Crazy Customer Stories - Working Retail Christmas 2009

For those of you who don’t know, I own a single, but large toy store. I also own a complimentary business for the purpose of diversification, but just in case we’ll leave that out of it so that I can remain as anonymous as possible. (Just in case - I’m not famous or anything, but I am highly visible in my community.)

So, we’ve had some real winners this year. Normally we have the best customers in the world, but we’ve had some crazies this 4th quarter.

Stories to follow.

Please add your own so we may commiserate.

So a few days ago a customer comes up to one of my employees and says, “So, do you like, give discounts?”

My employee replied, “I’m sorry, what do you mean? What product are you referencing?”

The customer says, “The backpacks up front.”

A little background - the backpacks are great sellers, can’t be found anywhere around here, are only $21.99 and should probably be priced at $24.99.


So the other day I get a phone call from a customer about an item that we’re the only store in the state that stocks said item. It’s very large, so shipping would be tremendous.

The conversation goes like this:

Me: “Thank you for calling XXXXX Toy Store, this is Marconi and Schmeese, how can I help you today?”

Customer: “Do you have the XXX in stock?”

Me: “Yes, ma’am, we do.”

Customer: “How much is it?”

Me: “It’s $259.99.”

Customer: “No, that’s the small one, I want the big one. The big one is three hundred something.”

Me: “No, the small one is $119.99 and the big one is $259.99. I promise!” (So, this should be great news, right?)

Customer: “Oh. Well, is it going to be on sale this weekend?”

Me: “No ma’am, I’m sorry, we are not going to be having any more sales this year.”

Customer: “Oh. Well, I have a coupon for $20.00 off a $100.00 purchase. Can I use that on it?”

Me: "Yes ma’am, but you see, if you read the coupon, you wouldn’t be able to use the coupon if the item was on sale anyway. Hurry in, the coupon expires on the 13th!

Really? So the item is actually far less than you thought it was, BUT not only do you want it to be on sale, but you ALSO want to combine a coupon that you can’t even be arsed to read? Seriously? Can’t you just be happy?

Me: “Thank you for calling the XXXX Toy Store, this is Marconi and Schmeese, how can I help you today?”

Customer: “Do you have any tin tea sets in stock?”

Me: “Why yes ma’am, we do, let me go get it for you so I can give you a price and a description.”

comes back with our only TIN tea set, gives price, full item description, etc.

Customer: “Now, you’re sure it’s TIN?”

One of my all time favorites:

Customer: “Do you match prices?”

Employee: “I’m so sorry, we can’t. We strive to keep our prices competitive year round. What item are you referring to?”

Customer: “Well WalMart/Toys R Us has X for $10 cheaper than you.” (on a $150 item that’s on a three day sale, but regularly more expensive than us)

Employee: “Oh, that’s awesome! Do they have it in stock?”

Customer: “No.”

Employee: “Oh no, that’s a shame!”


I have difficulty seeing this as anything horrible on the customer’s part. The dialog you quoted doesn’t indicate to me that he tried to use the coupon for a sale item, only that he was trying alternatives for getting it more cheaply - he asked if he could use the coupon after you said it would not be on sale.

Yeah, I’m not seeing too many crazy customers here, actually. They’re all just negotiating (and negotiating civilly, based upon your summaries). Why won’t you lower your prices Marconi & Schmeese? It’s because you’re trying to make a profit. While i’m sure you’re a very friendly store that has knowledgable employees stocking items you can’t get almost anywhere else…you’re still trying to make a profit. That’s your goal. And the customer may love your store, love how knowledgable your employees are, be driven to support local businesses…but their goal is to not spend any more than is necessary.
So the dance begins.

My crazy customer story–although you probably had to be there.

A guy who I would estimate to be in his thirties approached me and asked if I worked there. (No, I just happen to be wearing the store employee uniform down to the name tag and having the store name on my shirt)

He then asked about Betty Crocker’s Pie Crust Mix.

I started down the Baking Needs Aisle and discovered that the guy who approached me wasn’t the one who wanted to buy the product. That guy was an older gentleman.

Well, anyway, I found the pie crust mix with the pie filling rather than with the cake mixes (same aisle, different areas).

This was the eighth store the gentleman in question had been to in his quest for the pie crust mix. He put several in his basket, and I wandered back to another area of the store, and chatted a bit with a coworker about why one needs pie crust mix–isn’t pie crust flour, shortening and water anyway? (We do understand the appeal of readymade pie crusts, just not this mix).

Shortly thereafter, I was approached again by the elderly gentleman, who wanted me to know that we now were out of the pie crust mix because he was buying them all.

If you hadn’t described the customer as a “gentleman”, I’d be sure you’d just met my mother. She does just that with a particular roll mix every time she comes to visit me. They have it at the Giant Eagle near me, but they don’t sell it anywhere in her area. She buys all she can find of it when she goes there. She also buys them out of Ludens’ honey-licorice cough drops.

Once, when I was a teenager, she found a good sale on the one brand and one flavor of cat food her cat would eat. She bought 68 cans of it at one time. I nearly died of embarrassment.

Now, I periodically go to Ohio to stock up on wines I can’t get in Pennsylvania. I guess it’s genetic.

In response to the questions of why we won’t negotiate - I’m just curious:

Would you go into Saks Fifth Avenue, Barnes and Noble, your favorite family owned restaurant, etc. and ask if they would take a lower price for an item? We are family owned, by the way.

I’m curious. I’ve never in my life asked a store to price match. If I want that item, I damn well go to the advertising store and purchase it. If they are out of stock, well that’s my tough luck. It’s all a big game in retail.

Unless you are in retail perhaps you don’t understand the game. Many stores advertise items at crazy prices that they will knowingly have only two or three of per store specifically to HURT their competitors when they price match it (because the competitors actually do have it in stock).

We are a specialty store. Specialty stores cannot and generally do not price match, especially in our industry.

I will match mass merchants’ prices when they match my level of service.

And, that doesn’t seem to be a problem for my customers. We’ve been in business for 11 years, have a database of over 20,000 customers and we’re up 35% for December so far over 2008.

Perhaps you would be happier shopping at mass merchants. YMMV.

Having done my share of time working retail, I’ve dealt with my share of the crazy.

There was the unhappy dude to came in to literally scream at the store manager, and when hurling words wasn’t getting him whatever it was he wanted (his ranting was incoherent from my vantage 20 feet away), he began to hurl chairs. To my manager’s credit, he somehow managed to maintain an inhuman level of calm throughout the exchange.

There was the woman who started screaming her head off at the cashier because the machine kept rejecting her credit card. Her stolen credit card.

There was the teen in the video game aisle who was stuffing games into his sweat pants and shirts. They were still locked in their security containers, and they would have sent the security sensors blaring if he got within 10 feet of them with that many security tags hidden about his person. But he didn’t try and leave the store with them because he noticed myself and another cow-orker watching him – or his lookout did, perhaps, because he then started removing them from his person. One by one. By one. By one. By one … until he had made a neat little stack almost half as tall as he was. There were 30 games in there, all told, and we were trying to figure out just how in the hell he planned to get out if there with the slightest movement with that many oversized security boxes stuffed into his clothes would make loud clanking noises. Neither of us wanted to be the ones to restock them on the racks.

Then there was the well-dressed fellow who came to me with a problem: He needed a piece of software to be able to perform a specific activity, which was to be able to talk over the mic while audio was playing in the background. We didn’t stock anything like it though, but I told him I knew of a few programs on the 'net he could use. He asked me if I could find one for him and he’d tip me if I could burn it to a disk for him. So I found the shareware version of a program on the 'net that did what he was looking for and type up some instructions on how to use it to do what he wanted, and gave it to him in the parking lost after work the next day, because he needed it ASAP. He tipped me $100. The program only cost $30 to buy, but he didn’t want to do the work himself. Not that I was complaining… that was more than a full day’s pay at the time.

How 'bout the well-dressed gentleman who was browsing the CDs? Three-piece suit, very sharp. Looked like a business professional – except for the fact that he was caught shoplifting said CDs. He was taken to the back room while the cops were called. Meanwhile an employee from a clothing store several stores down came into the store to inquire after the gentleman. It seems they were missing a suit…

So, we offer free gift wrap, right?

Well, when you offer free gift wrap, it’s got to be a type of advertising - branding, if you will.

So, your gift wrap needs to be the same for each occasion for customers to recognize where the gift came from.

For example, all Christmas gifts from XXX Toy Store look like ABC and all Hanukkah gifts from XXX Toy Store look like ABC, but blue and silver instead. All birthday gifts look like XYZ regardless of gender, age, etc.

It does happen to be rather creative and pretty. But don’t forget, it’s free, remember? We even provide the gift tags.

So, this couple comes in and spends something like $20 on mostly clearance items. But $20 is $20, and money is money in this economy. So we start wrapping. They want every item wrapped separately.

Including three fifty cent finger puppets.

But wait, it gets better.

The man gets ANGRY because all of the gifts are going to look the same. He wants us to wrap each gift differently, and I quote, “Like each one came from a different store.”

Gift wrap rules went into effect that day.

I’d just like to begin by saying that the OP’s diversification-motivated business is a very nice one…

Or, what about the angry man from Friday who wanted to return a puppet theater?

Us: "No problem, sir, do you have your receipt?

Jackass: “No, but I have my credit card. You can look it up by that.”

Us: “Actually sir, I apologize, but our point of sale system does not have that capability.”

Jackass, getting louder: “Other stores can do it, I KNOW you can, too!”

Us: “Sir, I’d be happy to give you a store credit, but I honest to God cannot look up your transaction by your credit card.”

Jackass, now yelling (in front of other customers): “Fine, I’ll go look for my receipt!!!” And storms out.

Other customers snicker after he leaves

Really, honest to God, we cannot look up a transaction by a credit card. The only stores that I know can do that are Target and Brooks Brothers. This guy had anger issues.

I wouldn’t ask anybody to dicker, no. But I see nothing wrong with asking if they offer a service that many other stores not only offer, but make a point of mentioning in their ads. Seriously, if this is your big-time crazy customer story, you have had a very, very sheltered time in retail.

I guess that’s great news and I should consider myself very fortunate. These type of instances are very few and far between. Overall, I do believe we have the greatest customers in the world.

Our employees tell us horror stories of working at other retail establishments. I guess I should have listened more?

Well, no. I wouldn’t do that. Not because it would label me as a “crazy customer” but because I understand just flat out asking for a cheaper price than is labeled for no other reason than because I asked for it, will almost never ever work (almost never…)

Asking what the current price is, whether there’s going to be a sale soon, whether this coupon applies, whether there’s a current manufacturer’s rebate, whether there was a sale that just ended, etc. etc etc. also shouldn’t label me as a “crazy” customer. I probably wouldn’t go to the lengths of all that, but a customer that does is just trying to save money in the same manner that you’re trying to make money.

Also when someone calls you up on the phone and ask if you have a tin tea set, and you reply “yup” and then the person says “are you SURE it’s tin?” I think your ire would best be directed not at the customer who’s just trying to confirm information, but rather at the millions of idiotic workers out there who have wasted billions of hours of driving time for the customers of the world who discover when they get to the store that the employee can’t tell the difference between tin and tin-alloy or tin and brass or heck, tin and plastic.

Maybe the stories don’t seem bad because it’s not a American store.

I’m going to second this, with all due respect, I think the sensitivity setting is little high on your expectation meter.

Okay, sheltered or not, we have VERY, VERY LITTLE theft. We have a sophisticated Point of Sale system (although it can’t look up receipts by a credit card - lol) and we do inventories regularly with palm pilots.

However, the other day, someone stole one large (bigger than a breadbox) and one huge (three feet by two feet) item worth $265. That’s more theft than we have in two years TOTAL.

So, yesterday, I spent my entire day off installing a sophisticated multi security camera system with a terrabyte drive that will record from here to eternity so I can identify and prosecute in the future.

So much for being a babe in the woods anymore. :frowning: