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Retail Suicide

You have to wonder sometimes if some big corporations are intent on committing suicide or if they are just so incompetent that it only seems that way.

As we get older, our clothing requirements are simple. We buy much of what we need either online or from superstores such as Costco. But once in a while, my wife Carmela likes to go to a big retail store and try on different outfits and see how they look and feel – something that is impossible online or at a large warehouse store.

So a couple weeks ago, off she goes to Macy’s – where over the years and through many iterations – she has shopped for more than 50 years. But this time the experience was different.

She went there to buy a leather handbag, but on the way to the handbag section, she passed though the women’s clothing section and found five items to try on. She decided to buy one of them – a pair of white slacks – and proceeded to the section with purses.

Little did she know that  the retail genii at Macy’s seem to have divided the store into sections. And although she’s really not certain, after the day’s experience, she has gotten the idea that shoppers are supposed to pay for each item in the particular section it’s chosen from and and if a shopper wishes to buy items from two or more sections, they have to stand in line two or more times and pay for the items at different registers. Now Carmela is not absolutely sure this is the situation, but the brouhaha that ensued with her planned purchase of slacks and a purse makes this seem likely.

It’s as though when you go to Home Depot you have to wait in line to pay for nails at one cash register, then go to another register to buy light bulbs, and wait again for a potted palm at yet a third register.

Macy’s – one of the first department stores – has been through many iterations, but in one form or another it has been around for 165 years. How much longer will it survive in an ever-competitive field?

Good question.

So my wife – a very clean-cut and friendly 68-year-old woman – went shopping unaware of the new rules that Macy’s seems to have implemented.

As she walked over to the handbag section with the as-yet unpurchased slacks on her arm, she heard a man on a two-way radio saying: Customer has left try-on area with unpaid merchandise on her arm. She’s moving toward handbags.

How weird, she thought.

Then she looked up to see three women security folks with walkie-talkies tracking her – one to the left, one to the right, and one stealthily moving in front of her. The disembodied voice then described Carmela and kept directing the three women to keep tracking her.

Realizing what was happening, Carmela approached the closest security woman and said, “excuse me, I think you’re talking about me.” The young woman quickly turned her back to Carmela and would not acknowledge her presence. She tried once more to talk to her with the same results. Then she tried one of the other two women. Same response.

Meanwhile the man on the walkie talkie kept tracking Carmela’s movements, describing her and his suspicion that she was a thief over the walkie-talkies so everyone in the area could hear.

At this point, another customer looked at Carmela and asked, “what’s going on?”

Carmela told her Macy’s security obviously thought she was stealing something, even though she was in the interior of the store, moving further inside the store, and nowhere near the exits – which she would have to use in order to actually steal something. The fellow shopper made a nasty comment about how lousy Macy’s has become.

Carmela obviously agreed.

Disgusted by the experience, Carmela put the slacks back in the slacks section and left. Then she came home, cut up her Macy’s charge card, and wrote an angry letter to Macy’s corporate headquarters, complaining about her experience.

Two weeks after sending the letter, Carmela was contacted by a woman from Macy’s corporate headquarters, who promised somebody would be in touch soon.

Three days later another person from Macy’s called. She rudely said there would be a “thorough investigation” into the situation, but “of course” they couldn’t tell Carmela anything about the investigation nor would they ever contact her again.

In corporate-talk: Screw you lady.

Fair enough.

When an organization is intent on suicide, there’s not a lot to do except remember them for what they used to be and take your business elsewhere. Online, perhaps.

– George Lee Cunningham

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