Panic in the Streets (or Shops Anyway)

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I can’t stop looking at goofy internet videos. A solid hour of clips of Conan O’Brien interviews, another of comedian Grace Helbig making a fool of herself over several clips (Crap, I just wasted another 15 minutes making sure her I spelled her name correctly and started watching more videos), and then about a half-hour just looking at whatever was in my YouTube subscription box that I hadn’t watched yet.

I am certain that I am viewing these entertaining but mindless distractions as a way to decompress from my week of stress over Christmas shopping – not my Christmas shopping – NO, everyone else’s Christmas shopping.

This is the 17th holiday shopping season I have worked in retail. I work in a bookstore and I consider myself a member of a noble, if possibly dying, profession.  I tell myself every year it isn’t really that stressful. Every year I tell myself it is hype and exaggeration, that the customers are actually quite nice and rarely argumentative, that I have the best gig amongst retail employees. Most of that is entirely true. It’s seldom rudeness or anger that is ever the problem. I have realized that the problem is customer panic.

Customers, in an attempt to rush through a shopping list as quickly as possible, will spray you with a fire hose of questions and requests, hoping you will snap to and jump to their aid immediately. I do not have a problem with this. I am in customer service. I am there to serve.  However, I can only fulfill one request at a time and sometimes I need more information from the customer in order to accurately find what they are looking for. For example, I’ll be bombarded with a list of book titles without authors or knowledge of the books’ genres. So, in order to give the best service I can, I need to diminish the force of pressure coursing through the customer’s information hose. Otherwise, I can’t swallow what they’re aiming at me without drowning. For example, there’s a reason why I’m asking if “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing” is fiction or non-fiction. If I don’t know what genre something is, I could point the customer to the wrong book – and surprise, there’s a novel with that title. Also, the computer inventory can only give me information as quickly as it can process it, not as quickly as the customer asks for it. 

The problem is, it doesn’t matter how much information I can absorb or disperse. The customer still has a specific number of gift recipients they are shopping for and only so many hours to shop within. These are constants. And as a result they are not yet ready to leave their state of panic. To do so would mean to slow down and that’s not acceptable.  So, in an attempt to maintain rapport, I unconsciously end up in a state of panic with them.  They see I’m panicking and this just makes them panic further. We’re in a never-ending panic loop which stretches both of our capacities and drains us rather quickly. The difference is, the customer gets to leave. I have to deal immediately with another customer and start to loop over.

The solution to consumer panic, though, seems more offensive to most shoppers than enduring the stress this panic causes. Whenever shops try to increase the holiday shopping season, everyone cries fowl, yelling about rabid consumerism or sacrilege. “Christmas decorations in November? That should be against the law!” shoppers scream. And while there is undeniably a capitalist motive, is it really a crime to remind you that the inevitable holiday shopping season is coming, a shopping season that you will most likely participate in regardless of your emotional, economic, political, or religious stance? Wouldn’t it be better to be reminded early, get your shopping done early, and avoid the stress and hassle of consumer panic? This year, I answer with a resounding Yes! But it’s too late. The panic has already started and now all I can do is remember to breathe and ride it out hoping that next year it will somehow get better. That is if the world doesn’t end in a week or so.


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