As a retail customer, why is it rare to receive a thank you after completing a transaction?
December 7, 2008 10:52 PM   Subscribe

As a retail customer, why is it rare to receive a thank you after completing a transaction?

When I worked in retail a long time ago, we were trained to thank the customer after a sale.

It seemed like a simple thanks after a sale was standard part of customer service.

In recent years though, its rare to get a thank you. If anything its "have a good day" and often its indifference or outright rudeness.

Is it just me or do others see this too?
posted by jorlando to Shopping (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The monotony of retail jobs really wears on you. I imagine a lot of the workers are tired because their employers won't schedule enough people to work a shift (very often) and a lot of them just don't care (when I worked at Wal-Mart, people would just skip work because they knew they wouldn't get fired, the company needed the employees). Not that any of that is an excuse.
posted by DMan at 11:00 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's tough work, the pay is low, and the workers are often inexperienced or, thanks to a booming economy (think anything prior to spring 2008), service industry workers are often the dregs of the lot.

North America has experienced full employment for almost fifteen years. The people motivated to say "thank you" have left Wal-Mart to do greater things.

I went to a McDonalds the other day and it was a disaster. The place was filthy, they had loud music blaring on a boombox, and I watched someone grab a chicken nugget out of the tray and eat it, and then make a McChicken. When I worked at McD's back in the late 80s, that entire scenario could never have happened, because jobs were scarce, at least for high school kids.

But why should people care when they're being paid minimum wage?

Anyway, if you want to see good service, go to Costco. No "thank yous", but at least the relatively enlightened work environment means the shopping experience isn't a total nightmare.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:01 PM on December 7, 2008

Huh, what?! Where do you shop? I get a smile and a "Thank you and have a nice day!" everywhere I spend my money, no exceptions, even from particularly grumpy grocery store employees. I am talking about the United States, mostly Houston, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York and Seattle.

Then again, I am a girl who likes to dress up. Come to think of it, bartenders are the one exception. But they hate me, and as long as they hand me a drink, that's good enough for me.

Europe, on the other hand is a whole different story: no gratitude on my recent (this year) trips to Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands, and Greece but everybody loved me in Turkey.
posted by halogen at 11:05 PM on December 7, 2008

I tried to get in the habit of saying "thanks" while working as a cashier, but it never seemed to come easily. I do think some of it was habit - I was originally trained to just say "have a great day" or something along those lines - but I'll admit I was also guilty of generalizing about customers. I worked in a specialty/health food store in a rich neighborhood and had a lot of snobbish customers that I just couldn't bring myself to thank when they tended to make my job more difficult. I did try to thank the nice, normal people when I remembered but it really doesn't come naturally to me, and probably not to a lot of people my age (18) since we are sort of a spoiled group.

I often think you should get paid every hour instead of weekly/biweekly, because sometimes work sucks so much it's hard to remember that you are, in fact, getting paid, and that customers are the only reason the company can pay you.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 11:06 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bad management. You said it yourself--you were trained to thank the customers.
In some stores (e.g., my local Safeway) staff will always call me by name if I use a card, and thank me.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:25 PM on December 7, 2008

It's always seemed to me like just plain courtesy. I've never been specifically trained to do so when I've worked as a cashier, but even as a customer I'll always thank one after a transaction. And it does feel odd when they don't say the same before or after, so I definitely notice it.

But isn't that part of what these "secret shoppers" should be pointing out?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:26 PM on December 7, 2008

In some stores (e.g., my local Safeway) staff will always call me by name if I use a card, and thank me.

It's always bugged me when workers are told to thank customers by name after they've seen it on a receipt or card. It strikes me as insincere (even if they are legitimately friendly). Plus, you might be using someone else's store card so they're addressing you incorrectly. And it probably sucks for the poor cashier when they get names that are hard to pronounce.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:31 PM on December 7, 2008

I think it's a breakdown of corporate identity. Like, if you were speaking to a perfect representative of the store, the store would thank you. But that illusion doesn't dominate most transactions, where you're basically handing something over and they're doing some work on it to convert it to a sold product so you can walk out the door. They're punching buttons, stuffing bags, ripping recipts, getting you pens, counting change, etc. and you're just standing there waiting. They're doing work, you're not. So, without a company giving a strong and coherent narrative to follow, like "the company thanks you for your profit-sustaining purchase!", it's natural to default to a "thanks for ringing that up, sorry to bother you, try to hang in there before the end of the shift" narrative.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:59 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always thank people who serve the counter, clean tables, cashier etc. Sometimes I get thanked first, but as far as I'm concerned it's not necessary. Having worked retail, it's a tough monotonous job, and customers are often surly or even downright rude, no matter your best efforts and pleasantness. Maintaining an upbeat attitude especially as an unmotivated teenager is tough. I thank them for their service because they've just assisted me, not the other way around.

There are plenty of worse jobs than checkout counter for sure, but few of them involve dealing with the public directly all day.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:13 AM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I actually find that most people in retail seem pretty friendly, all things considered. Maybe there's something in the water in L.A.
posted by scody at 12:19 AM on December 8, 2008

Jorlando, come into the retail chain where I work. You will always get a thank you and a please come back and see us.
posted by netbros at 12:40 AM on December 8, 2008

Maybe this is relevant (NSFW, unless you work in retail).
posted by fatllama at 1:44 AM on December 8, 2008

I was trained to say "thank you," but it always seemed weird when a customer would thank me for the drink to then say "Thank you!" back. There was a lot of thanks. And yet, I couldn't say "You're welcome" because money had just been exchanged for goods, so it wasn't exactly a goodwill gesture. So, "Have a great day!" was a good end point to a lot of recursive thanking.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:39 AM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's because everyone's so run down and depressed. Retail really gets at you, especially in this economy.

Working retail this summer, sometimes I couldn't bring myself to say 'thank you' because I really didn't feel like I had anything to be thankful for. I was working underpaid in a purposefully understaffed store selling drinks to tourists who made ten times what I did.

I would say 'thank you' in cases where I actually had reason to thank the customer, otherwise if they had been decent I would tell them to have a nice rest of the day/afternoon/evening.

Retail sucks.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:23 AM on December 8, 2008

I work retail and I say thank you because I have to. Faking politeness day in day out wears on you. If I don't say thank you or generally coat the transaction in a lacquer of Splenda then someone will go complain to have me fired. However, I never ask anyone "How are you today?" because I don't want anyone to actually answer.

When I'm on the other side as a retail customer, I prefer things like self checkout lanes and ordering ahead online for pickup. As a customer I have no need for inane chatter or small talk. I really want to buy thing, pay for thing, and leave. Whether the person doesn't say a word to me or chats me up is irrelevant to the transaction. If I am on the receiving end of something most people would consider rude service, I honestly don't care. It actually annoys me more when the service staff is trying to be my friend rather than getting me through the transaction.

That said, my base tip is always 30%. I usually tip 40-50%, just because paying servers 2.85 an hour is retarded.
posted by asockpuppet at 4:55 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

The reason I don't say thank you most of the time is because I don't think about it. When I am at work, I am not thinking about the things I am doing. I am thinking about what I'm going to do after work, what bills I need to pay, what I'm going to have for dinner, what I can do to keep my psychotic manager from making me miserable. I work at a pet store. It's really the exact same thing every day. After my three days of training, I knew my job enough to just check out. So it's really hard to bring myself back to earth long enough to care whether I remember to say thank you or not.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 5:43 AM on December 8, 2008

Is it just me or do others see this too?

I feel like it's just you, people say it plenty where I live -- New England, Vermont most of the time.
posted by jessamyn at 5:45 AM on December 8, 2008

What country are you in? I assume not the US, since customer service workers here are constantly saying, "Thanks, have a nice day," etc., as noted above.

In some stores (e.g., my local Safeway) staff will always call me by name if I use a card, and thank me.

I've never had that happen even though I regularly use a card with my easy-to-pronounce name -- probably because people realize it'd be creepy on multiple levels.

posted by Jaltcoh at 6:40 AM on December 8, 2008

I worked for years and years in retail as both lackey and, eventually manager in my twenties. Everyone I worked with or trained personally was taught one simple fact: without the customer, you don't have a job.

But it seems like today that fact is lost - somehow (and the comments above seem to support it) the idea has taken hold that retail is a shit job, "only" paying minimum wage and therefore "only" requiring the minimum effort - listen to the folks above who say that they're thinking about other things, they're bored, they're tired of customers, they really don't care. I think it's shameful, but I'm not sure what to do to change that perception.

I, too, see a lot of incredibly shoddy customer service in stores these days and would like to go into the backroom and shake their managers. It doesn't have to be gloom and doom every day at a retail job, but it's up to the leader to set the example and the tone.
posted by twiki at 6:44 AM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

There is, I think, a regional factor at play here, too. Since moving to Montana several years ago, I have been pleasantly surprised at how often people in all retail outlets say "Thank you!" -- and with a smile on their face, to boot. It was so different from my experiences in other places (large cities) that it almost felt a bit Twilight-Zoney at first. Friendly people - amazing!

And FWIW: this even holds true for teens at fast-food outlets here. Seriously.
posted by davidmsc at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2008

One thing I noticed that's common -- at least among people of my generation (I'm 24) -- is that many of them seem to feel like they're entitled to their job. (This may just always be common in young people instead of my generation in particular; I wouldn't know.) What I mean by that is they feel like they are deserving of money so long as they show up, and the quality of work they put forth doesn't enter into their minds at all. In a strictly legal sense this is true: if they put in the hours, they must be paid for them. But they don't give any thought to the fact that they're being paid for more than simply showing up.

In customer service jobs, this means they show up and work the cash register or telephone, which is the absolute minimum the job requires. They're being paid to do more than that, though: in customer service, you're expected to be cordial, or at least polite. When I've had customer service jobs, many -- though I wouldn't say a majority -- of my coworkers ignored that. Of those, all of them seemed to think they were entitled to the job. I'm of the mind that if you can't be friendly to most people, you have no business working those jobs. Since I was being paid in part to be friendly, I was friendly no matter what mood I was actually in. But many people feel they have a right to those jobs even if they don't put any effort into them.

If a supervisor points out that they're rude to customers, or half-assing everything, these kind of people act like their supervisor has some nerve to even bring that up. They're the type that will stew and complain about it the entire rest of the day. As best I can tell, the thought that it's absolutely within the company's rights and best interests to fire them and hire someone who will actually do the job never enters their minds. It's like if someone tried to take their car; it's theirs, you can't threaten to take it away.

There's a few reasons why you might feel you don't get a "thank you" a lot:

1. Whether this is a problem with just people of my generation or not, young people tend to start out in retail. The jobs usually don't last all that long; people jump around from one to another, and retailers are constantly having to fill positions so they can't be as picky as everyone might like. And once people have work experience, they usually try to get out of retail. This is probably easier for people with good attitudes and work histories, so ones with crappy attitudes are more likely to stick around retail longer. This is compounded by their getting sick of working in retail. Add to this that, as far as I've seen, there's usually not much oversight.

So the people you're most likely to be dealing with often don't yet have the maturity to take their job seriously; either haven't been punished, or have been punished so few times it hasn't yet sunk in; or may be there because they messed up their chances to get out of retail earlier.

Some you'll go to the cash register and it'll be someone who takes their job seriously, or maybe is just naturally friendly. From what I've seen, though, people like this usually don't stick around and get out of retail quickly.

2. Even the nice people who take pride in their work have bad days, or tiring days. They may not be outright rude, but they won't supply the extra "thank you" or " have a nice day."
posted by Nattie at 7:21 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only time I notice a cashier's behaviour is if they're noticably gloomy/surly. Otherwise, I make a point to warmly greet them as I approach, and thank them when I receive my receipt. I try to avoid small talk in between, because I'm really not very good at it.

I consider "Have a great day!", etc to be roughly equivalent to "Thank you!", so I don't feel like I'm unappreciated as a customer if they choose one phrase over the other.
posted by owtytrof at 7:24 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I almost always get a thank you or the equivalent. I was in a Wal-Mart the other day, and the checker said, "Thank you, sweetie!"

Of course, I'm also the sort of person who chats with the retail staff. It makes things less boring, for both them and me, than just having the customer stand there while they have to scan things. Once you create this social interaction, the "thank you's" and the "have a great weekend's" or the "happy holiday's" or whatever just flow from there. I should add that I work from my home, and I need this social interaction to help keep me sane and human.

Still, if you take the initiative, look the clerk in the eye, actually talk to them and break the monotony, I think you'll be surprised at the reactions you get.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Complain to management at each and every place. Minimum wage, sore feet, imperfect working conditions, hating your job/life/coworker/family, are no reason for lack of basic civility. These people have not been trained by their parents, their schools or their employers how to behave in ordinary human interaction.

I find that many young clerks, in highly computerized environments, have ceased to recognize that they are part of a human-human transaction. The world sucks more when this is the case.

I shall now put down my cane, turn down my hearing aid, and go tell the kids that they are welcome to play on my lawn.
posted by theora55 at 8:20 AM on December 8, 2008

Confirmation bias + Chatfilter.
posted by mkultra at 8:29 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work retail and greet and thank customers as a general rule and I work in a mom and pop type place. I also know a great many of my regular customers by name as well as what they do for a living and the names of their kids and spouses. I engage them and sell them on items they otherwise might not be familiar with (I do not work on commission).

When I serve a customer, they have my undivided attention. Conversation with friends or co-workers, should they have been happening when the customer approaches or enters, are stopped dead so I can focus on my job, which I take seriously.

However, I was raised in retail (25 years so far) and my shop treats me well ($21 an hour, 3 weeks paid vacation, 4 day work week, 75 minute paid lunch break, hefty Christmas cash bonus ($2k last year), unlimited borrowing/sampling of the items we stock).

I also deplore poor customer service and see it everywhere, especially in specialty shops in Toronto like Soundscapes, Pages Books, and Balfour Books.

For instance, I was in Soundscapes (the best CD shop in the city for new items) looking for a particular cd from the 70s. They were sold out but I was told it would be back in in a couple weeks. When I went back, they were sold out again and I got the same story. Third time I went in they were actually playing the record on their in-store system... yet claimed to be sold out. I asked to purchase the one they were playing and they refused. To me, this is ridiculous. It was a CD that they pulled from the shelf and opened so they could play it--it was not a play copy or promo sent to them by the record company (I confirmed this with the staff). They wouldn't sell it to me but checked their computer and said another one would be back in in a few more days. I asked, "Can I just buy this one and you can open another one in a few days?" Nope. I left empty handed for the third time.

I'll fuck a pig in nickers before Soundscapes gets another dime from me.*

*Okay, not really true, but they will be my last resort for new CDs whereas they used to be my first choice. I'll now only buy there when no one else has the item.
posted by Manhasset at 8:42 AM on December 8, 2008

this question has got me thinking about how i interact with customers.

since i work for the man's coffeeshop, we are expected to go above and beyond for each customer. due to the amount of time that requires doing that for everybody is simply impossible, but i like to think i always give quality service. but in reality, i know i'm heavily influenced by the customer's attitude. also, if my supervisor has dumped extra tasks on my plate (without additional resources), i'm usually trying to figure out how to get everything done in a timely manner while keeping my peeps happy.

i also personally hate it when i go into a retail store and an automatic greeting is called out towards me. i think making standard dialogues (i.e. "how are you today? would you like me to add a cranberry bliss bar to your order today?" "how about a pound of coffee for the holidays?") mandatory hurt the customer experience rather than help it.

not trying to give excuses, but i do think that giving a thanks has become a trite automatic response and so some (myself included) don't always say it. not that i think it should be that way. its just that i think working in retail, unless you are the proprietor of the shop, its easy to get into the mindset of "this job sucks, this job sucks, this job sucks" after having an eight hour shift of highly specific needs that must. be. immediately. met. i can't answer your question for anyone other than myself. but i will tell you this, tonight i'll be paying better attention to my gratitude portion of the transaction because it sure is nice to have a parttime job with insurance.
posted by ms.jones at 8:47 AM on December 8, 2008

Some people here don't realize that a lack of an explicit "thank you" doesn't have much to do with whether or not the service is good. I worked in customer service for several years. I tried to be nice to customers, because I generally try to be a nice person.

But I resent that I ought to have been thanking customers for their existence. I almost never thanked anyone. What was I thanking them for -- barking orders at me, berating me, treating me like a second- or third-class citizen? Supporting the crappy companies I worked for? However, I was genuinely friendly to people I waited on. Many of my former customers adored me, recognize me in public, and even visit me at my new (great) job. I was often the only employee in my departments who would really help a customer -- god knows the managers would never go out of their way for a fellow person.

theora55 is completely wrong. These employees are people, and they're being treated like disposable parts. I've worked with people who couldn't support themselves, who were screwed out of money by management, who had medical problems caused by their work that their health insurance wouldn't pay for, who were dehumanized on a daily basis by customers and managers, and who had a lot bigger physical problems than "sore feet". Yet most of these people were quite nice to customers. Those employees are better people than most of us. They're better than anyone who would begrudge them the right to be unhappy with their low-status, disrespected jobs, or anyone whose adorable little feelings are hurt whenever everyone in their life doesn't kiss their ass.

When I was still in graduate school, I was doing a research project that was, in part, about how working in customer service affects the employees. I remember several studies done over the last few decades that concluded that being forced to be nice for a living, was pretty detrimental to a person's psycholoical state, and their real happiness. Of course it is. Of course it sucks ass to have to fake happiness for a rotten, low-paying job. It's extremely stressful, and many people are not cut out for it.

The same studies pointed out that, to be viewed as a sucessful customer service employee, you have to be friendly, very perceptive of other people's moods, willing to go way out of your way for a minor request, and so forth. For all this, they still get paid almost nothing, typically get no benefits, may be subject to illegal hiring practices, OSHA violations, paycheck "errors" that are never rectified ... none of which they can feel they can do anything about.

Are we seriously going to suggest this situation is acceptable, and that these people ought to take such jobs seriously? We should be incredibly friggin' grateful that so many of them do.

Have a little compassion for these workers. In my anecdotal experience, a huge number of people believe that customer service and retail jobs are only held by inferior people, and they treat the employees waiting on them as if they were rightfully born into servitude. (And then, these customers want to be thanked for their presence. Jesus.) Management can and does fuck over employees again and again, just because they can get away with it. I've never worked in a retail environment in which several employees could have rightfully sued their employers, but none of them had the time or money, and management counted on that.

If they did their job, and were decent, just give them a break. Especially this time of year. One November, my manager told everyone at a store meeting, "I know everyone here wants to visit their family for the holidays. However, you must take all holiday leave by November 15. We need people here taking care of the customers. And they're going to be reeeally stressed out, so be sure to be extra nice to them!" So a lot of these employees didn't end up seeing their families for Christmas OR Thanksgiving that year, and yet didn't act any differently toward the customers. That's more than I can handle, and probably more than most of us could accept without developing serious anger or frustration. So have a freaking heart.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:05 AM on December 8, 2008 [10 favorites]

Rather than 'thank you' as he or she hands me my purchase, I invariably get 'Here you go' as they turn away.

And then I find myself blurting out 'thank you' to them, even for such a condescending attitude, but they're long gone by then anyway.
posted by DandyRandy at 9:08 AM on December 8, 2008

In some stores (e.g., my local Safeway) staff will always call me by name if I use a card, and thank me.

I suppose this will seem like a bizarrely old-fashioned attitude, but I am always annoyed when the checkers at my Safeway say "Thank you, Hot" because I feel that they should say "Thank you, Ms.Toddy." Not sure where I get that from, I wasn't raised in the South or anything. It just seems so presumptuous, especially when the checker is a couple of decades younger than me.

Anyway, to get to the question, I pretty much get thanked everywhere I go, but I notice that my mom consistently receives much worse service than I do. I'm pretty sure it's because she always has a really grouchy scowl on her face--she's not always grouchy, she just habitually has an unpleasant expression. I always make an effort to look like a pleasant person, even though I'm really not.
posted by HotToddy at 10:26 AM on December 8, 2008

After serving the 200th customer of the day, where I've had money thrown either on the counter or at me, had people completely ignore me, talk on their mobile phones/to friends, etc, I really feel disinclined to say "thanks".

If you come into my shop, and treat me with civility, I'll bend over backwards for you. If you come in and behave rudely, I'll get you away from me ASAP so I can spend what limited happy resources I have on people who deserve it.

Try being nice. Try being like you wanted every customer to be, when you worked retail. Will this mean you get treated the same every time you visit a shop? No. But cashiers are people too, and we're all different. Not everyone is perfect.
posted by Solomon at 10:44 AM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

One of my co-workers is really outgoing. She inquires where customers would like to eat, how their family is doing, why they're visiting us, and so on. She's also blazingly incompetent, blithely gives out completely incorrect information, and is really annoying if you as a customer don't want to engage in her presentation of good customer service.

If you want good customer service, then treat workers with respect. I find the Safeway model of customer service very creepy. A few years ago Safeway must have instituted a new policy that said that all their employees had to greet customers. For a while there I couldn't shop in peace without having some poor stocker saying hello to me every few rows.
posted by rdr at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2008

It may have something to do with whether or not they are working on straight hourly wage or on commission. The person working commission does appreciate the sale, because they get a cut, and probably say "thank you" more often than the person who makes an hourly wage.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:37 PM on December 8, 2008

[comment removed - question is not really an open topic on what you dislike about the service industry.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2008

I had a coworker a couple years ago at the coffeeshop, in his mid-sixties. He would always give customers a overdone HEY LADIES HOW ARE YOU and had this whole schpiel about "May I tempt you with a ... " ad nauseum.
The boss said he had good customer service, but everyone else said he was the reason they never came in there. Personally, I'd like to be generally ignored in a shop until I come to the counter or ask a question- I don't need anyone forcing me to make up my mind.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:35 PM on December 8, 2008

Because sometimes we're tired, overworked and so we forget. (And because some of you act like self-important jerks)

There was one time, during the holidays where this lady stood in front of me for a full minute not moving. This was after I finished her transaction and had about a million other customers before her and a million more waiting in line. I have to get people out FAST ok? And she goes: "Aren't you going to say thank you?" (with a condescending and pretentious attitude). I really wanted to reach over the counter slap her.

So please, if your cashier got your line moving, was polite and nice, don't get on her/his back for not saying 'Thank You'.
posted by guniang at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

« Older Which version of "Totoro" should I buy?   |   Help me not fudge my in-text citation, please. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.