Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Kinder Gentler Shopping Day

Greg and I got everything both of us wanted in the day after shopping frenzy. He had some specific needs. The things I wanted were all small items but we were able to get everything we were after on the sales. He was at Office Max and I was at Office Depot.

I have to say that Office Depot in Joplin was the most organized I've ever seen any store be the day after Thanksgiving or the day after Christmas. They had every hot item tagged with a specific number and were giving out certificates for those specific things as you went in the door. Then you waited in line at the stock room and handed over your certificate and they brought you that specific item. It was very well done.

I also have to say their employees were the most gracious and helpful of any I've seen in awhile. And considering how much stress they must have been under that was all the more amazing. I was very impressed. If every store were run like the Joplin Office Depot we'd all be having many more pleasant shopping experiences.

The only other stop I made was to Kohl's. I wasn't looking for anything major there but no one was up at Miss Joy's when I was done with Office Depot and I had locked the door behind me and didn't want to wake anyone to let me back in. I bought a couple of things at Kohl's and waiting in a line that was stretching to the back of the store on both sides to check out. By the time I was through that line I decided no one had anything I wanted that badly. Greg and I did pop in to Office Depot later in the day to pick up a couple of incidental things - not sale items - and it was desolate. I guess everyone was shopped out. I stopped by Michaels after dinner and it was the same way.

I witnessed many acts of kindness while shoppping. People were very courteous to each other and employees were going the extra mile to help people. When they had someone change their mind on items at Office Depot yesterday morning the employees came through the store, asking if anyone had wanted one of those things and hadn't gotten a chance at a certificate. It was quite nice.

Greg saw people loaning extra coats out of their car to other folks waiting in line and being very generous with their fellow shoppers. I saw no incidents of unpleasantness from shoppers or employees. I can't say that's always been the case. A couple of years ago at Hastings, Greg and I both saw one of the most ridiculous displays I've ever witnessed. An employee snapped at people who were reaching around her into a case for an mp3 player. When I say "snapped," I'm being kind. Of course, it was one of those situations where you could see the fault on all sides. The customers shouldn't have been grabbing and the employee shouldn't have snapped. But, the real fault lies with the company, that shouldn't have had a locked case in the middle of the store with a hot item in it where the crowds could get right up to it. And, of course, the people who were the most aggressive were rewarded because she just handed out the few items they had to those who were crowded around her instead of having a system for giving them to those who had waited the longest. Obviously, if I was close enough to even see/hear it, and I'd been somewhere else when they opened, there was a flaw in the system.

But this Friday seemed to be a much more laid back experience, at least here. I was shocked when I saw the news of a man dying when people broke down a Walmart door in New Jersey. I looked at the Walmart ad again and I cannot imagine what they had that was worth even going there for, much less killing someone for.

CNN is reporting that police officers patrolling overnight at the store had been concerned about the crowd, but had been unable to get it better organized. I'm not sure what the thinking was that if the police couldn't do it they expected temporary employees at a Walmart store to do it after the crowd was larger and more invested in the time they had spent waiting. Police do have the power to disperse crowds. Why didn't they do that if they were concerned? Part of the job description is public safety.

The tricky thing with all of this is that if you're at the front of the crowd, and being pushed by those at the back of the crowd, you are unable to stop if you see someone fall. And those in the back don't know someone has fallen. You may not know until you step on them if you're in the middle. It's an ugly situation and it's doubtful any charges will be filed because of that unability to identify any specific person/event that is the problem.

I've only once been in that sort of a situation and it had nothing to do with shopping. It was at an event and I was in the middle of the crowd when I found myself being moved along through no effort of my own. I had never understood the idea of being "swept along," but that's it. And it would be very easy to fall if you're trying to actually stand where you are. You'll just be bent over. Very difficult to consider.

The police officer involved with this case says it's incumbent on stores to manage it better. I would agree stores need better systems. A line, for example, would be a better system than what it seems they had. I haven't seen the video but the way they describe it it sounds like it was just a crowd, without any lines, which is much more dangerous. But I also think police have to share some responsibility in this case. If they realized there was a potential problem and didn't address it, there's an issue there.

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