Barhite: Don’t judge a shopper by her clothingWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | email@example.com
Oprah Winfrey’s recent shopping discrimination situation in Switzerland reminded me of a time a store clerk didn’t want to help me.
In Oprah’s case, the media mogul said the boutique clerk didn’t want to show her a $38,000 purse because she didn’t look like she could afford it. Oprah suggested it was racial, but also acknowledged she wasn’t dressed nicely or wearing anything to hint she had money.
I think many of us like to shop in our comfy clothes and it can affect our treatment in the store.
I was returning a pair of unworn shoes to one of the nicer retail stores in the area. Unfortunately, when I bought the shoes, they came without a box.
The day I bought the shoes, I was dressed up from work.
The day I returned the shoes, I was dressed down in sweats. Frankly, my hair looked like I had just rolled out of bed. That coupled with the missing box made the clerk suspicious of me returning the shoes.
She was rude and acted like I had acquired the shoes in a questionable manner, even though I had the receipt.
She reluctantly returned the shoes after quite the inquisition.
I ended up complaining via email to the store and received an apology and gift card.
It was a nice gesture and I still shop at the store because, for the most part, those in retail want to help – and want us to buy.
Ellen Davis, senior vice president and executive director of the National Retail Federation (NRF), said Oprah’s case is certainly not representative of those in retail.
“The golden rule is to treat other people like how you want to be treated when you go shopping,” Davis said.
NRF offers a certification in customer service because customer service is the foundation of the retail industry, Davis said.
She said those in retail need to be careful about making assumptions. In a different time, people used to dress up in suit and ties when they went to the airport, she said, but now they go in sweats.
The same goes for shopping. People are much more casual these days.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” she said. “Regardless of how a customer appears, treat them the way you would want to be treated.”
Davis said customer service isn’t always intuitive. It is a skill that has to be learned and honed.
Also, people are also much more fast-paced these days and might not be as patient with store clerks.
“In a different day, you might be tolerant of a sales clerk going to check something in the backroom,” Davis said.
With technology, shoppers are also more knowledgeable and might have complex questions that take longer to answer. Customers get impatient.
“Everyone who shops feels like they are the most important person in the store,” she said.
Regardless, everyone – both the clerk and the shopper – need to treat each other respectfully.
And it wouldn’t hurt to comb your hair.
Brandi Barhite is the community ombudsman for Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.