Monday, April 25, 2011

Customers behaving badly...

Alternate working titles:

"The post where I call a customer an asshole."

"You're an asshole."

"No shoes, no socks, no assholes."

"Asshola non grata."

Working in the retail industry (or the high tech industry, or the food industry, for that matter), I have encountered my fair share of assholes (the figurative kind, not the literal kind). Fortunately, they are few and far between. Most (99.99999999%) of our customers are simply fabulous, they are a large part of the reason why I enjoy what I do so much. But (but!) the handful that choose to treat employees (myself included) with less respect than what they'd show a dog, this select group of people is unfortunately the one I tend to remember the most.

I have had a few encounters with customers over the past nine years that have left me wondering what may have happened to them to let them think it is okay to treat another person with anything other than the same courtesy I assume they would expect themselves from the people they come into contact with. Over the years, I have debated writing about it, but to do so may be interpreted as unprofessional, there's an unspoken rule when you own a business that you should just take whatever abuse a customer chooses to throw your way, "The customer is always right", as they (the assholes, I presume) always say. Well today, after a particularly unpleasant exchange with a customer that reduced an employee to tears, I'm going to write about it.

This particular individual had e-mailed me last week to complain about an employee who she felt was 'rude and unhelpful'. What was the complaint? After several requests for more information, I found out she was angry because she called the store (a half hour before it closed) to ask that a tin of Nellies was set aside for her. Barb (who has never been anything but professional, courteous, and all-around-helpful to anyone who comes into the store) told her we have 'plenty instock'. That reply, apparently, constitutes a 'rude and unhelpful' attitude. I politely suggested to this individual that Barb was simply letting her know we were not going to sell out of Nellies before she arrived, and that Barb had indeed set aside a tin of Nellies for her (that she never picked up).

Fast forward a couple of days, and this individual comes into the store to pick up her tin of Nellies. With her dog. That she brought into the store a week ago, when she was told dogs were not allowed in the store, but since the store was empty, we would make an exception for her. Big mistake. It seems that once you make an exception for an asshole, you are actually giving them the green light to be an even bigger asshole. Since an employee's baby was on the floor in the store this afternoon, this person was politely asked to leave her dog outside. Given a recent incident whereby a Home Depot employee's nose was partially bitten off by a customer's dog, you would think this simple request would be met with understanding and compliance, but it was not. Nosirree, not at all. The asshole customer grudgingly took her dog out of the store, stomped back in to make her purchase, then on her way out, bent down to the baby (the baby!) and called his mother (Melissa, another staff member who has never been anything but professional, courteous, and all-around-helpful to anyone who comes into the store) a "bitch", suggesting to Obi that "you're going to have a miserable childhood with your nasty bitch of a mother".

Melissa was quite taken aback by this attack (as anyone would be), calling me in tears. Upon hearing that this individual had purchased a tin of Nellies, I assured Melissa that she had done nothing to justify this woman's tantrum, and I suggested she's likely the same individual who had complained about Barb last week. Of course, only knowing what she had purchased, I couldn't make the connection for sure, until she stomped back into the store 10 minutes later to return her purchase. This time around, she left her dog outside, and she held her tongue as there were other customers in the store (I very much doubt she would have had the balls to say what she said in front of other people). In returning her purchase, she had to fill out a form with her name and contact information, thus confirming the asshole with the dog was in fact the asshole who called Barb last week.

It absolutely blows my mind that anyone would think it's ever acceptable to talk to another person (and their baby!) in this manner. It doesn't matter if you're chatting up the Queen of England or the person who cleans your toilet, nor does it matter if you're having a really bad day and you need to let off some steam, as I would tell my own children, you should always treat others as you expect to be treated yourselves. The kicker in all this is that as she returned her tin of Nellies, this customer inadvertently left her keys in the bag she returned, so she will have to come back into our store to retrieve them (sans dog, I would hope). I let her know we have set her keys aside, she let me know she has found another store that sells Nellies, and she's going to "tell all her friends about it." It amuses me when assholes suggest they will tell their friends to shop elsewhere, as they say, "Birds of a feather flock together," if her friends are anything like her, they are not welcome in our store anyhow.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Canadian retailers are not greedy.

An article published in this week's Ottawa Citizen asks the question "Canadian currency is trading at a three-year high and has been close to or above par for years. So why are we still paying so much for consumer goods?" The obvious assumption is that retailers (like me!) are simply too greedy to pass on the savings to consumers. Hardy har har, that's a good one! This question sometimes comes up in the store, and I've seen it come up multiple times on various online forums. Yes, we charge a higher price on some of the products we stock in comparison to our US counterparts, but retail pricing within Canada is a complex matter, there is certainly more to it than the strengh of our loonie. As an example, bumGenius 4.0 diapers, for example, retail for $23.85 in Canada, compared to $17.95 in the US. Why the disparity? There are a few reasons for higher suggested retail prices (SRPs) in Canada.

The first issue that results in higher SRPs in Canada is duty -- bringing products across the border often entails paying a tariff to Canada Customs. I usually pay anywhere from 12-18% duty on products manufactured outside of North America when I purchase them directly from a manufacturer located outside of Canada. In addition, I have to pay a brokerage fee at the border to the carrier who transports the package - on average, I will pay UPS $60 to broker an order.

In theory, the point of applying tariffs to goods manufactured outside of North America is to encourage companies to keep manufacturing within North America, however, I learned last year that tariffs can also apply to goods manufactured within North America. Out of the blue, I received a surprise bill for thousands of dollars (!!!) for duty assessed on previous shipments of Fuzzibunz diapers, which were manufactured within North America at the time. Despite being sewn within North America, components of the diaper were manufactured outside of North America (the fleece was milled in China). I was informed that it is my responsbility as a retailer to ensure that every single package I import is brokered properly. Forget the $60 a pop I pay UPS, that affords me zero protection, I should familiarize myself with the origin of every component of every product, and ensure products that are deemed NAFTA-compliant (as the diapers had been) are actually NAFTA-compliant, and if the appropriate tariffs are not charged, the onus is on me to contact Canada Customs to rectify the situation.

Another reason for higher SRPs within Canada is the fact that some companies rely on distributors to act as a liason between the manufacturer and the retailer. Distributors offer a number of benefits, an obvious benefit to me is that the hassle of importing packages across the border is delegated to someone else (hallelujah!). For the consumer, distributors within Canada make handling warranty issues easier. This convenience comes as a price, however, as the distributor must get paid for the work they do, often bumping up the SRP within Canada.

Lastly, the higher cost of transportation within Canada leads to higher freight costs for retailers, regardless of whether a product is imported, or purchased domestically by a retailer. US-based retailers enjoy things like flat rate shipping via USPS, Canadian retailers are not so lucky. I have heard of some retailers renting a PO Box across the US border to keep freight costs down, but the possible savings incurred by driving across the border to pick up packages would be lost when you consider the time it would take.

So there you have it. Establishing retail prices within Canada is far more complicated than simply paying attention to the strength of the Canadian dollar. Higher prices within Canada are not indicative of greed on the part of retailers, they are simply a natural result of the cost of doing business as a Canadian retailer. You can get around higher Canadian SRPs by ordering from retailers outside of Canada, although some manufacturers (like Cotton Babies, the manufacturers of bumGenius diapers) forbid cross-border selling, and you are still on the hook for duties and taxes owed. When your support Canadian retailers, you are supporting the Canadian economy, and that's a good thing.