I had been standing in line at Best Buy for at least 10 minutes, when above the music playing in my earbuds, I heard the rumblings of a temper tantrum. I looked up from my phone, which I was also fiddling with to help pass the time. Usually I roll my eyes, increase the volume on my ipod and keep shopping when a temper tantrum is in progress. Rarely do I stare. Countless times I’ve witnessed kids fling themselves to the floor, stomp their feet, or scream at their parents. If I happen to make eye contact with another shopper, we simply shake our heads in disapproval.
I and others shook our heads at the star of this temper tantrum. It was not was not a child unhappy that his mother was not purchasing a shiny new toy for him to discard ten minutes after they returned home; it was an adult. The woman, standing at the counter, accompanied presumably by her husband and ten or eleven year old son, was shouting at the Geek Squad team member trying but failing to resolve her problem to her liking. The woman, who had hints of a Spanish accent, was upset that she would not be walking out of the store with a new product. She had to wait for its Wednesday delivery. She demanded to speak with a manager, who told her the same thing the associate had. She walked away, still shouting, complaining about the poor customer service.
I thought it was over, but her husband remained at the desk, silent, as he had been during his wife’s tirade. She inched closer to the desk and threw all the paperwork on the floor, accidentally throwing a piece of jewelry or something that she intended to keep. Another customer retrieved and handed it to her. She hollered for her husband to follow her. Her son looked like he wanted to teleport out of the store. The husband, perhaps now embarassed that he hadn’t sufficiently supported his wife, began to shout. He was less convincing as an irate customer. His outburst looked like it was all for show. As he shouted his disappointment and called the manager useless and other names, he looked around to see who was watching him. At the mention of security, the dissatisfied party exited the store.
At least two more customers were helped, but a third person wasn’t so lucky. Once again, I hit pause on my iPod to listen to an angry customer voice his displeasure. He started out pleasantly arguing his point, until he became frustrated and began to swear and cuss. His problem: when he purchased his computer for $700+ he also purchased the protection plan, which he was told, guaranteed him a replacement computer of the same value if anything happened to his. Something did happen to it and he demanded a new one. The Geek Squad member told him he could get a computer with comparable specs, not price. The suggested comparable computer had a price tag in the $500 range. After much back and forth, he was given a store credit and stormed off to speak to a sales associate on the floor. He needed a computer.
Just as his tirade was dying down, a customer at another register began to raise his voice. I wasn’t interested in being audience to yet another adult behaving badly so I turned up the music on my ipod. Years ago, I worked in retail. I still have my nametags from Filene’s, Filene’s Basement, Borders, Buck-a-Book, Waldenbooks and even Bed, Bath and Beyond where I barely lasted a month. I can’t say I was ever the recipient of a customer’s outburst, but I’ve had pushy or impatient customers. Outbursts were one of my biggest fears along with giving back incorrect change (I wasn’t too great at counting money).
Customers fail to realize that we associates are at the bottom of the food chain. During training and employee meetings we are reminded by the Store managers that we have limited authority. So when a customer is unhappy about not receiving a damage discount for a miniscule snag in a sweater or that we can’t accept a return without a receipt or tags on the article of clothing, it’s all just a waste of energy. We have to call a manager. It’s uncomfortable for all involved. A customer’s outburst can ruin a whole shift, but even though we may be upset at the time, those customers become a story that we later tell friends and family.
I was at Best Buy that Saturday morning to pick up a new wireless router that I had ordered online, but selected in-store pick up. While in the pick-up line, I saw multiple signs to get protection plans on items, such as electronics, if available. I asked the associate behind the pick-up desk if I could add the protection plan to my router, and also asked her to look up the protection plan on my Bose earbuds I was wearing at the time.
I never leave my apartment without my ipod and something to read. Most of my destinations involve a bus or train ride and I like to occupy my time by reading and listening to music. I abuse my headphones. Sometimes they drag on the floor behind me, get caught in the zipper of my jacket, get tangled with the contents of my pockets, and get knotted up. I purchase a new pair every year, year and a half.
Two years ago I purchased the protection plan. For two years, if anything happens to my earbuds–wear and tear, or stopped working–I could get a replacement pair at no additional cost, except if I opted for another protection plan. The earbuds in question I had purchased for my birthday in April 2012. The soft black and white material covering the cord was cracked and chipped in several places. I could no longer slide up and down the small piece meant to keep the cords from tangling.
The sales associate informed me I was covered until April 2014. She said I would need to show ID to, and pointed me in the direction of, the Geek Squad desk, where I witnessed the aforementioned adult meltdowns.
When it was my turn at the Geek Squad desk, I confidently handed over my ID and explained my situation. At first he couldn’t find me in the system, possibly because he mistyped my long last name. He asked for my phone number. My heart raced as I wondered why it was taking him so long to find me in the system. He wasn’t speaking to me. The lady at the pick-up desk had given me my information with ease and in less than a minute. I remembered hearing that the terms of one of the previous customers’ protections plans had changed. I thought I was going to be told the same. I wondered if I too would have to get belligerent and show my outrage like my predecessors.
You catch more flies with honey. Yelling would not guarantee that I walk out with a new replacement pair of earbuds, but being a pushover wouldn’t either. I’ve never been rude to a sales associate. It’s not my style. I’m the shopper who straightens books on the table or hangs a fallen sweater. I would feel like a hypocrite.
I exhaled as he explained that he’d issue a store credit for the exact value, which I could use to purchase a new pair of earbuds. After waiting in line for over half an hour (and subsequently missing the 12 pm showing of 12 Years a Slave), I didn’t want to go searching through the store to find the buds and wait in a third line. I asked if he could get them and complete the transaction right there. He walkie talkied to a fellow associate to bring over a pair.
He repeated the request two more times. As we waited, the gentleman with the computer problem returned and resumed his shouting at the two associates and manager behind the Geek Squad desk. His face was flushed red. He stood close to me prompting me to grab my bags and move over. As the manager dealt with him, to my relief an associate came over with my buds. I wanted to wear them out the store and knew the hassle it was to open the packaging, so I requested that the associate do it for me. He disappeared to the back for a few minutes. When he returned he commented how difficult it was to open the package. We both laughed when I told him that’s precisely why I had him to do it.
Before leaving, I thanked him for all his help and wished him a happy rest of the day. He thanked me for my patience, not only for waiting in line for so long, but also the wait time it took to get the buds and remove them from the box. His brown eyes seemed to appreciate that I hadn’t yelled at him as the computer guy had. It might have been my imagination, but I think he was sad to see me leave. He had a long day ahead of him, and who knows how many more irate customers. I was irritated at having spent nearly a whole unplanned hour in the store. As I walked out I made a mental note to choose delivery next time and definitively decided that I would not seek a retail job to earn extra income during the holiday season.