Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Selfridge Bastard

I'm not a huge fan of cliches. People who speak in cutesy little idioms all the time are some of my least favorite people. It's always an easy way to spot someone who isn't very bright - rather than even try to express themselves in an interesting or engaging manner, they just use any colloquial phrase that approximates how they genuinely feel.

But of all the cliches in the Trite Bullshit rainbow, there are only a few that really piss me off. One is "he knocked it out of the park." Movie fans say this all the time, far too often for a cheesy sports metaphor. "I'm not usually a huge fan of Uwe Boll, but he really knocked Alone in the Dark out of the park," for example. And then they describe the finished film as "a home run." Ugh.

Perhaps my least favorite idiomatic phrase, however, is "The Customer Is Always Right." What a load of crap. The customer is so not always right. I mean, think about it...we are all occasionally in need of goods and/or services. So, at some point, just about every day, we are all customers. But we all can't possibly be right all the time. Obviously, in any simple, practical disagreement, one party is "right" and one is "wrong."

"The Customer Is Always Right" is an extraordinarily antiquated notion that should be totally done away with. Around the turn of the century, when American entrepreneur H. Gordon Selfridge coined the phrase, I'm guessing that a sense of common decency and morality prevented people from blantantly attempting to rip off their local businesses.

I mean, think about it. In 1900, stores weren't all owned and operated by wealthy international faceless billion-dollar conglomerates. They were owned by people, members of the community. If you lived in the neighborhood, you likely went to the same few stores all the time. It wasn't some anonymous Alberstons-esque impersonal juggernaut where your $22 transaction (two frozen macaroni-and-cheese dinners, a six-pack of imported beer, Gummi bears and one can of Heinz vegetarian baked beans, if your diet is anything like mine) is a pittance in terms of daily gross. It was "Jeff's Grocery," and you knew Jeff because he was the friendly old guy behind the counter. You might even have a TAB there, which meant you could pay Jeff the next time you went in. Maybe he'd even tease you a little about your bill piling up, in good fun.

So, in that situation, yeah, maybe the customer was always right. Because it was worth it for a businessman to defer to his friendly neighborhood customers who did business with him all the time.

But today, people have different relationships with local businesses. We now shop exclusively at places owned by large corporations, and though I'm not exactly a proponent of shoplifting, it's clearly more tempting to steal from or defraud an entity like Best Buy or Target than Jeff, the kindly old guy at the grocery store who sometimes lets you take a bag of penny candies for nothing if you help him reach something on the high shelf.

I'm not saying more people are thieves. I'm saying that our attitudes about consumerism have changed. People don't really have hang-ups about being excessively needy, and even unfair, when dealing with businesses. And why not? Why shouldn't a franchise like Best Buy, making billions of dollars all around the world, have to go that extra mile to help out a customer.

But it puts those of us who still work at small, individually-owned businesses in a predicament. Because consumers carry this attitude with them wherever they go. Including my store, which is not owned by billionaires and technically housed in the Cayman Islands, but instead a regular guy who lives a few blocks away. So we get people in the store all the time trying to, in no uncertain terms, rip us off. Blatantly so. And they expect us to just give in immediately all the time, because "the customer is always right."

I'll give you one anonymous example. A guy comes in the other day...He purchased a single-disc copy of a new movie, when what he really had wanted to buy was the two-disc special edition. Okay, so he opened his single-disc copy and watched it before he realized the mistake. Then he brings it back to the store. He wants to just exchange the single-disc, opened copy for a sealed, brand-new two-disc version.

There are two unfair things about this transaction.

(1) We will be selling the man a two-disc copy of the movie for the price of a single-disc copy.
(2) We will wind up with an opened disc that we cannot resell.

After much huffing and puffing, we managed to work out a deal with this guy that isn't TOO terrible for us and that still allows him to get his hands on that second, all-important bonus-feature-laden disc.

But he had a horrible, horrible attitude. See, an old idiomatic phrase apparently informed him that he was always right, and when this clearly conflicted with the truth, it made him very upset. But he wasn't right, he was wrong. He wanted something for nothing, and he wanted us to eat the cost of his mistake.

Okay, now more on H. Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the Selfridge chain of stores in Britain. (I couldn't figure out exactly what they sell at Selfridges? It's not fridges, right? Because that would be too perfect.) Anyway, this guy Selfridge was a real asshole. Not only was he the one that started saying "the customer is always right," but he also started that obnoxious "BLANK shopping days left until Christmas!" horseshit that has already started popping up in shopping destinations nationwide.

Selfridge is kind of an interesting figure, because after years of hard-work culmianting the fabulous success of his own chain of stores throughout England, he went totally batshit insane. After his wife's tragic death in 1918, Selfridge travelled the nation doing a music hall act with a pair of Hungarian-born twins known as The Dolly Sisters. Eventually, he lost his controlling interest in Selfridge's and blew his entire fortune on gambling, eventually dying in poverty, living in a shithole apartment.

So, just remember, customers, your ass ain't always right. H. Gordon Selfridge didn't know what he was talking about.


Konrad said...

Some more:
Cats are grey at night.
Everything is relative.

I'm an atheist, thank God!

Anonymous said...

your facts on GH selfridge are a little out. he never toured music halls. he just slept with two twin music hall stars.