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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shopping Etiquette: A Code of Conduct

With so much shopping activity going on, there should be some kind of unspoken and unsaid but clearly understood Code of Conduct kind of thing in place for shoppers – especially the chronic and the cranky kind.

I mean who wants to grow old while waiting in a queue, for the people ahead of you to get done making their payment. It’s usually at this crucial moment that crisis hits and a lot of people realize that they don’t really have that much cash on them. So, then out comes the plastic. In one instance I know of (because I was right behind the woman), she was holding up a queue at the cashier's to argue with her husband because he had blocked her credit card. Well, this situation was humiliating for her and embarrassing for the rest of us who were forced to listen to the conversation.

Huzefa Tapia of Grids & Words Design, an advertising and event management firm says, “Talking of etiquette, some people really don't have it. They think that if they are carrying 4-5 pieces of plastic with them, they can hold anything up. The thing missing here is the common sense in them.”

He adds, “Well.. talking neutrally, one can make a mistake once about getting their credit card block limit wrong, but all the time... it seems weird. Yet, if you are a compulsive shopper, the smart thing is to carry cash on hand or very politely letting some stuff go and coming back another day for it. This surely will help you not create a scene at the cash counter, eventually helping the line to move faster.”

“Smart people also do not buy everything with one credit card. They would spread it out evenly with 2-3 cards depending on the buy. The simple conclusion is be smart and carry some on-hand cash.”

At yet another store, where I had stopped by their coffee shop for some downtime and good coffee, I found this woman shrieking for the manager because she had spotted a rat there. It’s not the kind of thing that anyone wants to see in any place that sells food but in this case, the staff were trying to keep her under control and pacify her but she worked herself up to such a pitch that she added to the headache I already had!

In this case, I don’t know what led to the matter to become such a big deal because I got there midway during her screaming session but I know that rats are not going to flee because they hear a woman yelling at the top of her voice!

True, the woman was calling attention to a serious hygiene deficiency but at what point, the discussion turned ugly is anyone’s guess. So, when the store management is trying to soothe ruffled feathers and say they will look into it and address the issue right away, they are in damage control mode and doing their best. How is humiliating the staff going to help?

What is one to do but be a mute spectator and enjoy the show? Or walk out because it’s just a waste of your time? I did the latter. Besides, I was there for the coffee and it didn’t seem to be the right place to have it just then!

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Since shopping is by nature such a communal and social activity, I think a shopping code of conduct has now become a necessity or else like road rage, we have already started to see many displays of shopping schizophrenia – where perfectly respectable and normally well mannered people behave like hooligans.

So here is my Top 10 Commandments list for shoppers and anyone reading this article can feel free to contribute as well.

1. Don’t hold up the line at the cash counter to argue with spouses over the cellphone about a blocked credit card. Use another card or pay cash and then discretely deal with your problem.
2. Don’t hold up the line to argue with staff about issues unrelated to your bill. I think there are enough people scattered around a store to give you a patient hearing if you have complaints about service, merchandise, store d├ęcor or whatever. The person to see should be the store manager.
3. Don’t stand over people while they are eating, so that they swallow their food in a hurry to make way for you. It’s impolite and if you wanted that table so badly, you should have got there earlier. This is especially for the people who throng food courts with a vengeance on weekends despite knowing that there is going to be a large crowd.
4. Don’t park your shopping bags in all the free chairs for miles around you in the lounge area of malls and also don't block an aisle with your shopping cart.
5. Don’t jump the queue at any cost. You are not that important - either to the store per se and certainly not to the people who were waiting there before you showed up.
6. Don’t indulge your kids’ bad manners at the expense of other shoppers. Putting your foot down and saying ‘no’ will make them value the money you are spending on them. If they refuse to behave, then next time please leave them at home, so the rest of us can have an enjoyable and peaceful shopping experience.
7. Don’t go berserk at a sale and grab things out of people’s hands and step on their toes while doing it. You are asking for a black eye or verbal abuse and you just might get it…free of cost!
8. Don’t shoplift. Celebrities with money do it …and get caught. They can manage to convert kleptomania into a PR spectacle but can you?
9. Don’t be rude to the elderly, the handicapped and obese people. It reflects on your upbringing when you snigger at them. Not everyone has the body type of an anorexic teenager…or wants to have one in the first place. Some women still do value their curves.
10. Don’t treat staff at the stores like they are your servants. They are there to help and guide and get paid to do it. They don’t get paid to take abuse and condescension. If you feel you are not getting their attention, then bring it up firmly and politely.

At the same time, if you feel that someone has made shopping a pleasant experience for you, then take that staff personnel’s name and give him/her some credit in the visitor’s book - if the store maintains one. You never know - you might be unknowingly responsible for that person getting a raise. But that person will remember you and give you a warmer reception the next time you visit the store.

Write in to me at promos@seconddealnsteal.com with your own stories or add more rules of conduct to this list. I'll post it here as well as on my ezine called 'Website for Seconds' on Zimbio.com. You can view that e-magazine here: http://www.zimbio.com/Website+for+seconds+in+India

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