, however, would have had you believe I was purchasing $3,000 of shoes. "Thank you!" he said. "Thank you!"

"Uhh... you were very helpful, and I appreciate your patience while I tried on all those shoes," I said. Although it sounded like I purchased the shoes just to make him a bigger commission, that wasn't the case -- I just wanted both pair.

"No problem, sir," Rodney responded.

But the look on his face was unchanged. It was as though the commission he was earning off of these shoes were going to pay his rent for the next few months. He seemed very excited about what I thought to be a relatively low-key sale.

I couldn't help feeling bad for him. He was clearly remarkably dependent on the commissions. And unlike a waiter, he really didn't have many options with respect to upselling: how does one steer a customer toward higher-ticket shoes when shoes are so much a matter of personal (and generally inflexible) tastes?

He gave me his card and shook my hand (with both hands!) after the transaction was completed. Perhaps I was his biggest sale of the day. Heck, perhaps I was his first sale of the day. In any event, he was very grateful for the sale and it showed.

Really, for a job like that, I don't think anyone should be so beholden to the whims of the customer. I was going to buy what I was going to buy, and frankly I can't imagine what a kind of help he would have been. The same with clothes or, frankly, almost any sale at that store. The people there are helpful, sure, but they're not going to really influence my decisions. Their compensation is so strongly tied to the whims of the customer, and those whims are so completely out of the salesperson's control. It's really the luck of the draw how much money these guys make.

There's got to be a better way.


MoDigli said...

I agree. I think the dept. stores are taking advantage of their labor pool with this kind of employment.

I've heard that the worst kind of stress is when you are held responsible for things that are completely out of your control.

I would HATE that kind of job! Talk about stress!

Ryan said...

I bought a lot of shit at Filene's (which is now Macy's) the other day, and the sales chick didn't give a flying fuck about what I bought. I hate it when that happens.