Posts Tagged ‘Pekingese’

A Wall of Cheesecloth

February 16, 2012

The other day Michelle and I were at the Pike Place Market shopping for dinner stuff. We were going to try a Jamie Oliver fish dish, so we bought some very fresh snapper from one of the fishmongers, and leeks and fennel from a greengrocer. Then we needed some cheesecloth, so we headed to the kitchen supply shop.

I love to cook, and there’s always fun stuff to see there, the high-end pots and pans, gorgeous knives and all sorts of creative kitchen gadgetry — but it’s always crowded. And the aisles are only just wide enough for a Pekingese, one who has been dieting for the Westminster dog show. Doing anything there takes far longer than it should, precisely because the place is good and it’s popular.

(I am reminded of the Yogi Berra-ism, about a place that got so crowded nobody went there anymore.)

Before we reached the kitchen store, we had been steam-rolling our way through the market, finding what we needed and getting things done. And since we had a bus to catch, we were constantly looking at our watches. There was no time to waste, so instead of wandering around the store, getting lost in nooks and crannies and becoming distracted by all the cool stuff, I tackled a clerk like he was Tom Brady and asked where the cheesecloth was. By the time I found the right region, and then located another clerk to help zoom in, he told me that he had just helped someone else find cheesecloth.

“A little blonde?” I asked. He nodded yes, and I knew that Michelle had somehow beaten me to it, and was already taking her prize to the cashier. That’s where we hit the wall.

It was a wall of corporate policy, and this can often be a kind of wall you can’t go over, around or through.

While the little package had the bar code stuff on it, the item did not compute in the store’s cash register inventory system. The clerk asked for help, noting that the SKU number (stock-keeping unit) wasn’t coming up. We waited. But no help was forthcoming. So there we stood, money in hand, and neither the corporate software nor the company policy would let us buy it.

Or rather, the clerk wouldn’t let us buy it. He said it was about four or five dollars, and that was fine with us. Take our money and let’s go. But no such luck.

We had reached one of those situations where an employee, a relatively low-level employee, could not simply decide to enter a retail item as “miscellaneous” and proceed. He had to follow company protocol, which stipulated more or less that “all items have to have a valid SKU and be processed correctly, or the employee will be shot.”

At this point I started to get a little grouchy, and pointed out that now and then there will be things that are not in the system, and that the store has to have a way to deal with them. There has to be a way so that the item can be sold to a customer, and the transaction completed.

Why are retail employees brain-washed to follow this instruction so religiously? Part of it is because managers want reports, to know how things are going. What were the monthly sales from the pots and pans division? Was the big advertising campaign on gourmet knives successful? How did cheesecloth sales compare to last year? Designing product code categories and sub-categories allows managers to answer questions, and the better questions they can ask, the better chance they have to run the business successfully.

But now and then it’s going to happen, a customer is going to bring up something they want to buy, and it won’t have a price or an ID tag on it. (This drives me crazy; if I find something on a shelf with no price, I feel that it ought to be free.) I mean, c’mon! If you place a retail item in play, but don’t take the trouble to slap a price on it, how well are you doing your job? How is the company supposed to make money? And what about the inconvenience to the customer?

What then?

Maybe 99.9% of all items will be properly accounted for, and then along comes a phantom that shouldn’t exist. How much out of whack do you think this will knock the company’s accounting? Virtually zero. So why get all bent out of shape when it happens? What is more important: the happiness of the customer or the accountant?

(I know my answer.)

Allow the clerk, encourage the employee, to make a decision — estimate the price and hit the ‘Misc’ button — and let the customer get out of there. You owe it to the customer, and you build loyalty that way. And then I won’t get grouchy.

Someone eventually did help the clerk with a product code, but we had to wait a long time to pay for a $3.95 item. Jamie Oliver’s fish dish was delicious, but a Seattle retail clerk nearly found himself strained through a cheesecloth.