Be Nice

By Lesley Sauls

September 18, 2009 4 min read

Everyone hopes to be on Santa's "nice" list, but the mad rush of holiday shopping often brings out the naughty in people. Freeman Hall, author of the recently released "Retail Hell," manages to put a funny spin on the torture sales associates sometimes experience, but in real life, it's not so funny.

Hall says shoppers should remember that during the holidays, sales associates work crazy hours in stores that stay open late. Commutes are longer than usual because many stores require employees to park off-site, and they miss out on family events, parties and their own shopping time. They are tired; their feet hurt; and they have been yelled at by 10 people before you ever arrive in their department. Take a breath; keep in mind that they are someone's dad, sister or child, too; and be kind.

"The people who were nice always got the best from me," Hall says. "I didn't care about the mean and nasty people, even though I was on commission."

Here are some of Hall's tips for maintaining sanity and keeping everyone smiling during the busiest shopping season of the year:

*A smile and manners go a long way. Nothing ruins a sales associate's day faster than a Scrooge on steroids. Greet him with a jolly smile, not a crabby scowl.

*Misperception breeds contempt. When you greet a busy clerk who looks right through you, don't be angry. She likely is working with a customer, answering a phone call, fixing a cash register and delivering a sweater to a dressing room -- all at the same time. Don't get angry; just try again later.

*Make it fun. Humor is contagious and defuses tense situations.

*Trust and respect your salesman. Don't turn away great customer service by running away from someone you perceive as a pushy clerk. He knows what is hot, new and might be tucked away in a stockroom drawer. Don't feel obligated to go with his suggestions, but his knowledge might save you valuable time.

*Shop early in the day. That's when sales associates are ready to give you their best service. If it's closing time on a late night, they're more interested in getting home than in helping you find just the right thing.

*Let the sales associate know you care. If another customer is being obnoxious, make a funny face behind her back. Then tell his manager what a good job he did in fielding the hostility. His appreciation will inspire extra service for you.

*Check your holiday diva at the door. Don't have a tantrum about something over which the sales associate has no control. If the store has run out of boxes or a hot item, that's the CEO's issue. Buy your gift boxes at a discount store, and shop for the item elsewhere.

*Exercise patience. If the line is long, there's a reason. Employees call in sick. People have complicated transactions. Cash registers break. Go have a coffee; do another errand; and come back later. If you must stay in line, pull a good book from your handbag, and relax until it's your turn.

*Sales associates are not your servants. Overworked employees do not have time to pick up after you, so pitch in and help. If you can't hang a dress on a hanger properly, neatly fold it and hand it to someone who can. Don't leave it in a wad on the floor or shoved in a shoe rack.

*If you must shop with children, bring books, hidden pictures or Game Boys. Play "Going on a Picnic" and list with them all of the things you'll bring from A to Z. Everyone in the store will appreciate your effort, and you'll wind up getting the best service in return.

*Service matters. Shop at stores that take pride in their customer service, and reward their employees for treating you well.

*Spoil your helpers. Surprise an exhausted sales associate who has helped you regularly over the year with a latte or a chocolate bar. Your effort will make someone's day, and you probably will get tips on hot sale items in the new year.

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