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At times, our future hangs on a single question, like “Do I really need to wear the helmet?” “Who will ever know?” “Should I eat those raw oysters?”But if the future of brick and mortar stores depends on the question “Did you find everything OK today?” the retail industry might be in worse shape than the announcement of 7,000 store closures in 2017 would indicate.I say this based on a scene I witnessed last week at a Conejo Valley discount store when an earnest clerk posed that question to a fed up shopper.The energetic young woman had been bustling around the sales floor corralling carts and straightening up the quinoa chips, pomegranate potpourri and bodybuttersthat line the shelves of the checkout aisle.Those chores finished, she systematically approached each of the dozen or so shoppers waiting to check out and asked the “did you find .” question. Most replied “yes” as mechanically as the voice on the loudspeaker directing us to the next open check stand.But one 60ish woman, who apparently had heard enough, posed a question of her own: “Who told you to ask that?”The saleswoman blushed and stammered. The clearly miffed shopper said words to the effect that she found the question impersonal and a waste of her time, since she was already at the checkout. She suggested a better tack at this point would be to simply thank her for her business.Read more:Unlikely friendship arises from the ashes of Thomas FireThe shaken saleswoman somehow found the wherewithal to continue asking the remaining customers that very same question. “Yes,” I told her, as I stood there with these cute little dish towels I never imagined buying and without the throw pillow I had hoped to find.That question pervades every retail environment everywhere every day. I first heard it in supermarkets so long ago, each checkout then had a bag boy or girl who actually could run and get the item. Then the practice spread to specialty food stores and big box retailers selling everything from soup to Nutella.A retail blogger recently posted a list of the five stupidest questions salespeople ask and left out the “did you find” query. Commenters let him know he missed the question they so despise it makes them wish every store offered self checkout.How could it be lost on retailers that many customers find the question pointless or really, really annoying when they’re having a bad day? I suspect most of us at least once replied we did not find what we wanted and the cashier just kept punching theregisterkeys. Orwe simply avoid answering truthfully because we believe nothing will change. Connor, an adjunct professor in the business school at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.”Different stores with different cultures will have a different reason for doing the same thing,” said Connor, who advised a major concessionaire on employee motivation and team building.Some retailers put procedures in place where clerks will retrieve the item, she said. Some create systems to alert the manager to the out of stock item or demand to add a new product. Others simply instruct cashiers to ask the question,
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and they do it because they have to.In the last case, she points out, that a store’s culture is selling a lot of goods very quickly something that can appeal to time crunched shoppers who just want to get out of the store with a minimum of chit chat. We’ve all been there blood pressure climbing when the customer in front of us at the drugstore regales the clerk with the state of his bunions.The “did you find” question has caught on, Connor believes, because in this tight job market with profit margins shrinking, stores rarely have enough personnel on the sales floor to answer customer queries. If they’re smart, retailers would use smart devices like an Alexa on each aisle to assist shoppers, she added.Despite good economic signals, it doesn’t take an expert to predict this year will continue to challenge store owners. Chains like Walgreens, Sam’s Club, Toys R Us and Michael Kors announced they will shutter locations in the months ahead.For Ventura County foodie news, sign up to receive VCS Eats in your inbox every ThursdayFor local history podcasts, download Never 30 from iTunes, Google Play or SoundCloudFor local sports podcasts, download Prep Period from iTunes, Google Play or SoundCloudWatch live journalism as local residents share true, first person stories through the Ventura Storytellers ProjectFor Thomas Fire archivedcoverage
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