I said that I wasn’t going to do it anymore, but at the mall on Friday night, I caught myself doing it again.
I entered the store of my one my favorite brands “Hi!” the young sales associate greeted me and walked away. I proceeded to roam around the store, checking out the latest fall merchandise. Other customers, younger and paler than me, entered the store. “Hi! Most of the things in the store are 40 percent off today.”
Wait a minute. Why didn’t she mention to me that there was a 40 percent off sale? Other people entered the store and I heard her tell them about the sale. When I felt the slight elevation in my blood pressure, I knew that I would be indulging in some “show you” shopping.
This is a phenomenon that develops when you feel like you have been overlooked or dismissed by a store employee, either because of race, age or class (or any combination of the above). Some small part of you wants to prove that you belong there, prove that you are as good (or hip or rich) as anyone else. Many times I don’t even think that the slight is on purpose. Maybe the more dissimilar the person entering the store is from their demographic, the less likely are salespersons to consider them a potential customer.
I immediately walked over to the leather jackets – $500. Good thing that my discomfort was only a slight one, as it was payday and I had over $1,000 in my checking account. I walked over to the tee shirts, the ones that I always bought from the clearance rack on previous visits. But today, I was going to buy one from the general stock, since they were 40 percent off and I was pissed off. But before selecting one, I took my good ol’ time browsing the store, watching to see if they were watching to see if I was pocketing any of the jewelry, scarves and peasant blouse I was touching. Finally, I returned to the front of the store and picked out a tee shirt. I felt justified as I walked out of the store with my brown paper shopping bag.
As I continued strolling through the mall, I thought about other incidents. Last year, while in one of the shoe stores in the mall, a sales person came up to me as I was looking at their funky backpacks. “Are you looking for a backpack for your grandchildren?” On this occasion, my blood did boil. “No, I do not HAVE any grandchildren,” I responded in my most menacing growl. Over the years, I had bought hundreds of dollars of shoes in this store. Now I was too old to even be considered a customer? I was tempted to buy the most expensive, most outrageous combat boots that they had in the store, but I refrained from giving her the sale. I wrote a letter to the company, and the manager emailed back, “Epic fail.”
Last year, I went to an upscale shopping center in a nearby town. Since I had just started a new job and was in need of new glasses, I went into an eyewear store. Neither of the two salespersons standing idle at the counter greeted me. When a young Caucasian woman came in a few minutes later, they greeted her and asked if she needed some assistance. I continued to peruse the designer frames but still no sales person approached me. After about ten minutes of being ignored, I walked out later. A few months later, I spent $400 on new glasses at my local branch of the store, where the staff was a lot friendlier.
During holiday shopping in San Francisco a few years ago, my best friend (who is white) and I went into a high-end department store. We spent almost an hour admiring the designer handbags and shoes. Not once were we asked if we needed assistance or if we wanted to try on expensive shoes. I have noticed that staff at upscale stores gives everyone the once-over before determining if they are worthy of their attention. No stylish but discreetly done nails? No shoes displaying the logo of the latest hot designer or a trusted European favorite? Next!
Once, my Latino then-boyfriend and I decided to visit at a local Porsche dealership. The sales woman grudgingly came out of the office. When we told her that we were just looking, she quickly returned to her office, never to be seen again (but we could see her peeping out of the window at us). No high-pressure sales pitch, no offer of a test drive – nothing. We both had decent jobs and probably could have afforded a Porsche, if somebody had wanted to sell us one.
I remind myself that Oprah was told by a salesperson that she couldn’t afford an expensive handbag when she visited a European boutique. If I ever find myself with a five-figure windfall, I plan to buy a car – with cash. I will wear my oldest jeans, a shapeless top, and carry my cheapest purse. When ignored, I will respond in true “Pretty Woman” fashion, “Do you work on commission?” I will whip out my cashier’s check emblazoned with zeros. Or course, they will probably call my bank and possibly even the police, but eventually they will kiss my ass and I’ll “show you” shop for a brand new car.
It might seem stupid to support a business that doesn’t acknowledge you as a customer, but sometimes it is immensely satisfying to shatter a stereotype. Of course, those sit-in customers in my birthplace of Greensboro, North Carolina knew that the food at Woolworth wasn’t as good as the food they could get at home, but they still wanted to be served.
I love my new tee shirt.