And yes, for this story names HAVE been made goofy to protect the innocent

I’ve been absent from MCE for a little while, to take care of some priorities elsewhere. Of course for your intrepid Experience Designer, every day has many moments in it that I’d love you tell you about. One, in particular, surprised me (shocked me!) recently, and I couldn’t wait to get back to write about it for you.

I needed a major piece of equipment last week. I was reluctant to plunk down the cash for a big expenditure, but it was a need, so I did my research, learned about the pros and cons of two dozen features that are common to the equipment, decided on exactly the item I wanted, found two brands that could supply it, and located the store with the very best possible price online before heading out to the store to feel the merchandise.

When I got to the store, let’s call them The Store Who Got My Money or Helpful Folks for short, I was greeted pleasantly at the front of the store. It’s a Very Large Specialty Retailer, and a lot of big stores like this have greeters, so this wasn’t a surprise. About halfway through the store, I was asked if I needed help or direction, again not too surprising. Once I was in the department I was looking for, I looked around a bit, located the two brands I was choosing between, and when a third salesperson asked if I wanted help, I explained that seeing the products had made up my mind but I’d be glad to hear any extra points he thought I might want to know.

It was a convincing, interesting, and useful conversation and all went smoothly, but I got cold feet. It was a fairly big purchase, after all, and I wondered whether I could just go along without it. (We’ve talked before about how your biggest competition is the dreaded Do Nothing—this was my moment to choose that competition.) Like many folks, I’d rather regret not purchasing than purchasing, so I walked away for a couple of days.

In the meantime, I discussed it with some friends. They told me about their own experiences and helped me talk myself back into it (and convinced me it wasn’t such a big-deal purchase). One friend even suggested that I might have missed a source, because he was pretty sure that I could get an even better price at another large specialty retailer. So, armed with more information, and now determined to finish what I’d started, I went to this second store where the prices were indeed better—let’s call them The Store I’d Never Give a Dime To, or People Who Never Even Glanced My Way for short.

I walked into this store as their Ideal Customer. I had the money, had done my research, had even gotten over my cold feet—I wanted what they sell, at their price, and I was there on word-of-mouth from a trusted friend, ready to buy. For you business owners out there, it does not get any better than this. It was almost impossible for them to blow it.

So how did they blow it?

It wasn’t the fact that their greeter was busy yakking with the cart-collector and didn’t notice me. Hey, it happens, even in the best of places. I wanted to throw my money at them, not make friends at the door, so I barely noticed that.

It wasn’t the fact that I stood in front of the item I wanted to purchase, looking interested, for a good five minutes while a salesperson went on and on to a guy who was obviously in the information-gathering stage of his potential purchase, while the man’s wife looked bored, or maybe irritated. The man was there first, after all, and you can’t treat one customer rudely just because another one looks at you urgently a couple of times… and maybe the guy’s wife doesn’t care about such purchases, hence the bored look. I realized there were plenty of other salespeople, and some add-ons I might want to drool over or be talked into, so I decided to walk around.

I did. Walk around, that is. Nice and slowly. Gave salespeople friendly looks if they turned their heads even partly my way, which they mostly didn’t. Stopped and read sales tags, inspected items closely… even tripped once and nearly punched a hole right in one item trying not to fall on my face… and wondered what the heck someone has to do in this place to get attention.

Then I realized what you have to do.

(Gents, this is going to get ugly for a moment, and since I have enormous respect for my male readers, this may be the moment when you want to turn away.)

Dear reader, the floor of this large retailer is a very wide, flat setup, over which you can see almost every nook and cranny of the place. There were at least 25 salespeople on the floor. They were all men. (Which, because I don’t care who helps me out, I hadn’t noticed before.) There were no more than 10 customers in the store. (It was about an hour after they opened, still a bit early in the day.) The only ones being talked to—yes, at this point I actually stood and watched, for an amazingly long time—the only ones being talked to were the men.

No matter that I stood and watched for all this time, looking for just one salesperson to speak to any of the women—no matter that by then I also looked odder than any of the women because I was standing so still instead of examining the merchandise, which had done me no good earlier—no one ever spoke to me.

Not even when I was on my way out.

It’s simple. What you have to do at this store to get attention is to be a man. Otherwise, you are invisible.

Points I would not like to make:

1. I wish kind of thing did not go on for women anymore. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything this blatant, except at auto showrooms and auto parts stores. And heck, some of them are greatly improved in recent years. What century are we in?

2. Gender isn’t the only kind of invisibility. I have friends of both genders, whose skin color has often caused them to become invisible to salespeople.

Points I would like to make:

1. The other store—the Helpful Folks, selling the same stuff to the same crowd—treated every customer well. I won’t say they treated everyone “the same,” because I didn’t make a study of it, but I will say I didn’t make a study of it, because they treated me well. Both times I went in to consider this purchase…

2. And the Helpful Folks got my money. More of it than I would have had to give at the second store, too—because trying to rope someone into giving a darn was not worth the extra 20 bucks off. I value my Experience at more than 20 dollars, so I spent my dollars where the salespeople clearly valued the Experience they gave to me, as well.

3. Word-of-mouth works both ways. I had discussed the purchase with friends in advance, and friends have followed up with me, so I’ve discussed it again—including the store’s details, which I’m leaving out here at MCE. I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through that indignity.

Last point:

Could it have been an “off day”?

Maybe. I don’t believe an entire staff can decide to have an off day, but maybe, maybe. Maybe every other woman who’s ever gone in has been treated with respect and dignity… umm, or at least treated in any way at all. Hence I’m not mentioning their name. One thing I can say for sure is it’s not the industry way, because the Helpful Folks, in the same business, were nothing like the People Who Never Even Glanced My Way.

I know you aren’t doing this at your place of business, of course! But take a close look—you may be treating certain customers as invisible in far more subtle ways. It’s worth examining your service with a cold eye now and then to make sure every customer is treated—and treated well.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson