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I’m climbing up onto my soapbox now, so be forewarned!

As Christmas approaches, most of us are finding ourselves shopping more than we do the rest of the year. Often we are trying to hurry, or stressing over choosing the perfect gift for a loved one. And we are trying to spend money…not too much, but enough to find that “something special” for friends or family.

I am not one of the “beautiful people” who has enough money (or whatever it takes) to have a personal shopper. Sales people do not fawn over me (yes, I wrote it), bringing their best hand-picked merchandise for my perusal. I think either of those would make me rather uncomfortable.

However, I expect to be seen and acknowledged when I go into a store. I don’t need to be swooped down upon by a salesperson as though I were at a car dealership, and followed around by an eager clerk. But when I walk in the door, I look forward to a simple “hello” and “welcome”. Cost Plus World Market in Visalia has this down to a science. When you walk in the door, the cashier at the nearest register smiles and says, “Welcome to Cost Plus”. And if the register is empty, you can be assured the cashier is within three or feet, and ready to extend the same welcome. That simple, sincere welcome makes a shopper feel valued and appreciated.

Earlier this week I made my monthly trip to the Central Coast, and discovered to my dismay that I had gotten sidetracked by my granddaughter while packing, and had left home without a nightgown. Not a big deal, but I decided to treat myself to a new cozy one. I was close to the Premium Outlets at Pismo Beach, so that was my shopping destination. (I should note here that I don’t generally shop for clothes for myself. It is more of a pain than a pleasure. But my schedule was open, so I gave myself permission to take my time.)

First stop: Lane Bryant Outlet. This is a lovely shop filled with brightly colored clothing and several employees on the sales floor. Unfortunately, they were only interested in talking to each other. I wandered around in the store for several minutes, not seeing any nightgowns and hoping someone would ask if I needed any help. It didn’t happen, though; none of the three women within eyesight — either at the register or on the floor — acknowledged me in any way. So I left.

Next stop: L’Eggs Hanes Bali Playtex. Same scenario, same result. I was beginning to feel like I had put on Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility. So I left again.

Third stop: Just for giggles, I went into Harry & David. There is something so inviting about those Towers of Treats in their coordinating gift wrappings, and shelf after shelf of beautiful preserves and baskets. I was tempted to put together a basket for Georgia, but again the sales people there were way too busy chatting to acknowledge a potentially paying customer. What is wrong with people? Are these stores making so much money that they don’t need customers anymore, or are they so delusional that they think we will beg to be helped. No sale here. But as I left, I rather snarkily wished them a good rest of the afternoon.

By now thoroughly dejected, I went into the Jockey store, where I was immediately greeted by a sales woman who came up and asked how she could help me. When I asked about nightgowns, she explained that they didn’t carry them, but showed me a lovely sale on flannel pajamas and nightshirts. And when I answered that I really preferred nightgowns, she took the time to thank me for coming in, and to invite me back. And I probably will do just that the next time I’m in town.

I ended up going back to Daddy’s and borrowing a pair of flannel p.j. bottoms from my brother. I saved a little money, especially since I have perfectly good nightgowns waiting for me in Visalia. But I left the Premium Outlets at Pismo Beach with a bad taste in my mouth, one that wouldn’t have been there had the clerks in these stores practiced even the minimum customer service. And I suppose I might have caught them on an “off” day, perhaps…but in three out of four shops? That sounds like a routine situation, somehow.

Am I weird for expecting to be acknowledged when I enter a store? Perhaps. Even so, once I have moved up and down an aisle or two I would think a clerk would want to encourage me to buy, or at the very least, point me in the right direction.

What do you think? Is this a hot button for you, or would you rather just be left alone? I’m curious.

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