Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Christmas Story

I found myself at the customer service desk on the day after Christmas, the busiest day of the year for returns. The lines were long, but moved along steadily since we had plenty of help and a couple of other registers had been converted to accept returns. Once again, given adequate resources, we proved we could get the job done… not that they made it easy on us. The single biggest issue was WAL-MART’s refusal to accept seasonal items as returns, thinking perhaps people would cheat the store by using the item for Christmas then return it after they were done. However, this problem continued to arise for weeks afterwards since the store still wouldn’t accept the return even if the customer had purchased the item on clearance after Christmas. Seeing this for the money-grubbing attempt it was, customers went ballistic. One manager pulled me aside to tell me not to worry about cheap $2-3 items since they weren’t worth the hassle. But when I told him point blank that the real problem was not accepting seasonal returns, he ignored me and repeated his earlier advice… that issue was clearly off the table.

Of course the real reason that WAL-MART gets so many returns isn’t because their customers are trying to cheat them but because their products, frankly, suck. I have taken back literally thousands of products in every department that simply do not work at all. One of my favorite things to do at the service desk is to ask the customer what they paid for their microwave that doesn’t work. When they say “$34” I just nod my head and try to remain expressionless. Sometimes they will get my point and say they should have known better, but far more often they'll say they would like to take another chance with an equal exchange. A close second in favorite activities to kill time at the desk is to read about different WAL-MART products that have been recalled. They are simply hilarious, albeit in an alarming sort of way. Most are for battery packs that overheat and start a fire; worse are the children’s toys that promise choking hazards, lead paint, collapsing cribs, and even “amputation of finger’s.” Inevitably, at the bottom of the recall flier it will say “MADE IN CHINA.” Much is made of the company’s cozy relationship with the People’s Republic, but it doesn’t really hit home until you walk through our toy department and see that almost every single one carries this label. Oh, if only there was some way of knowing…

While it is certainly an up-hill battle taking returns during the holidays, WAL-MART doesn’t make the other jobs on the front-end any easier. A good illustration is our shortage of bags, a reoccurring problem. It starts out as the usual annoyance of having to steal bags from the other registers, but soon all of the vacant registers are picked clean. Even cheaper bags, seemingly from the early-1990’s, appear and it becomes clear that this time we will actually run out of bags. And so you begin doing exactly what they want, stretching the use of every last bag (one time I had to switch over to the large bags, cleverly rigging them to fit on the turning-rack.) Operations slow down and customers get pissed, but we never actually run out, with one of the CSM’s speeding to the nearest store at the last minute and jamming their car full with a case of bags. Again, customers may view this debacle as amateur hour, but in reality it is a purposeful effort to meet ever-lower quotas. The story is the same with big bags, small bags, freezer bags, and trash bags; with gift card envelopes; with car batteries and walkie-talkie batteries; with dustpans and snow shovels. In the end, all this does is save a couple of dollars and it makes our job much harder.

Not to sound whiny, but WAL-MART did ruin my Christmas. I knew going on into this that I would hate being inside a WAL-MART all day, but I had never been inside a WAL-MART all day during Christmas time. It takes hell to a whole new level. The mean customers and out-of-control consumerism were just too much for me, and WAL-MART somehow managed to make an already difficult job almost impossible. To top it off, I found out that Christmas bonuses ranged from a low of $25 up to a high of $75. However, with renovations that previous summer, money was tight, so I would not be getting my Christmas bonus that year. At least a new year was one the way.


dale1980us said...

What you say is very true. I've managed to suffer thru 5 Xmas seasons. I hate xmas more and more every year.

Anonymous said...

Out-of-control consumerism? Lmao. Did you not realize that it's a store?

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Wal-Mart gives Christmas bonuses. Most big-boxes don't.

I've worked 3 years of retail through my last bit of college. Christmas was always the worst.

My biggest two problems with retail stores:
1. More and more stores are open later and later. This can throw off your sleeping schedule dramatically and you will never feel "right".

Two days of working at 5AM till 1PM. Then they want you to come in at 8PM and work till 4AM. These combinations go on in all forms and all year long.

2. They don't hire full-time. They will also use hours as a "stick".

Sure, they will ask you "can you stay 2 hours later tonight?" If you say no they will act like its no problem. It shouldn't be, you've stayed later many times before and come int cover shifts.

Then you come into the next week. Your 35 hours a week schedule that you had previously is now 16 hours.

Because of the politics of giving a limited number of hours to many employees, you are pretty much never get any holiday off and will always be expected to cancel your plans for work.

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