Hello shoppers...

There are so-so retail dates that we quickly forget. There are bad ones we share with friends. There is any trip to The Dress Barn.

Then there are those nearly-biblical customer service disasters that feel like you're plummeting to Earth inside a plane whose wings have been sheared off.  These gut-wrenching out of body retail moments transcend the mere irritation that goes with being blown off by an uber-pierced gum-chewing teenage cashier at your local Sack N' Save - and the rarefied air they occupy guarantees their entry in The Unsecret Shopper's "Shopping Hall of Shame."

To qualify for enshrinement in the SHS, a shopping experience must have two basic elements:


1. An unsuspecting shopper.

2. An employee who has completely lost his/her mind.

Together, these forces combine to create cringe-inducing, "I can't believe I'm seeing this" moments that led Al Gore to invent the internet. (so we could shop on-line instead of in person) 

Here then are some of these magical shopping moments (yes these actually happened) experienced by yours truly (as well as related by shoppers and business owners alike) all of which occupy a beloved space in the Shopper's Hall of Shame.


Kids, do try that at home - preferably

A married couple sitting in a restaurant in Des Moines (now closed) couldn't figure out why, after taking their order, their server had not returned and had in fact not been seen for nearly 10 minutes. Concerned for the woman's welfare and encouraged by his wife, the man finally stood up and began walking through the otherwise vacant restaurant, searching for the MIA server. Moving past a storage room, he heard muffled cries from the other side. Uncertain of what to do, he hesitantly opened the door - and the mystery of the missing server was immediately solved. 

On the floor lay the partially clad woman and the equally naked cook, clutching each other in the withering throes of passion.


Welcome To The Store, We're Closing

A high-end furniture store was experiencing a precipitous drop-off in sales. The owner chalked it up to a sluggish economy but the economy didn't seem to explain why even the most loyal long-time customers had stopped stopping by.

The perplexed owner questioned members of his staff, who all expressed shock at the downturn of business but could offer no plausible explanation. As conditions worsened, the owner took drastic measures including laying off some staff. But to no avail - admitting the company was no longer solvent, the owner sold off the remaining merchandise at fire sale prices and closed the store's doors for good.

One day, towards the end of the sell-off, the owner was lamenting his misfortune to an old customer when she mentioned that one of the store owner's employees had told her that the store was going out of business - three months before the owner told his staff. The owner contacted other former customers who relayed similar accounts - adding that staff had also warned them (falsely) of fictional furniture recalls, shoddy craftsmanship and trouble in the owner's marriage. 

A few days later, the owner got word that two of his former employees had not stayed unemployed for long - they had recently opened their own furniture store.


A (dead) Bird At The Door Is Worth No One In The Restaurant

A restaurant owner in Des Moines hired me to review his customer service practices. Cleanliness, he said, was one of his top priorities and one he constantly preached to his store managers.

To see if his preaching was turning his employee congregation into believers, I decided to perform a simple test at one of his locations. I took a dead bird that was lying in the grass, minding his own dead bird business, and put it on the sidewalk directly in front of the front entrance to the restaurant. Certainly an employee would see it and dispose of it!

Two weeks later I returned to the restaurant - the bird had beaten me there. It still sat - dead - right where I'd placed him, so close to the door that employees would have to step over it to clean the glass, if they had been. I considered hiring the bird to it - after all, he was right there. Instead I staked out the area for a few nights, watching to see how patrons would react to the rotting bird carcass. Shockingly!, about every third customer would spot it, cringe, flap their wings and fly back to their car, taking their wallets with them.

Was the bird ever disposed of? Yes, two weeks later - by me. The lack of cleanliness was reflective of chronic customer service problems at the location and the owner eventually closed it.

(The "Dead Bird Test" is a staple of my customer service review process.)


There Will Be A Slight Re-stocking Fee

A check-out clerk at a convenience store in a small town in Northwest Iowa was ringing up a customer when the customer mentioned that they were out of a particular brand of beer. The clerk complained to the patron (mistake #1) that she'd repeatedly told the person in charge of re-stocking to make sure there was enough of the beer on the shelf.

Apparently the beer stocker-in-charge heard the clerk tossing him under the bus because he immediately appeared from behind a side door and began expressing his own version of the store's stocking hierarchy. (mistake #2) The discussion continued and escalated, as a long line of customers gathered, with items in their hands and disbelief on their faces.

Finally, with the encouragement of the first customer, who just wanted to know if they had "my [gosh darn] beer," the stocker walked back into the cooler to, apparently, get the man his gosh darn beer.

Then, the sound of smashing glass. (mistake #3) And again. And one more time. The official store stocker was now the unofficial merchandise destroyer, smashing bottle after bottle of beer. (and who knows what else) He would solve the problem of who was supposed to stock the beer - he'd simply get rid of all of it!

Patrons were horrified - yet not leaving. (gotta have their stuff!) The store clerk was laughing. (mistake #4) Reacting calmly under duress, she picked up the store phone and rationally dialed - her best friend (mistake #4,592) who she regaled with a blow by blow description of the stocker's tantrum.


I've shared a few of my best stories from the Shoppers Hall of Shame - now it's your turn! You've had your share of bad customer service experiences - the rude clerk, the inebriated salesman, the customer service rep who calls you a name then hangs up on you - now it's your turn to sound off! Talk about your worst retail dates - not only what happened but what, if anything, you did to retain some level of satisfaction. I'll share your stories in future blog posts.

Thank you for sharing those bad retail dates!


Jonnie Wright is a customer service traininer and evaluator, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show," which airs Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com.

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