Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Boys make music - Girls only listen, and other lessons from an unpleasant trip to Walmart

First let me say that I am sympathetic to the plight of those tasked with making images with which to advertise children's underwear.

The bog standard approach to advertising adult underwear seems to be having an idealized picture of a pretty damn ideal looking adult wearing just that underwear and looking sexy doing it.  Try that with kids and you might get fired, at the very least you'd get a lot of funny looks and a fair amount of complaints.

Children seem to fall in a sort of underwear advertising gap between babies, where showing them wearing nothing but the product being sold is apparently the only way to go and widely viewed as adorable, and adults where showing them wearing nothing but the product being sold is seen as sexy.

So how do you make pictures to advertise it?  The solution at work in the Walmart was to have the pictures not have underwear in them at all, presumably the children in the pictures were wearing underwear, but being fully clothed it's not like you could see the product.

Without the labels ("boy's underwear" and "girls' underwear") you'd have no idea what was being sold.

This solution gives the person making the advertising enormous freedom.  Completely free of any need to indicate what the hell it is they're selling, they can have the kids in the pictures doing anything.  Anything at all.  This is what they chose:



That's not a videogame controller the boy has, the image isn't the best, and I only looked so closely in the actual store, so it's impossible to tell if it's toy, prop, or instrument, but the thing appears to have actual strings and as I recall that impression was stronger in person.

Regardless of the actual reality of the image (actual reality: the boy was posing for a picture) we're clearly meant to think of him as playing a guitar.  He's fingering on the fretboard and his other hand is in position to strum.  He's engaged in his activity to the point of completely ignoring the camera.  The image is telling us that this is a music maker, and his primary concern at the moment is his music.

Message received: boys who wear underwear make music.  I have no idea how the underwear is meant to play into it, except for the the fact that that's what's being sold.

Whoever chose what the display would be could have had the boy doing anything, they chose to have him be producing music.

That was the one I saw first.  It was a while before I saw the matching one.  In another world one might hope to see something similar.  A little girl with her own guitar, or perhaps she has a different instrument of choice, maybe she's rocking the drums or at a keyboard, or whatnot.  Or doing something entirely unrelated, sure they're both by the same company in the same store, but the male and female versions don't need to both reflect the same topic.  The product is underwear, not music, after all.

But they are on the same topic, and yet completely different.  They're both about how kids relate to music (and this is related to underwear how?)  Boys get guitars, girls get mp3 players.  Boys make music, girls listen to it.

The girl is also much more presenting herself to an audience.  Unlike the boy, she's completely facing the onlooker.  I'm sure someone else could read something into that, but I really have no interest in that, I'm more interested in her prop.

The girl isn't producing, she's at most singing along.  She doesn't even get to be vocalist (her prop is not a microphone), she's just fan.  She's got a recording of someone else's work.  Perhaps she's listing to the song the boy produced on the guitar.

Strange message to come away from the clothing section of a store with: buy your boy underwear and he'll be a musician, buy your girl underwear and she'll listen to musicians.

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On the plus side, there was a giant tribble, none of the pictures of that came out very well though.  Onto the other lessons.  (Also without pictures.)

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The first is, I suppose, make sure your cashiers are ready to work unsupervised before you have them working unsupervised.  The guy was nice, and he knew what to do when he went beyond his limits.  He called for help.  He didn't shout or scream or anything like that, it is possible to call for help electronically and that's exactly what he did.

No one came.

Eventually he was able to figure things out on his own, until the next thing (produce appeared to be his kryptonite) and again he called for help.

No one came.

I, just a passenger on this shopping voyage, walked back a bit to quietly double check that this glacial lane was indeed the one labeled "Speedy" the people behind us had no idea what they were getting into, nor, for that matter, did we.

Eventually he was able to figure things out on his own, until the next thing.  He called for help.

Guess.  Go on.  Guess.  I bet you can guess.

I didn't keep track of the way the goings of the people behind us fit into the rest of the ordeal, but shortly after we started being rung up, two groups got in line behind us.  They both left in their own time.  The first when someone decided that rather than help the guy by showing him how to do produce (which someone should have done for him until he could do it himself before he was left on his own) they'd open up the next register.  The second eventually joined them.

Now we were the only people in line at the speedy checkout aisle.  Looked like a golden opportunity, after all we didn't have much stuff and were already in the process of being checked through.  Of course new people came.

One at a time two more parties came.  For a time they were both waiting behind us.  One at a time they left.

When the next person came, quickly followed by another as I recall, I warned him that problems were being had and the last four groups gave up on the line.  When the next two groups came I warned them, but upped the number to five on account of the person who heeded the warning.

Both tried to stick it out, only one made it to the end of the ordeal.

During this time I wasn't just waiting, I was also looking around, which is when I learned another lesson:

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"New" doesn't mean what you think it means.

We were right by the "New Releases" and the more things dragged on the more I noticed that none of them were new.  I searched the titles looking for something that might qualify as slightly close to new maybe, and thought I found it when I saw that one was a special 25th Anniversary edition.  25 years after old might be new.  So I picked it up and checked when it came out.  The 25th Anniversary was three years ago.  Three years old isn't a new release in my book, but it might have been the most recent release on the "New Releases" rack.

"New Releases" by the way, written in giant letters.

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Anyway, back to the checkout line.

It amazes me that we were only trapped in the process of being (failed to be) checked out for a mere 20 minutes.  It felt like much longer.

Regardless, after all of the problems in ringing the stuff up, there was then a problem with payment.  (Apparently Walmart isn't on good terms with the company that does the Walmart credit cards that Walmart encourages you to get, and that can cause problems.)

At this point there are brave/foolhardy people waiting behind us frustration is rife, the person I'm with offers to just go over to the customer service desk so that everyone else can be checked out normally, but some time will pass before that happens.

The cashier's unwillingness to dump the problem on someone else's lap is really his only mistake.

By the third time he called for help only to get none he should have realized that he was being denied the resources necessary to do things right and been willing to let go and have the problem be solved at the source, the people who were supposed to be helping.

Which brings us to another lesson I glossed over:

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Creating a non-disruptive system by which an employee can call for help when they get in over their head and don't know what to do is a good idea.  Refusing to answer those calls for help is a Walmart idea.  Walmart ideas are bad ideas.

Throwing someone in the water and hoping they figure out a way not to drown is a bad way to teach people how to swim, but if you told them it'll be ok because you'll be there to provide help if they need it and then you're not, you may very well be evil.

More realistically and less metaphorically, training is important, and the cashier clearly should have had more of it, but it can't hope to cover everything and sometimes people will screw up or forget or otherwise need the help of someone who is better at this than they are.

The ability of employees to receive additional assistance on the job is vital.  The ability of customer facing employees to do it in a hurry even more so.  They need to be able to say something like, "I'm having some trouble here, but in a moment one of my superiors will be here to straighten things out," and they need to be able to mean it, otherwise minor problems turn to catastrophes and everyone ends up being screwed over.

Walmart clearly recognizes that fact because they have a system in place to provide said assistance to cashiers.  The Walmart in question clearly doesn't give a damn about that fact, because they ignore said system unless they feel like responding to it.

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I'm a little unclear on the order of events here.  The cashier called for help again, and improvised.  I'm not sure which came first.  I think it might have been the improvisation, which would make sense because all previous calls for help had been ignored.

It might make sense to assume that the system was broken and the calls for help weren't getting through.  Perhaps the cashier thought that.  Unfortunately that's not true.  They were, they just weren't being heeded.  But first, improv:

Abandoned by those who were supposed to help him when he was in over his head, and presented with a problem he had never been trained for (Walmart and the Walmart credit card not getting along) the cashier went outside of channels and simply got another cashier to try to help him out.  She was nice, but ultimately wrong in everything that she said.  Not her fault, she hadn't been trained for this either.

Finally the most recent of the calls for help (which as I said, I'm not sure if it went out before or after improv) was answered by a woman who couldn't speak a sentence without incorporating at least two lies.  After an extended period of this, person I was with gave up and went straight to customer service.

She'd tried to do this earlier, and the sale had hopefully been cancelled, but cashier really wanted to solve the problem and lying woman really didn't want much of anything to happen other than everyone to listen to her lies and accept them as gospel.

I have no idea why lying woman was lying, the truth (which, unlike any of the cashiers, she knew), when it eventually came out, would have worked better.

And at the customer service desk another lesson:

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If you cannot parse the words, "I would like to speak to a manager," in such a way as to realize that the person saying them would like to speak to someone who is a manager, you are qualified to work the customer service desk at Walmart.

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Person I was with didn't actually take the time to explain to the guy behind the customer service desk that she actually was familiar with the hierarchical structure of Walmart and was well aware that the person he was about to try to pass off as a manager in fact held no such rank.  She sidestepped that with two words and then guy behind the desk admitted that the managers had all gone into hiding.

All of them.  (For there were many.)  Could not be gotten out.  What followed was a scramble to find the closest thing to a manager that was not in hiding.

I'd like to phrase this as a lesson learned, but I have no idea how to do it so I'll just say my thought:
It does not matter how important your Thursday morning managerial meeting is, if you have a gaggle of managers inside the store, it should always be possible to get at least one of them to do the work of managing if there is a problem.
I guess the lesson is that Walmart doesn't think that way.

They had enough managers in the store to staff a small to medium store on their own, but it was impossible to locate one of them.  I find this interesting because one of the various reasons I know there were so many managers about was that shortly before they'd practically been underfoot.  You couldn't go from taking pictures of the boys underwear advertisements to taking pictures of the girls' underwear advertisements without tripping over half a dozen of them.

They were clogging the damn place up.

But now they were all in hiding and the search was on for a manager facsimile who could serve in the stead of one of the hiding ones.  Which brings us to the biggest lesson of all:

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Walmart employees need to lie better or tell the truth.

I could talk about how Walmart's relationship with the Walmart credit card company is seriously fucked up to the point that time travelers from Home Depot from ten years ago need to tell Walmart how it's done.  I could talk about the lies two-lie-per-sentence lady was telling, I could talk about any number of very frustrating things, but it was all overshadowed by this:

Walmart Employee: It is store policy to hold items until midnight.
Exact same person: We can't hold items.  It's against store policy.
Walmart Employee: It is store policy to hold items until midnight.
Exact same person: We can't hold items.  It's against store policy.
Walmart Employee: It is store policy to hold items until midnight.
My Companion: I get that, so I'd like you to hold these while I straighten-
Walmart Employee: We can't hold items!  It would be physically impossible and it's against store policy and our hands are tied and we can't hold items.
Exact same person: It is store policy to hold items until midnight.

And so on.  For precisely 15 minutes straight.  Started at 9:07, ended at 9:22, do the math.  Fifteen minutes of saying "We can hold items.  We can't hold items."

This was after saying, "We won't fix this problem that we have, you'll have to fix it for us on your own time," and my companion saying, "Ok, I'll do that, but can you hold these until I get back?"

And at the end of those fifteen minutes of telling us every other line that store policy is expressly written to allow the holding of items until midnight as a matter of standard procedure as opposed to anything special, exact same person from above said, "Ok, but just this once, and only till midnight, we'll bed the rules and hold these items for you."  Except that's not even close to an exact quote because if I put in all of the things she flavored the text with to make it sound like a super special exception just for my companion, I'd probably vomit.

You don't get to do that.  You don't get to spend 15 minutes repeating over and over again that store policy is X and then act like you're doing something extra special when you finally acquiesce to the customer's simple request that you do X already.

If you spend 15 minutes telling someone what the rule is until it's been seared into their brain like acid etching through an ear canal, you don't then get to pretend you're doing them a super special rule bending favor by following that rule to the letter.

If you want to pretend that you're helpfully defying authority by pushing the limits of what's allowed, you don't start off by telling them that what you're going to eventually do is exactly what is prescribed by the rules.

Essentially, if someone wants to lie to pretend they're being extra-special-nice by holding something until midnight, that same someone should not first spend fifteen minutes near shouting, "The rule is that we'll hold it till midnight."

If you're going to lie, you've got to do better than that.  Because this level of lying is just insulting.

15 comments:

  1. There's a reason why people call that place Voldemart. Or, rather, there's a whole list of reasons, several of which you encountered.

    Shopping should not be like that.

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  2. Ha. How much do I love this post?

    My first job -- I was hired when I was still 15, but they wouldn't let me show up until I was 16 -- was at a Bookstop. They didn't teach us *any* register training, and I couldn't figure out how to make the register tell me what change was due. I can't do math like that in my head under pressure with a customer waiting, and I was a nervous wreck by the end of the hour, at which point SOMEONE took pity on me and showed me how to get the change. It was dreadful.

    I work there for 8 weeks before they paid me -- AFTER I'd quit for various complex reasons. I can only imagine how the working poor manage.

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  3. Can I just say,

    Yaaaaaaaaarghhhhhh!

    ***

    I've never had an experience quite that soulless, but I tend to go to town-centre shops and I rarely buy a lot of things at once because I go everywhere on foot. That does make my shopping more frequent and more expensive, but I'm not interested in buying more than will fit in a backpack, and I'm not interested in walking out to Tesco or Aldi. So I stick with Centra, Dunne's or, occasionally, Lidl. Centra's the handiest. It's also the most expensive. It's also small, friendly, and human.

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    I have seen kids' underwear advertised with pictures of kids in underwear. Well, boys, anyway. I don't recall seeing girls in underwear. And that's an interesting difference in itself, though it could just be that I've never had occasion to look at the packaging of girls' underwear. The differences you point out are illuminating, though unfortunately not surprising.

    ***

    NotAlwaysWorking.com?

    TRiG.

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  4. As someone who has worked as a cashier at Walmart, one of the places their training completely fails is 'What to do when faced with something outside the training.' besides 'call a manager'. Seriously. It's almost a complete blank.

    Incidentally, there is _always_ supposed to be a manager at the front of the store. They used to have to watch all the checkout lights (Top light is 'register open', bottom light is 'needs assistance') so would stroll back and forth, but now they have a little stand-up table that is where the notify-a-manager light goes off, and they monitor the cashiers from and swap them in and out and send them on break and whatnot, and there is always supposed to be a manager there. So at worse, they're busy helping some other cashier or customer.

    That is the _theory_. But I have noticed, in Walmart, that the table is often unmanned late at night, and there are only a few checkouts open and there's not an extra person that could be the manager at any of them. (This is the sort of thing you notice once you work somewhere.) Now, the manager could work checkout themselves, but that seems a odd choice when it's unbusy in the middle of the night.

    But I don't know exactly what you meant by someone not really being a manager. The person at that desk is supposed to be able to able to do basically anything WRT to check out. There's not a position authority that exists between 'cashier' and 'person that can do anything with the cash register'. There's not a 'cashier manager with no authority instead of a real manager'.

    Either that was a normal cashier posing as a manager, or it was a manager that simply didn't know what they were doing. I suspect it was the later. Oh, manager meeting? Let's put the newest manager in training out on the floor.

    As for 'holding items'? We tried to avoid it because we cannot promise we will even *be there* when you get back, and our workspace is cluttered enough with stuff people gave to us to reshelf that we haven't hauled to customer service for reshelving, and dealing with your items is a huge mess. Also, while I'm sure your interaction with us is memorable, we talk to hundreds of people and trying to remember you and your stuff...? Not really.

    And, despite what people think, there's no way that I know of to hold a transaction until later...you're really just asking us to cancel the transaction, hold your shopping cart, and then re-check everything out. We can't tie up an entire register and cashier for hours sitting on your checkout. ('Can't you just move to another register?' 'Cashiers cannot be logged in on two registers at once.')

    A much better idea...put it all back in the shopping cart, and then go somewhere uncrowded (Not the checkout area!) like customer service and ask them to watch your cart for an hour or two.

    Note: My knowledge is from a decade ago.

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    Replies
    1. And, despite what people think, there's no way that I know of to hold a transaction until later...you're really just asking us to cancel the transaction,

      Maybe not at Walmart, but I've seen it done (no need to recheck anything) at smaller chains like Hannaford. It impressed me the first time I learned that it could be done, but now that I know it can be done, I have serious questions about any store not adopting that ridiculously simple bit of technology.

      That wasn't the request. The request was to hold the items.

      There was a problem with Walmart being unable to accept a Walmart credit card. A problem that, if we were at a Home Depot in 2002 instead of a Walmart in 2012, could have been solved in a matter of seconds with a phone call.

      As it turns out, person I was with would have little trouble solving that based on years of experience being the best (with awards to prove it) in the region (bigger than the state but I'm not sure by how much) at easing interactions between stores and store credit cards specifically specializing in the company handling the Walmart credit card in question.

      All she needed was a phoneline. Walmart would not provide. Meaning all she needed was for Walmart to hold onto the items for a short time while she got to a phone line.

      Hold the items, not the order.

      And, as said, we were assured for 15 minutes straight that store policy says items can and will be held until midnight, which would be significantly longer than necessary. Every time she asked for them to do what they just told her they could and would do, they changed their story and said they couldn't. Then, in the very next breath, changed it back. For 15 minutes.

      Which finally ended with them agreeing to do the thing they said they could do, and she said she wanted them to do, at the start of those 15 minutes.

      I honestly don't know if she made the simple phone call necessary to fix the credit card problem, I don't know if she went back to the store and picked up the items. I honestly feel that at that point she may have given up.

      Yes, the fixes necessary would take a matter of minutes, the hours available were more than enough, but it would also involve returning to the store where 71.42% of the employees interacted with were complete assholes. (I have the greatest respect for the other 28%, if I had to be surrounded by their co-workers I doubt I could keep as strong a grip on my humanity as they clearly did on theirs.)

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      trying to remember you and your stuff...? Not really.

      Ok, so I knew that Walmart was at least a decade behind the times when it came to credit, but you're telling me that their business practices became outdated with the introduction of the pencil?

      How did they ever gain so much power?

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    2. Maybe not at Walmart, but I've seen it done (no need to recheck anything) at smaller chains like Hannaford. It impressed me the first time I learned that it could be done, but now that I know it can be done, I have serious questions about any store not adopting that ridiculously simple bit of technology.

      It's entirely possible it can be done there now, I honestly don't know. I worked at Walmart in 1998.

      However, you don't appear to be talking about this, so nevermind.

      All she needed was a phoneline. Walmart would not provide. Meaning all she needed was for Walmart to hold onto the items for a short time while she got to a phone line.

      See, right there was where the manager screwed up. There is a phone at every other cash register. Managers can make outgoing calls. She should have made it and handed the phone to the customer.

      Not for any problem, perhaps, but for a _Walmart_ credit card? I've seen them call a bank when somene tried to use a 'Do not accept checks from this person' check, so surely they should have done it for a Walmart credit card.

      And, as said, we were assured for 15 minutes straight that store policy says items can and will be held until midnight, which would be significantly longer than necessary. Every time she asked for them to do what they just told her they could and would do, they changed their story and said they couldn't. Then, in the very next breath, changed it back. For 15 minutes.

      There is no actual store policy about 'holding' items at all that I've heard of. There isn't an official concept of such a thing.

      So either way she was just lying. There is no midnight deadline for this thing that does not officially exist. Midnight is not even important at Walmart, that's not even a shift change. That's at 11. The 'fiscal day' ticks over at 3 in the morning, I believe.

      Cashiers are just hesitant about doing it because a cashier has no spare room. They do not have anywhere to keep carts around, and do not have any workspace. And cannot promise they will be there when the customer comes back, which will result in some other cashier removing the stuff. (Keeping that area clean is part of cashier duties.)

      Managers are different. They have a little station, and they are in charge of their own destiny.

      But, as I said, what the manager should have done is take it to the customer service area, which is in charge of restocking items anyway. That's where cashiers take items you leave with them, and obviously they have returns also. Give them the cart, have them put a note on it saying 'Customer will be back by X o'clock, restock this stuff if they don't return'. That would be a reasonable solution.

      Of course, you mentioned produce. There are laws about how long refridgerated food can be kept outside refridgerators and still sold. But the correct thing to do would be to say 'We need to reshelf your refridgerated stuff if it's going to be more than a few minutes, but you can pick up the rest at customer service'. (And none of that has to do with midnight.)

      Ok, so I knew that Walmart was at least a decade behind the times when it came to credit, but you're telling me that their business practices became outdated with the introduction of the pencil?

      ...huh? You want cashiers to write a name on some unpurchased merchandise? I...don't think Walmart would approve of that. Or is the assumption that cashier have purchased post-it notes to go along with their pens? (Yes, Walmart makes cashiers supply their own pens.)

      Cashier basically have one small area to put 'stuff that goes back on the shelves', which they offloaded to the customer service desk whenever it filled up. They might remember not to take some of that back a few times, but they'd eventually forget, or have some other helpful cashier grab it on their way to customer service.

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    3. Cashiers are just hesitant about doing it because a cashier has no spare room. They do not have anywhere to keep carts around, and do not have any workspace. And cannot promise they will be there when the customer comes back, which will result in some other cashier removing the stuff. (Keeping that area clean is part of cashier duties.)

      This wasn't the cashier. This was the, "We can't get ahold of any managers, will she do?" provided by the customer service desk. And the items in question (clothing if it matters) were small enough to fit in a breadbox with room to spare for bread.

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      Of course, you mentioned produce.

      Yes I did, and if that had the items asked to be held I'd have mentioned it because that would be an important point. The produce was successfully purchased and went out of the store with us. It was the non-food, which being non-food cannot always be paid for in the same way as food, that had problems.

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      ...huh? You want cashiers to write a name on some unpurchased merchandise?

      Ok, seriously?

      What part of:

      After an extended period of this, person I was with gave up and went straight to customer service. [...]

      at the customer service desk [...]

      the customer service desk at Walmart. [...]

      the customer service desk[...]


      Did you not understand? All from the main post before the topic of holding is even introduced.

      I am seriously at a loss here.

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    4. What part of: ... Did you not understand?

      The events as I read them:

      1) There is trouble with a credit card.

      2) A manager takes forever to show up to the register, and when she shows up, she proceeds to not help, and then repeatedly says lies. (I got confused, and thought you think _this_ person wasn't a manager, but rereading, I don't know.)

      3) At some point the customer go over to the service desk to resolve the issue. I assumed it was to resolve the _original_ issue, about the credit card.

      4) The service desk has no manager either, and some person there (who?) tries to pass off some other man there as a manager. (Probably some poor cashier there who is running a register backwards for returns.)

      5) The story takes a break.

      6) You close with how the entire point of the story is some 'store employee' repeatedly lying to you for twenty minutes. Which, I now suspect, you were talking about some _new_ set of lies, happening with some person at the service desk (Either the 'this man is a manager' guy or the fake manager himself), but when I first read it I thought you were explaining the _previous_ set of lies by the constantly lying woman, which happened over at the register.

      This would have been a bit clearer if employees has been given descriptors, like A, B, C, etc, instead of just 'woman who is lying', 'other person who is lying about some guy being a manager', 'store employee who is lying who may or may not be the previous lying person I was talking about', etc.

      And if someone at the customer service desk won't hold a cart and makes up a random deadline, they are not doing their job. Customer service should basically agree to _any_ demand that does not involve the exchange of money and there's not an explicit policy against.

      If I had been running the register in customer service, and some customer had asked me to let them keep their basket there, I would have done exactly what I said...written 'Customer cart, reshelf if not claimed by X' on a piece of paper (Which customer service _does_ have, because it does exactly this with carts full of returns for each section of the store.) and stuck it in the cart, and left it there.

      I'm beginning to suspect this Walmart had a manager meeting about the fact almost all their employees had been killed in a freak reshelving accident the previous day and they had to hire all brand new employees who had no idea what they were doing.

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    5. The events, in order, without commentary:

      Cashier has trouble ringing up produce.
      Cashier calls for help.
      No help comes.
      Cashier eventually figures out the problem on his own.
      Cashier has trouble ringing up produce item number two.
      Cashier calls for help.
      No help comes.
      Cashier eventually figures out the problem on his own.
      Cashier has trouble ringing up produce item number three.
      Cashier calls for help.
      No help comes.
      Cashier eventually figures out the problem on his own.
      Produce is successfully paid for.
      The items that the customer actually came to buy (the three bits of produce were impulse buys) are not food, they must be paid for separately, hence the Walmart credit card. Fortunately cashier has no problem ringing them up.

      At this point there is a problem with the credit card.
      From this point on customer will repeatedly offer to go to the customer service desk and be asked to say at the register instead.
      Order of next two items uncertain.
      Cashier goes to another register to ask another cashier for help.
      Cashier calls for help via the call-for-help system a fourth time.
      Regardless of which order the two happened in, the other cashier was gone long before help arrived, and this time it did arrive. (Other cashier tried to be helpful, but was factually wrong. She returned to her own checkout line before it was known that she was factually wrong.)

      Lying woman arrives. Demands, in stark contrast to the previous asking, that customer not go to the customer service desk. Continues saying verifiably false things. (Once again, the truth would have worked better.*)

      Pissed off, the customer goes to the customer service desk against the lying woman's wishes.

      At the customer service desk customer asks to see a manager. First the person behind the desk tries to pass off someone else, who the customer has met earlier in the day and whose precise job and duties are known to the customer as a result of that previous meeting, as a manager. This person is not a manager.

      At this point it comes out that the managers are all in a meeting. Why they are all in a meeting is not said. Why they didn't leave one manager out to deal with things is not said. Explanations are not given. Instead the question comes up, "Well if we can't get a manager, who can we get?" (a question one employee asks to another, as you might expect.) Discussions are had amoungst the there-present Walmart staff on this question.

      These discussions, and subsequent summonings, produce two people. One of them, male, spends the entire time standing there neither talking nor moving. Not even a gesture. I assume he blinked, but I didn't really pay attention that closely. I didn't mention him above because he did absolutely nothing but stand there.

      The other, "This isn't a manager but this is as good as we can do at the moment," person did speak. She was the one who said that it would be necessary for customer to sort out the Walmart's problem with their own credit card on her (customer's) own time, and she's the one who wouldn't allow the use of the phone to do so.

      At this point, and never before this point, the question of holding items came up.

      The items in question, since you seem so very interested, were a few sports bras. Which did not take up very much space.

      It is at this point that the fifteen minutes of, "We can hold items," "No, we can't hold items," occurred.

      -

      * In large part because the actual problem, which didn't come out until the customer service desk, was one that the customer has spent the better part of her professional life solving for other customers, usually with the very credit card company in question.

      Which meant that once the truth was out she could say, "Oh, ok. I've seen this all the time and know exactly how to fix it. I just need a phone / I just need you to hold these while I use a phone."

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    6. Oh, and I forgot to mention, you know what I really don't like about blogger comments? There's a character limit but they never tell you how many characters over you are and if you check how many characters there are in your post elsewhere, you'll get a number that completely disagrees. Some character counter says you've cut down the post enough to be under the limit, bring it back here, you're told, "No can do, you're over the limit."

      Anyway, the above should be accurate, but some things had to be simplified to make the post fit.

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    7. Cashier has trouble ringing up produce.

      Ringing up produce is somewhat tricky. You have to know the code, you have to know the non-obvious way to input it, you have to use the scale correctly. Which is why cashiers shouldn't be left on their own until they know how to do it, or at least have another nearby cashier they can ask.

      From this point on customer will repeatedly offer to go to the customer service desk and be asked to say at the register instead.

      Heh, perhaps you should assume the charitable assumption and suppose he knew customer service was, at this point, completely useless. And just trying to say you the effort. ;)

      Most seriously, disagreeing with a customer about what they want to do would be generally discouraged, and trying to keep them away from customer service, in these circumstances, would look like the cashier was trying to keep them from reporting a problem with him, a big no-no.

      So management would get rather annoyed at that behavior...but luckily for him management appeared not to exist all.

      One of them, male, spends the entire time standing there neither talking nor moving.

      There is a type of person you find over at the customer service area that are actually _accountants_. There is a secret, you-have-to-be-buzzed-in door behind customer service that only managers and accountants can enter, behind which has all the money. The accountants count and distribute the money to managers, who hand it to cashiers. They do not interact with customers at all. They often wear button shirts and no blue, but I don't know if there's actually a dress code.

      I don't know why they'd be standing out in customer service like that for no reason, though. Perhaps, not having any actual managers, they were there to accept cash drawers from cashiers themselves...although without managers, I don't know how cashiers would know to leave their register.

      It's interesting to figure out how Walmart attempts to cope in this manager-less post-apocalyptic wasteland. There is no one to deal with the cogs when the gears start slipping.

      She was the one who said that it would be necessary for customer to sort out the Walmart's problem with their own credit card on her (customer's) own time, and she's the one who wouldn't allow the use of the phone to do so.

      That..I can see. If she's not actually a manager, she's not only is not supposed to let people use the phone, she doesn't even know how to make an outside call. I was a cashier there, and _I_ don't know. (I do know how to make it do a PA announcement though, bwhahahaha.)

      Which is why customer service without a manager is _completely useless_ for half the people that show up there. A cashier (And that's who it would be, only managers and cashiers are behind registers) has no idea how to fix any problem besides 'I wish to return these goods', aka, running a register backwards.

      At this point, and never before this point, the question of holding items came up.

      And that point was the flat out stupid part. The rest of the problems could be blamed on the absurd lack of managers, and the inability to cope with that on the part of cashiers...but 'holding' items is just 'letting them sit there without putting them back', which is something that is trivially easy for customer service, and does not cost Walmart anything, and hence should be agreed to, barring some policy about it.

      What could have happened is, in the time since I left them, Walmart made such a policy, and placed in the hands of the _managers_. Perhaps only managers can hold items...and thus, without a manager, customer service can't hold items, despite the fact customer service has a policy of holding items. This would be a very stupid way to setup such a policy, but I would not put it past Walmart.

      I hope whatever that meeting was about was important enough to utterly break their store for an hour.

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  5. This issue of Wal-Mart's customer service seems new(ish). When I was in elementary school, my mother worked at Wal-Mart. She was specifically trained in such a way that when someone asked for help, or if she offered it, she was assigned to that person until they were done with her - i.e., "I need to find paintbrushes" "Ok, let me take you to where the paintbrushes are." "Is there anything else I can help you with?" etc. Other articles I've read on the subject seem to lay the blame on the current generation of the Walton family; that when Sam and his children ran the business, it was good, but as soon as Grandchild Walton took over, everything went downhill.

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  6. My wife and I have both worked at Wal~mart, about a decade ago. Like St. Jebus's mother, we were trained to provide help to customers, ensuring that they got exactly what they had come into the store to get. Indeed, the training suggested that, anytime an associate got within two floor tiles of a customer, we were to ask if we could help them with something. In practice, however, we were discouraged from actually doing anything of the sort, because it meant that we were not where our managers expected us to be when they wanted us to be there. Additionally, there was no thought to ensuring that associates in one part of the store would be able to help find things in another part of the store. So, if on my way back from mandatory lunch break to my post in sporting goods (I sold guns! in the last months of 1999! I sold a LOT of guns. And ammo. At least some of which was clearly being stockpiled in case the world ended in 2000), I passed a customer and offered to help, and they wanted help in, say, soft lines (clothes, towels, that sort of thing), I couldn't really help them, beyond pointing them in the right general direction. If I followed my training and walked with them and actually struggled with them to find what they wanted, my manager (or, more likely, my co-worker, waiting to take hir mandatory lunch break) would be wroth with me for not returning to my post.

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  7. Additionally, there was no thought to ensuring that associates in one part of the store would be able to help find things in another part of the store

    Sure there was. You were supposed to wander around familiarizing yourself with the store while off the clock.

    You know, like every other way they abuse and underpay employees. Like the 'You should discuss your schedule with your manager while off the clock.' and 'You should change off the clock'. Just in case anyone's wondering, no, that's not how it works. Those are part of your job, and you legally get paid for the time you spend doing them.

    My favorite was always: 'We're letting you go early' because we didn't give you the 15 minute break earlier. We're really hoping you don't know that break was supposed to be a _paid_ break, so we're trying to scam you out of 15 minutes of pay by you leaving early.'

    I would always say 'Oh, I'll take my 15 break now and clock out when it's over.'...which is probably why they didn't ask me back after Christmas was over.

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  8. Firedrake, back from holidayJuly 28, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    You may be interested in http://twocoloursinmyhead.wordpress.com/ - which looks at gendering of children's clothes, problematical and otherwise.

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