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It was Small Business Saturday and I was on a mission, I would venture out to holiday shop.

With this caveat: I refused to buy anything if the help didn't say anything to me.  I was looking for a repeat Amanda experience.

The first shop I entered, the employee was behind the counter. Another employee entered the store and the first employee looked up to talk about lunch.

I walked around the store and she came out from behind the counter.  I walked over to a table, picked up an item. The first employee came by me and had to weave around me holding the item. She proceeded on to the backroom where I overheard more talk about lunch. Not a word to me or the other people in the store.

The second had a stream of customers entering and leaving - without bags. I entered to discover a woven basket filled with colorful men's wool socks for $30 from Guatamala.  In looking around I discovered the owner (?) employee (?) sitting down behind a bunch of merchandise.  It looked like she had a fort of merch to protect her. Not a word, just glaring.

As I was walking up the street to the next retailer a woman called me over. "Look at this," she said. "This guy is laying on the couch. Guess he doesn't want to sell anything." I looked in.

Sure enough, a guy laying on his stomach on an orange sofa. By now the woman had a couple join us too. The couch guy waved at us like he thought we thought it was funny.

The next store was a new one, nearly 10,000 sq. foot home store. I entered to find the owner and an employee behind the counter talking. I walked around, a couple left and the owner disappeared upstairs. I picked up a couple objects along the way but remembered my mantra: no purchase if they are silent. The woman remained behind the counter occasionally glancing up.

As I left through the front doors, the woman at the counter, who was now checking something online called after me, "Good-bye."

That was it...

I turned around and said, "It's interesting that you could say good-bye to me, yet never say a word to me while I was in your store for nearly ten minutes. I guess business is good." I headed back out the door to her stunned face - along with the owner's.

OK, I can be a jerk at times to stores not taking the customer seriously but you probably knew that by now.

That's when it hit me, wouldn't it be great to let owners know they missed out on a sale?

Something discreet and yet impossible to miss.

That's when I came up with this little card that said in part, "Wanted to let you know I am a paying customer who left. Without buying..."

How would you feel if you found this laying on a display table?

Who would you blame, the customer, the employee or the economy?

What would you do in response if you saw a woman place this on a display and walk away? Run after her, write her off as a wacko, or fret?

Good customer service is acknowledging there is a person in front of you, who drove or walked past a lot of other businesses to give you the opportunity to get some of their disposable income.  If you don't treat it and them with basic respect of talking to them, they'll continue to look around. And leave. And that's deadly.

'Cause I'll stay home and shop your competitors online.

We're not invisible. We're customers...

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Brad Einarsen
    This post reminds me of this (in)famous image:

    Don't pester, but do let us know you are here to serve.

  • Adam Hutchinson
    Here in New Zealand we love to txt (SMS) and provide shoppers with the ability to do so in a non-confrontational way, allowing the shopper to tell the business they suck through a 'friendly' communication channel :)
  • Sharon St. John
    The points raised here are well taken and they are things that I have experienced. My husband owns a wine shop. We have the opposite problem: customers behaving badly. They talk on cell phones during transactions. They laugh and giggle on blue tooth connections. Talk about invisible. Bad manners go both ways.
  • Don Blanchard
    After losing my primary six-figure income, I now work at Wal-Mart in the electronics department. Interesting thing about electronics - it's extremely busy and everyone wants advice. I guess bad customer service experiences at various retailers have trained customers to actually apologize for asking for advice or direction more than once. I hear all the time: "I'm sorry" or "I don't want to bother you." To which I reply openly and honestly: "Oh that's fine, you're the reason I'm hear today. I am more than happy to serve you."

    It's something about an environment that has certain expectations - the customer deserves prominence and honor. I do my best with the sour-grape customers (we’ve all had them) and just shake it off that a few rude customers help provide perspective to appreciate the very nice customers. Things I’ve learned: smiles are truly contagious and so are cold looks of disinterest; getting to know your customers on a personal level doesn’t invite more work, it just makes work a lot more fun!
  • Robert Jacobson
    Maybe I'm the odd man out, but I would prefer to be left alone by clerks unless I really need help, when I will ask for it. Especially in a Big Box store, where the clerks often know less than I do about what I'm looking for. In a smaller establishment, especially where I know the help, conversation is more genuine and appreciated.

    Frankly, if retailers invested more money and time in their frontline staff, maybe the buyer's experience would improve. The trend is in the opposite direction.
  • frank fernicola jr
    @ Sharon. Manors aside the customer is still the customer and we all need them more than they need us.
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Bob Phibbs
Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, is a popular motivational speaker and small business Consultant who has transformed thousands of businesses throughout the world with his straightforward, proven advice. His success at making over businesses has been featured on PBS Life & Times, in the Los Angeles Times, Entrepreneur magazine, and the New York Times.
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