Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kiosk my ass.

We are a funny lot, we former service employees. It's like an identity we can't shake. Once a waitress, always a waitress. Once a shopgirl, always a shopgirl. And so on.

If I'm at a restaurant with friends and the service is sub-par, guess who's going to comment on it? The former waitresses at the table. The rest of us might shrug it off, but the former waitress, she takes it personally. Oh no she didn't just disappear into the kitchen again, the former waitress thinks. I could've served us in my sleep. Crappy tip for her. It can be awkward for the rest of us.

Me? I'm a former retailer. A shopgirl. Someone who was good at selling you things when you wanted to be convinced, great at answering your questions if you had any, respectful of your space when you wanted to browse solo, and efficient as hell at ringing you up and getting you out of the store so you could move on with your day. You see where I'm going with this, right? I'm hell to shop with. My major retail pet peeve is being attacked as soon as I enter a store. "Can I help you? Can I help you? Can I help you?," when I just want to ponder the shelves for a while. Here's my signature move, which makes it awkward for the former waitress shopping with me: direct eye contact after she asks again, an "I said I was just looking," and then a firm and meaningful exit from the store. That'll show her, I think to myself. My other pet peeve is the over-educator, which is really a way of not respecting the intelligence of your customer. Last week someone tried to "educate" me on a face cream I used to sell when I was college, but she had it all wrong. Finally, I couldn't take it. "I've been using this for years; I know what I'm buying." Not said: "I used to have your job." Or: "Leave me alone!" Or: "Screw you, I'm buying this online instead." See, I was being nice! My cousins were horrified, though. Before we move on, let us not forget the nonsensical bitchiness embodied by anyone who works at Neiman's. Need I say more? Those women are awful.

I was thinking of all of this yesterday at the mall when I was approached by the lowest form of retail on the hierarchy of the retail totem pole: the dreaded mall kiosk employee.

I sort of feel sorry for these people. Well, in the abstract, I feel sorry for them. I can't think of much worse than sitting on a stool while thousands of people walk by me all day long, begging them to stop and buy what I'm selling as my only means to make a wage. The abstract sympathy ends, however, upon encountering the actual mall kiosk employee. They are nearly always indefensible. I will stereotype to include lots of hair product, leering eyes if they're male, and judgy eyes if they're female. Also: highly annoying.

Because here's what I just realized about the mall kiosk trade. Regardless of whichever hand cream/hair straightener/bath oil they are selling, they're apparently all using the same how-to manual. I heard this all up and down the mall yesterday, at every single damn kiosk, right after I'd brushed them off or purposefully veered far away from them:

"Can I just ask you one question?"

And that, to me, is the worst. Because I'm a polite person generally, and I will let anyone ask me a single question. I'll listen politely, then I'll politely excuse myself if need be. But please, kiosk worker, do not take advantage of my niceties to force me to say yes to a question such as "Don't you want fantastic hair?" and then subject me to your wares. You can't even imagine how little interest I have in your product, and how much of my time you are wasting.

Yesterday, during an hour or so of shopping, "Can I just ask you one question?" was ringing behind me each time I passed one of those things. It rang behind everyone else, too. The entire mall was a chorus of "Can I just ask you one question?" What is wrong with people?

If forced to choose, I think I'd rather be cruelly ignored by Neiman's counter girls during a tinted moisturizer crisis than forced to answer "just one question" from the eastern European with a mullet at the mall kiosk who doesn't respect personal space. You know?

Former retailers of the world, unite. Seriously.


  1. oh god YES!!!

    Though I was the former waitress (for ahem 6 years).

  2. Ugh, yes... I HATE this. The kiosk people at Tysons Corner Center are THE WORST. I feel like I can ignore them fairly well in most malls, but they are just so aggressive there!

    (Also, "Can I just ask you one question?" IS a question. I think next time, you should say, "You just did," and walk away.)

    I am a former (get this) fruit basket maker. Oh, I get so judgy around the holidays when I see sub-par fruit baskets everywhere.

  3. I am Former Waitress Girl. I've been known to say "I'm only giving you 15% when I usually tip 20-25%, and I'm going to tell you why...{Insert WHY here}. I will not tip less, because I know you pay your bills with these tips and I'm going to assume you're just having a rough day."

    Drives Evan crazy... He doesn't understand why I can't just leave a crappy tip and call it a day!

    While NorthPark mall irks me, it does ban the kiosk... which I appreciate A LOT.

  4. I still have food service nightmares.. 4 years later! crazy!!

  5. You sing it sister! As a former waitress/shop girl/housekeeper/all-around-professional-doormat, I echo you on the annoying, passive-aggressive (and not so passive) tactics used by some folks in some places. It's awful. Sometimes I feel embarrassed for them and think "Oh honey, this too shall pass."

    Would also like to shout out for all the former service folks who make a habit of over tipping, or go out of their way to smile at the sales girl when you see she's having a rough time. I know when I was on the other end, nothing changed my made like a kind word from a stranger :) It all comes round again...

  6. kiosk people are the WORST. no wonder no one buys their crap, people are too busy running away from them.

    xx sharon/lemonontherocks

  7. Ugh. Amen. Those kiosk people...I spend half my time feeling sorry for them and the other time scurrying by, eyes lowered, avoiding their insults veiled as "questions." ("Don't you want better cuticles?" Ummm...)

  8. Yes, yes, a million times yes! Former shopgirl here as well. The kiosk thing has gotten out of control since I moved abroad. It used to be some poor sap sitting and reading a book. Now when I go home to visit I feel like I'm being attacked by kiosk employees! Ick.

  9. Love love love this post. I'm a former retail manager and can totally commiserate. I'm the worst person to shop with because of it.

    Even worse, we had a lotion kiosk outside of my store. And though I worked at the mall, passing these same kiosk people every day, they *never* remembered me. The hounding was consistent - every single day that entire year.

    But over time I did develop a comeback that usually results in confused silence:

    Q: "Can I ask you a question?"
    A: "You just did!"

    Try it out... ;)

  10. Preach it, lady. I'm a hybrid in that I worked restaurants but get most irked by retail pushiness, but I'm with you on the sentiment.

    And I'm so stealing Sarah's idea above for the omnipresent "Can I ask you a question?" - genius!

  11. i hear you. i sold department store cosmetics all through college and i can't shake the need to inform every makeup counter girl of that fact as she tries to sell me something.

    also, i was "promoted" to manage the makeup/fragrance outpost kiosk near the food court during christmas 2002. worst 2 months of my life :)


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