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Jeff Ward: This Grumpy Old Man Just Wants a Little Civility in Stores—Part II

Reader Rob Stuart really fired me up!

Reader Rob Stuart really fired me up this time! Not that it ever takes all that much.

In an excellent response to my column lamenting chain stores’ propensity to sell you everything you don’t want, Mr. Stuart had this to say:

“Apparently McDonald's employees can't remember to ask their customers if they want a McCafe Iced Mocha while at the drive through, so as customers, we have to listen to a recorded voice asking us if we'd like to try one prior to a live person taking our order. I want to McPunch the McManager … ”

Though I’m not typically one to espouse violence, I’ll happily make an exception in this case. Should Rob ever act on his impulse, I’ll be happy to come up with bail money. A recorded up-sell? Oh, no they didn’t!

But then Rob mentioned something I completely missed in that last column, “I don't want to give my phone number when I buy lawn and leaf bags at Menards …” That’s right! Not only do these big-box stores see us as walking dollar signs, but now they like to think we’re organic databases, too!

So there I was at the BP on Route 38 and Bricher Road when the automated gas pump had the misfortune of demanding my Zip code. Furious that this mechanized contraption was pumping me for information, I jumped on the roof of my minivan (no easy task), pumped my fist in the air, ripped my shirt off and, in a really bad Scottish accent, shouted, “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our Zip codes!”

And then I drove off to purchase my petrol elsewhere.

As I was later explaining how I “took it too the man” to good friend Mark Furlong, he, in turn, explained that those Zip-code-requesting gas pumps are all the rage in Chicago. “They’re intended to combat credit card fraud!” he said, thankfully omitting the “you idiot” suffix.

Mark also reminded me that once you swipe your credit card at those pumps, they already have all the information on you they would ever want to amass.

You see the kind of trouble you readers get me into! I almost punched that pump! Oh well! I guess I’m no William Wallace.

But all displaced anger aside, and even though it’s not nearly as heinous as trying to sell me 33 things I don’t want, I’m getting just as tired of the personal-information plumbing as Mr. Stuart.

So! Once again, it’s time for to offer yet more free business consulting to all those consarned Geneva-area chain stores.

DON’T ASK ME FOR MY ZIP CODE! I really didn’t expect that shopping at Menards  would include a pop quiz. C’mon! Do you really think folks will drive in from Waterdown, Ontario, just to shop at your Geneva store? It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that, 98 percent of the time, the customer Zip will be 60174, 60134 or 60510.

Unless you’re asking me out a date—of which my wife probably wouldn’t approve—DON’T EVEN THINK OF ASKING FOR MY PHONE NUMBER! If you don’t mind, I’d rather keep those 10 unlisted digits to myself. We don’t know each other that well! I realize I can just say no, but it’s annoying to have to turn you down.

Just when you think your shopping ordeal is finally over, they hit you with homework! That’s right! After all that they want you to go home and fill out an Internet survey!

“At least they’re trying to do customer service,” my wife quipped.  “NO THEY’RE NOT,” I replied. If they really understood the meaning of “customer service,” they wouldn’t have to do surveys. If they put half the effort they expend on market research into building a relationship with their customers, they wouldn’t have to do market research! 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it their ultimate goal to get you into store? But when you finally do show up, they act as if they’re seeing right through you!

Ironically, when I tried to complain about checkout clerks selling magazine subscriptions, the Best Buy district office wouldn’t even call me back. Of course they want your personal information, as long as they don’t have to deal with you in person!

But rather than face the spectacle of  Mr. Stuart and I donning kilts, painting our faces and charging the nearest Lowe’s with my replica swords, I have a much better idea. Let’s all start shopping independent!

When I buy LPs at , clothes for my wife at shoes at , a massage at , a muffin at , a steak sandwich at , a liver sausage sandwich at , or carbon fiber cranks at , they don’t ask for my Zip code, they don’t ask me for my phone number, and they certainly don’t pass out asinine surveys.

They actually seem happy to see me! What an amazing concept!

Noel G. Rooks September 07, 2011 at 01:32 PM
I agree it's aggravating to be data mined. The flip side of the coin though - please remember that the poor schmuck working for peanuts at Big Box Inc. is more than likely performance rated on his or her rate of "capture" - i.e. their performance reviews include a percentage of data mined - how many customers they get to give their info. So the guy on the other side of the counter may or may not get his 4 cent raise this year if his percentage isn't as high as his employer says it should be. Some places have employee goals as high as 80 percent. Yeah, not good times for you (justifiably) privacy hungry people or the employee. If you want a laugh about life on the other side of the retail counter (let's just say that it isn't only the employees that are rude and crazy) check out this blog,- anonymous postings from retail employees: http://notalwaysright.com/
robert poznanski September 07, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Yes, the constant Questions that one gets at the automated pumps, cash machines, and check out lines, are quite bothersome, however, perhaps a little less coffee on your part, would calm you down, and you must realize, that in this day and age, there are as many people who would take advantage of any situation, to fraud, and theft,and this is the main reason for quite a bit of these "questions"! My personal gripe is the " Spanish"," English", question, at all ATM's! Last I heard, English was still the "official " American language ! Has that changed? My immigrant Grandparents,who hailed from Poland, would, no doubt, feel left out at these machines,since they don't ask, Polish? What is going on here??
Fred September 07, 2011 at 05:10 PM
Robert, unfortunately the United States of America has no official language, thus in the near future when you call your mobile phone provider, you will be prompted to press 3 for polish, 4 for German, 5 Russian, 6 for Arabic and so on.
Nora September 08, 2011 at 12:58 AM
I live in Costa Rica, and ATMs here give you the option of Spanish and English because - surprise! - there are so many English speakers here. The United States has the largest Spanish-speaking community outside of Mexico and it is the second most spoken language (and growing). If Polish or Farsi or Igbo were as common as Spanish, technology and customer service would reflect that. It would be stupid not to cater to such a huge demographic.
robert poznanski September 08, 2011 at 02:26 PM
We may not have an official"language", but don't tell that to the FAA , as English is indeed, the official language of flight control,world wide! And, by the way, I'm old enough to not want to be instantly contacted by any one, when its good for them,and as any emergency can wait till I feel its necessary to act, I don't have a cell phone, especially, after witnessing enough lunacy surrounding the use of them,I don't want one!! !!

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