May 7, 2010


Last night at work a young woman wearing a bright pink t-shirt with the word "BYOTCH" emblazoned on the back tried to return an expensive hardcover book - a cookbook, design book, or gardening book - without a receipt. I asked why she wanted to return it and she immediately got defensive. I explained that because she didn't have a receipt I would need to have something to go to my manager with, but she interrupted me to ask why she just couldn't get a store credit, and when I finished what I'd begun to say, she turned on her heels and stomped out of the store.

My first impulse was to blame myself for doing something wrong, but then I thought about it for a moment, realized I had done nothing rude, and that in fact, her actions had been suspicious. Without a receipt there's no way to know where she bought the book...where somebody bought the book for her...or if the book had been bought at all. After several years spent listening to irate taxpapers when I worked for the City of Dallas as manager in two tax collection areas, I learned that for many people, the best defense is a strong offense. In other words, when attempting to pull a fast one, some people become intimidating human bulldozers and try to put the other side on the defensive in order to get their - wrong - way. In the end I decided that's what the byotch had tried to do with me.

The byotch wasn't the only horrendous customer of the week. There was also a woman I'm convinced is some sort of scam artist. She came to me with a bagful of books and a receipt. She looked familiar and I realized I'd been her cashier the first time out - and that she'd had some sort of story then as well. She was outside of the 14-day return policy, and when I asked why she was returning five books, she said, "I found them cheaper on e-Bay." Way to go, lady. At least come up with a story guaranteed not to insult me and my employer.

I called a manager up front to deal with her, and eventually she got what she wanted...mostly...even though it would have been well within the manager's rights to just say no. In a retail environment "the customer is always right" must always be considered, even when we know they're not. Although outside of the return period, the manager allowed her a partial return. Later in the evening I heard the manager on the phone with the woman; her new story was that there was a missing book that she hadn't gotten "credit" for. The manager could not find the "missing" book. I believe there was no such book to be found, that she didn't get everything she wanted earlier, and was now trying another tact to screw the store. I told the manager of my suspicions and she detailed the entire episode in her notes that are presumably shared upon high.

Sidebar: She was brazen, but in a different way from those teachers who use their educator cards to buy personal items, then lie straight to my face when I remind them of our "classroom only" policy. In those instances as well, I can only question them about the policy without in any way being accusatory, but instead try to get them to own up to what's right. See, when they sign up for the educator's card they are told how they can use it - 20% discount on items for the classroom except during teacher appreciation periods when they get a 25% personal discount - but we aren't allowed to enforce the policy. So when teachers' kids hand me a stack of books clearly meant for them, then mom or dad whips out their educator card, I politely ask if the books are for classroom use. I don't tell them to put away their card since they're violating the policy, but hope that forcing them to lie to me will make them feel bad enough to not do it again.

Why was I so suspicious about this woman? Intuition. Something about her...and her stories...just wasn't right. And it reminded me of what happened about a year ago. I'd seen a woman walk from one side of the store to the other holding a large, coffee-table sized book. For some reason I felt I needed to keep watching her, and a few moments later as she walked down the middle aisle toward the exit, I didn't see the book. Yes, she could have put it down somewhere, but I grabbed a manager and told her I thought the woman was trying to steal, and as soon as I watched her side-step the walk-through security device by the front exit, I knew I was right. Texas law is very bizarre as regards shop-lifters and how stores are allowed to deal with them, so the best the manager could do was write down her car's license plate number, report it, and share it, along with a still photo made out of security tapes, with other B&N's in our district. The next weekend I heard they'd caught her at another store before she could steal again.

I don't know why I knew the woman last year was a thief...but I did. Just as I know the woman last night was a scam artist...and that the angry byotch's behavior wasn't kosher either. Ah, the seedy side to retail.



Blythe said...

At my store we'll occasionally get people who switch tags (either the whole tag, or just the sticker). I actually get a huge adrenalin rush out of busting them. Not all of them are on the offensive, but many are. It really is amazing what people will try. I once had a woman try to use extremely old gift certificates (over a decade old) that were all for $10.00. She had penciled in an extra "1" on each of them and was trying to say they were $110 dollars. She concocted some story about how she always gave her grandchildren $110 gift certificates. Like anyone ever does that. I think many people are just counting on you (the salesperson) being total idiot.

Laurie Gold said...

Sounds like when she was young, she was the type of kid who tried to change the grades on her reportcards...badly.