Rules of Retail: Instantly Piss Off Your Customers

Having opened, operated, and closed my physical store 7 times in the last 10 years, I’ve had to go through every aspect of managing my business from public speeches in schools to laying down my own carpet.  In all these hard lessons, I’ve amassed some wisdom that I’d like to share before my old age eats away at my memory.  So, my ‘Rules of Retail’ will be a subject that goes over the many experiences and lessons learned that can hopefully give you some light on your future adventures both as a retail professional and as a customer… yes, there is an etiquette to being a good customer.

Instant Sparks With Customers

Recently, a friend of mine posted up something on his facebook about things that are hot buttons to talk about with other people.  Truth be told, the things listed below don’t just anger customers, but can pretty much set off anyone exposed to any social media communication outlet.  It got me thinking about many instances where my store became more of a battle ground than an anime paradise… quite the opposite experience I wanted to deliver to my customers.

Here’s a list of things you simply do not mention when in a professional environment… or any environment that isn’t a cable news station unless you really REALLY want to bring a shit storm down on the house:

1) Religion

Never go into depth when talking about a individual’s personal religious beliefs.  Having sold anime, there are more than enough features that take religions as influences for (in some cases) less than honorable circumstances.  I normally just address it as an biblical allusion to a symbol/story/person told by a different culture experimenting with worldly ideas.  Any more depth to the religious buffs would have me listening more about Jesus than I every really wanted to know… and should there be a person that believes in a different invisible man that controls everything, duck and head for cover.

2) Politics

This entire list can all be summed up as politics, but specifically, electoral politics with gov’t parties, is a big NO-NO in retail.  People are fierce in their defense of their opinions about this.  I’ve seen discussions where two people are on the same side as far as parties, and they STILL find something to yell at each other about.  My goal in my shop is to serve customers and pay bills, not debate about something that I’m not getting paid for.  One of the biggest tickets in politics that’ll require the Emergency Fire switch pull would be talking about WAR.  Last thing you want to do is have a war in your store over a talk about a war.  Keep away.

3) Economics

Talking about money never really troubled me even though I’m still treading from check to check every once in a while, but when having an open talk with people when the job market went to shit in 2008-2009, it got many customers leaving my shop rolling their eyes.  There can be many angles where people start taking things a bit too hard.  Many people blamed government, big business, credit card companies, rich people, even the higher education financial system on the crap with the economy.  When mixing these individuals with others that feel they should’t lay blame on anyone but themselves, blows will flow.  People take money very personally. A quote from a buddy sums it up: “Messing with my money is like messing with my emotions. You don’t want to mess with my emotions.”

4) Education

Teachers, Unions, increased cost, taxes: a recipe list for nuclear reaction.  This subject isn’t as bad as some of the others in this list, but it is one of those things that makes customers feel bad, not necessarily mad, when they leave.

5) Abortion

Abortion leads to politics which leads to religion.  If you talk about the death of babies, expect violence… a weird paradox…

6) Race / Nationality

Race is a very slippery subject.  I bundle race and nationality together because for me, I don’t have an individual race, and the last thing I want to do is study the history of all the races I’m made up of as that more work for me. Bullshit.  Thankfully, most people that came into my shops were a bit more open minded about this.  Anime tends to appeal to those who are more mature on the subject, especially since my medium was more of a celebration of the Japanese culture, and people came in knowing that for the most part.  We would sometimes get the wandering radical who seemed to be more than proud of his ethnicity that he vaguely knew anything about.  Some knew way too much.  Normally talks about the injustices that Japan did during World War II would come up.  I don’t know too much about that because I live in the now, not then, but it looks like the new generations think they’re owed something… not an unfamiliar sentiment limited to this situation…

7) Gender differences/roles

Put a strong-willed, attention desperate feminist whose flipped the ‘insulted by everything’ switch within the same room as a pig-headed, arrogant, stubborn macho man with the ‘every woman is a meat slab’ mentality and you have yourself a recipe for a verbal bloodbath.  People nowadays are so proud of what they are, they can’t stand to be told what they should do if they don’t agree with it.

8) Sexuality

With so much heat about marriage and equal rights this and equal rights that for this subject, you can easily qualify it more of a political thing than anything else.  The subject is so heated though that I felt it needs its own recognition.

These are the touchy subjects that’ll set the place on fire.  If you find your conversation going in any of these directions, take a deep breath and excuse yourself politely so everyone can take a second to reflect, and get the hell out of there.

Acronyms were a good way for me to help my sales force learn how to conduct business.  In this case, never talk about GRAPES.  They’ll always leave a sour afterthought with the shop and the customer.  No one wins.

Gender roles
Religion, Race
Education, Economics
Sexuality, Sports (Some Dodger fans are stupid bastards)

I hope this at least gives you some fair warning should you be headed into the customer service work arena.  Please leave a comment about what you think.  Can you add any more things to this list?  For you veterans, how do you handle the situation when things heat up?

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