Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Do I Really Look Lost?


I have observed a disturbing trend in stores lately. I walk into SuperTarget, grab my cart, and head off for the first thing I need. Sometimes I go straight there and then decide which size to buy or how many items to purchase. Other times I get distracted along the way by items I didn’t plan to buy (that’s why they have those bright shiny displays).

So I am in the aisle with product #1, and here comes the employee.

“May I help you find something?”

Even as I’m bagging zucchini or taking a box off a shelf, I must appear lost. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue to resist the urge to scream:

“I found what I want, but you’re in my damn way!”

Yesterday, after 4 or 5 employees had accosted me in a period of 10 minutes (in the bread and soup aisles), I suggested politely that this behavior annoyed me. The current helpful associate explained that they were to ask every customer they encountered if they could help them find things.

Now, there are times I can’t find something. I appreciate having help, and I never have trouble finding employees at SuperTarget (or other stores with similar strategy). I shop at SuperTarget instead of Walmart because the store is better organized and staffed. Every few months some shelving area gets rearranged. It slows me down temporarily, but ultimately gets me to notice other products. If someone is offering to assist me every 5 minutes, I am less likely to browse and make unplanned purchases. My husband thinks this is a good thing, but I suspect it is not the ultimate goal of management.

Telling every employee to ask every customer if they need assistance is overkill. I suspect if inquiries were limited to shoppers in main aisles who were not moving along (in other words, looking a bit lost) that the “target audience” could be served. Shoppers who are browsing products or moving quickly through the main aisles (like a cheetah chasing a gazelle, their target in sight) probably do not need the assistance and may resent being slowed in their quest for stuff.

OK, I feel better now. I will quit ranting.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com


  1. This has been happening to me a ton lately! I wonder if there is some new Targety initiative?

  2. That's what the person I confronted told me! I guess a survey suggested that people left without buying when they couldn't find something, so now every employee is supposed to ask if they can assist every customer they encounter. It has happened in other stores as well (OfficeMax etc).

  3. Long ago I worked retail for a summer, and we were all told that the best way to stop shoplifting was to acknowledge the customer (i.e. ask if they need help). Maybe this new "Friendly" initiative is in response to the poor economy and a rise in shoplifting???

  4. I have heard that as well, having briefly worked retail (I did much better as a waitress).
    All I know is that it is making me crazy.

  5. Just sharing trivia that I happen to know about the Omaha SuperTarget at 132nd & Maple. That was the first SuperTarget nationally. It is the largest floor square footage SuperTarget, and when it was the only SuperTarget in Omaha, it sold the 2nd most retail nationally. I have no idea if it kept those sales levels after other SuperTargets came into the town.

    I, too, have felt like I have been assaulted by helpful sales clerks lately in exactly the manner you described, PHL. However, I have not shopped at a Target lately. These incidents were at stores in a mall, shopping for school clothes for my kids, and the grocery store. Granted, on a couple of those occasions I was shopping for a specific item and was reading the sign that lists where items are located that I was asked, but not every time I was asked.

    Maybe the department stores are taking a page from the grocery stores? For years I have been asked when checking out at a manned grocery station, "Did you find everything ok?"