Thursday, December 21, 2006

"It's Christmas in prison. There'll be music tonight..."

I really loathed working retail during the holidays. The store became overrun with clueless fuckwits who laboured under the delusion that we were like the music stores at the mall. You know, the kind that would take back anything without a receipt, even if it had been opened and obviously played.

Fingerprints mate, easy to see on vinyl and CDs, and don’t even THINK about trying to clean them off. We’ll know. Trust me.

Our store policy was simple:
*If it’s been opened, it’s yours.
*If it’s defective, it will be exchanged for exactly the same item, which will be opened and checked while you wait. If we are out of the defective item, we will order another copy, call you when it arrives, and it will be opened and checked while you wait.
*If the item is still sealed and you have a receipt, we will happily issue a refund.
*If the item is still sealed and you do not have a receipt, we will issue a gift certificate in the amount of the item.

The policy was posted at each cash register, on the wall at the back of the store, on the wall near the front door, and written on placards which were interspersed through the racks of vinyl and CDs. Our ass was covered.

Oh the number of people who tried to worm their way around it, especially at Christmas. We heard every excuse, every dilemma, every sob story and every conceivable string of abuse you can imagine. Once I had a guy break a CD right in front of my face, and shards flew everywhere. He was angry about the content of a gangsta rap CD that he’d purchased for his kid—which had the “explicit lyrics” stamp right on the cover. I even offered to exchange it for the censored version of the disc, but the guy was irate and didn’t want to give the gangsta any money. All well and good, dude, but a policy is a policy. And so splinters of sharp, shiny plastic burst all over the counter, floor and my face. I called the cops.

Even worse than the yuppies who’d decided that our policy didn’t apply to them were the scammers who tried (and occasionally managed) to buy loads of stuff with stolen credit cards. Those were a blast. At Christmas, every time I swiped a credit card through the terminal, I held my breath, silently praying that I got an “APPROVED” message rather than a “DECLINE” or, even worse, a “PICK UP.”

A “DECLINE” could mean a number of things—usually it meant that the card was over its limit, but could occasionally also mean that there had been a lot of “suspicious activity” on it that day, and in those cases the card holder would usually just ask us to call the issuer, which we always did, and they’d prove they were indeed the card holder by keying in private codes or social security numbers or whatever, then we’d swipe again and it’d be approved. Sighs of relief all around. Oh, we still got our share of abuse from folks who’d maxed their limit but still wanted to shop, but they weren’t keen to speak to their card issuer if we offered to ring them. That usually shut them up in a hurry.

“PICK UP” was alternately the best and worst display on the terminal. It almost always meant the card was stolen, which also meant if we successfully obtained it and sent it back to the issuer, they’d reward us. The base reward was $25.00, anything above that was gravy. When “PICK UP” was displayed our instructions were to detain the customer while we phoned the issuer. Most of the time when this happened the customer would either get antsy or belligerent, or both. Some simply took off running -with one of us after them to jot down their license plate for the police. Things could really get heated, especially if the customer wouldn’t/couldn’t provide proof of identity. They would yell at us, call us every name in the book and generally make a big scene in some lame attempt to make it look like it was somehow our fault that they had a stolen credit card in their possession. They weren’t so hard when the police were called though. They usually legged it out the door before we’d even finished dialing the number. Pussies.

Once at Christmas we encountered an entire family of scammers, and they got us for over grand in merchandise. The card was approved every time, but it was an American Express and the person who signed the receipt was not the same person in whose name the card was issued. The first person to do it was the husband of the card holder. He racked up a couple hundred dollars. The following day the son came in and racked up several more hundred dollars worth of goods. This went on until a few days later when the husband came in and tried it on again, but this time he was unlucky and one of us regular employees waited on him instead of The Sav. When Philbert saw the guy signing a name other than that of the cardholder he told the guy he couldn’t accept it. The guy even showed Phil his driving license-to prove he had the same surname as the cardholder-but Phil wouldn’t budge. Phil also had the sense to copy down the guy’s vitals from the license, just in case. The son tried to sneak in another large purchase sometime that same week, but again was thwarted by one of us.

Just after New Years the store got a notice from American Express, stating that the cardholder was disputing the charges. AmEx asked for copies of the signed receipts, and of course they weren’t signed by the cardholder but by her son and husband, and so American Express refused payment to us, even when Phil produced the guy’s license stats. AmEx was just following policy. It was an expensive lesson for a small business owner to learn.

The crappiest experience I ever had during the Christmas retail season was working with The Sav on Christmas Eve. Reynolds, Abernathy, TC and I were scheduled to close, but at 4 p.m. The Sav showed up, told TC and The Ab they could leave, and stated that he’d work with me and Reynolds for the last two hours. Oh joy.

The crowd had already thinned out from the previous few hours’ chaos, and Reynolds and I were secretly hoping to close up a little early, since we both had places to be by 7 p.m. and wanted to get out retail hell as soon as possible. But with The Sav working alongside us, we knew we were out of luck.

As bad luck with have it, a man and woman wandered into the store at quarter to six. Reynolds and I were eager to find out what they were looking for, get it for them and send them on their merry way, but The Sav stopped us in our tracks and instructed us to “let them browse for a little bit.” That little bit turned into 45 minutes, then an hour! Reynolds and I were fuming. We were scheduled off at 6 p.m., and here it was 7 p.m. and that couple was showing no signs of leaving! I’d polished all the damned jewelry I could, and Reynolds had cleaned the showcases, emptied the trash and we’d both folded every tshirt in the cases at least twice, all the while shooting daggers at The Sav and that yuppie couple.

Finally, around 7:45 p.m. the couple simply turned from the racks and started walking toward the door. The Sav, who was standing at the tape counter next to the front door, asked them if there was something we could help them find.

“Oh no,” said the guy yuppie with the leather bomber jacket as he opened the door, “we were just killing some time. We’ve got someplace to be at eight.”

“Thanks a lot, asshole. We had someplace to be a fucking HOUR ago!” is what I longed to say. But I bit my tongue. Reynolds caught my eye and I could tell he had a similar condemnation running through his mind.

Instead, he slowly shook his head as he locked up behind them, and I switched the register over to cash-out mode and began counting the proceeds.

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