HAVE You SHOPPING INSANITY?
DOROTHY G. BELL
THE frail, tired and inexperienced salesgirl snatched an expensive and delicately-embroidered dress from the hands of an exchange messenger, flung it ruthlessly down upon a fitting bench and dropped on top of it in a crumpled, sobbing heap.
For two whole days her time had been devoted to the purchaser of this frock and now, at the end of another hard day. it had come back into stock. During the first morning of her struggle with this lady of leisure, the patient little sa’esgirl had displayed, tried on, suggested and advised in a vain endeavor to please her, until half the dresses in the store had been taken out of their cases.
After lunch the customer came back, and the afternoon was spent trying on the other half. Still the buyer was not satisfied. The next morning she came again, with members of her family, and the dresses were brought forth and tried on once more. In the afternoon there was the same fatiguing process so that her friends might pass judgment. Before leaving the store this time, however, she made her purchase—one of the first gowns she had been shown. Had the salesgirl been more experienced she would probably have made the sale the first time. But the dress was a particularly expensive one and the girl, whose sale-totals at the end of the month would tell her manager whether or not she w'as worth her wage, had been somewhat consoled for the waste of time. And now —there it lay!
“That woman was crazy,” said the floor manager, who related the incident. “Rational on every other subject but shopping: downright dippy when it came to that. We have women like that every day, but of course not so bad. I know of one woman who spent all day long in this store for weeks, shopping, and exchanging the goods for the money every night before she left the building. Shopping insanity is one of the chief causes of the abuse of this privilege.”
Abuse! Privilege! Strange words surely!
A privilege to exchange bought goods? Whose? The store’s? Perhaps. The customer’s? Undoubtedly. It is abused? Who, then, abuses it?
The Bothersome One Per Cent.
DROB ABLY ninety-nine A per cent, of the Canadian shopping public are fair and just in their dealings with the stores, but almost any floor manager or exchange girl will tell you that after a big dance, reception or party, the exchanges are noticeably greater. The one per cent, is at work then. While I stood behind the wicket of a department store exchange bureau, the cat leaped out of the bag.
“This dress looks as if it had been worn, madam,” said the exchange girl, as her keen eyes noted a slight spot.
“Well, certainly not by me,” stated the woman on the other side of the wicket. She spoke emphatically—so much so that I, in my innocence, would have believed.
“When did you get it?” quizzed the girl.
“This is a sale dress and it was not on sale yesterday,” protested the girl in the cage.
“Why, Mary, how stupid you are!” interjected a would-be-helpful friend, who saw that her companion was cornered. “Don’t you remember? You got it the day before. The tea was yesterday.”
And then began a delightful little bout with the next customer, whose very unreasonableness of mind would not permit of that more delicate method of dishonesty.
“I want to change this,” she said. “I don’t like it. Of course I had to cut it to get the effect, but probably anyone else buying it would want it cut anyway,” and a bustling, matronly woman thrust a handful of dress trimming through the wicket. The decoration, which apparently had been in one piece, fell in half a dozen pieces on the counter.
There came a lull. Then a cheery-faced, optimistic woman advanced and tapped impatiently on the bars of the cage, though the girl stood ready to serve her.
She spoke abruptly.
“Change this for me quickly, dearie. If you are going to change a thing, I say do it right away. You know I haven’t had this out of the store.”
The girl opened the parcel. There was no bill. A hasty glance at the contents and she wrapped it up again.
“Sorry, madam, but these are not our goods.”
Then there followed in line everyday customers. Some
were apologetic but quite insistent that their goods should be changed or their money refunded; others demanded this service as one for which they had duly paid when they made their purchase. ' There was one, too, whose conceit because she was Mrs. So-and-So and had had a charge account for fifteen years, led her to believe that she was entitled to receive consideration of her most unreasonable demands.
When It’s All a Game
AMONG the “exchange artists,” there are those who make this system an intriguing game and systematically plan to “jump” the spotters and managers, as they would so “jump” their opponent on the checker board, until they have either cleared the board, or have been, themselves, run into a corner.
There is, for instance, the example of the wife of a prominent citizen, who provided herself with a new dress every day for weeks by the simple method of buying one and then exchanging it every time she wanted another. She made her moves with such skill that it was a long time before the detectives were able to catch her. When she was, at last, faced with prosecution, she became highly indignant and declared hotly that she was quite within her rights, having paid cash for the original purchase.
I went with one of the exchange messengers to the counter, where she was to inquire whether a certain scarf might be taken back into stock.
“Oh, here you are, back again!” exclaimed the clerk, addressing the scarf. “If I was as young and foolish as I used to be, I’d weep over you. Seven times back! Well, come along, oldJtimer. We’ll have another shot at finding you a happy home.” And once again she arranged its delicate folds over a stand on the counter. “There you are, my beauty,” she laughed as she gave the drape a final touch.
And like the man, who did not know what he had .given his wife for Christmas because she had not stopped exchanging it yet, I wondered why customers did these things and so continued my observations.
Two men stood chatting before a lace counter. Their conversation was animated and concerned “bonds” and “deals” and “dividends.” “May I serve you, sir?” The man, who had been doing most of the talking, jumped.
“Why—er—yes, I think you can. I want—now dashed if I can remember what my wife said! What kind of lace woulda woman use to trim a black dress?”
“Well, really, there are so many—”
“Oh, come now, make a
Continued on page 47
Have You Shopping Insanity?
Continued from page 30
guess, won’t you? What would you use?”
She told him and when he had gone she remarked to her companion who served with her, “Men are such stupid things, Jean. I’m ready to bet that black dress was pink. I’m going to ask his wife when she brings that lace back.”
In the lingerie department, we watched a youth so overcome with shyness and embarrassment that he took the first thing the girl suggested and bolted with it from the store. Ten chances to one it was not what his mother or his sister had asked him to get.
While I was wondering what might happen to this youth when he got home, a man stepped up to the floor manager and greeted him like an old friend. There ensued a few moments of earnest conversation, during which the stranger’s face assumed an almost pleading expression. His anxiety, however, seemed to be dispelled for as he walked away, after slapping the manager on the back with a “that’s a good fellow” air, he was beaming happily. T ,. ,
“I believe I am the prevention of a divorce in that man’s case,” explained the head of the department. “He has an absolute horror of shopping. He is actually afraid of it and hardly a day passes that his wife does not commission him to buy something for her. He just can t seem to
get used to it, and I have done his shopping for him for years. Many men are afraid to shop. They seem to get rattled and forget what they want, or buy the wrong thing. That is why that cage over there is always so busy. It keeps their wives busy exchanging the things they buy.”
Women and Wasps
WOMEN can not resist a bargain sale.
They will buy things for which they have absolutely no use for the sheer love of getting them below their regular value. Then they bring them back for a refund or change them for something more useful.
In one corner of a department store a group of women clustered round a table like wasps around a jam jar. The articles for sale on the table were scarfs. Two women seized upon the ends of a pretty, Oriental neck-piece. The middle was buried beneath the pile but as they pulled they discovered that each had an end of the same article. There followed a verbal battle and one woman, losing patience, snatched the scarf from the hand of the other and hurried with it to a sales-girl. She paid her money, received her parcel and without one moment’s hesitation walked directly over to the exchange counter, turned it in, and got her money back. v
The stores themselves are largely to
blame for the big exchange business which they are compelled to do. They change their displays so often that, perhaps the day after a woman has bought something with which she would ordinarily have been satisfied she sees something new in the same line and decides to change the article she has just bought.
"The age of buying is no more,” declared a store superintendent. This is the day of shopping. It used to be that when a woman wanted something to wear she decided what she wanted and came in to buy it. Now a woman conies in to buy first and decides what she really needs after she has bought it.
Salesmanship, too, has a great deal to do with the number of exchanges that are made during a day. It is often bad, but is sometimes too good.
“Many of our clerks.” explained a head salesman, “are inclined to urge a customer to buy something that he does not really want. If the clerk is a good enough salesman he will succeed, but it. is a poor policy and one that makes for dissatisfied customers and leads to an exchange or refund. There are others, though, who go to the opposite extreme and become merely order-takers. For instance, they will allow a customer to buy an inferior piece of goods, without first of all haying drawn their attention to a better quality. When the goods wear out in a short time, back comes the buyer with a demand for the money back.”
, Shopping by Proxy
A ND women buying for other women! iv What a vast amount of trouble they cause.
“Mv friend has asked me to get her some dull, grey lining. If you knew my friend, my dear, you would know that that is just like her. Dull grey! It will just kill her coat. Now if she could only see this,” and picking up a piece of brightly-colored figured goods, the customer, who was buying for her friend, fingered it lovingly. Then in sudden decision: “I’ll take this. I’m sure Alice will love it.” Perhaps Alice did. but the goods came back!
And the mail order department! While it is a great convenience to out-of-town shoppers, the catalogue from which the choice of goods must be made is often misleading. as in the case of a British Columbia Indian. This native was unable to read or write Fnglish, but he could read figures and understood the value of money. Thumbing over an eastern catalogue his attention was^ caught by a picture of a horse upon which a set of single, driving harness was displayed for $22. The Indian tore out the picture and took it to a friend, askire him to write for “this.” The man wondered whv the Indian wanted a set of harness when he had no horse, but thought that perhaps he had arranged to re-sell it at a profit, so did as he was asked without question. Some days later the Indian came to him again in great consternation asking what he had said in the letter, that had caused the store to send the harness without the horse! And so his money was refunded.
The arrival of a big store Spring catalogue is alwavs an event among the women of a small village or town. One came by post one afternoon to a house, where a dozen women were playing bridge. The cards were forgotten as the women gathered around the catalogue.
“There is a beautiful thing!” exclaimed one, pointing to a daintily-fashioned, white, Spring coat. “So cheap, too!”
That particular store sold six of those particular coats in that village in the same week and the following week five particular women returned them, each declaring that as a friends of hers had bought one just like it she would like to exchange it for something different.
There are those who do not stand to lose a cent. One man—I may be quite wrong in my surmise of his nationality— returned three one-cent buttons, asked for a refund three years after they had been bought. .
The first few weeks before Christmas are hard ones for the girls behind the counter, but their work is one, more or less of joy. It is during the first few weeks : after Christmas that the rush comes for i the girls in the exchange cages and their work is fraught with sadness. Thousands ! of gifts are brought back to be exchanged ! for money with which to buy the necessities of life. Even children are called upon to make their sacrifices. More necessary ! things are needed than their train of cars, their rag doll or some other treasure for
which they had pleaded with SantaJClaus.
The exchange system is a boon to'the “snatcher.”
The “Snatcher’s” Work
HERE is one man’s experience, which perhaps may benefit others who may, perchance, find themselves in a similar predicament. At least let them look to the exchange office for help before any time is lost, because the “snatcher” works fast.
“Silver wedding to-day. I want a pretty nice present to take home to my wife. How much is that silver tea-pot? Seventy-five! Great Scott! I can’t afford that. Any woman, though, who has livedwith me for twenty-five years and been so good-natured about it deserves something I can’t afford. I’ll take that.”
A few minutes later the man laid his silver tea-pot in its green box and tissue wrappings on the counter, while he made the choice of a new shirt. When he turned to pick it up it was gone.
“What was in it'?” asked the clerk. “Then beat it right down to the . main floor exchange office.”
The victim was three floors up. He just missed an elevator and it was several minutes before he was able to reach the ground floor. When he finally arrived at the wicket there was the tea-pot shining in all its anniversary glory, behind the bars.
“When did ,that tea-pot get here?” he inquired.
“Why, just a moment ago—there is the man—no, he has gone.”
“Perhaps he’ll buy something for his wife,” sighed the unfortunate map as he left the store.
A day’s study of the present day exchange system of the department stores demonstrates that the privilege is certainly being abused, and there is little doubt as to the sex of the abuser.
“Women!” exclaimed a superintendent. “It is their privilege to change their minds and they do not pass it up. Rather they deem it their privilege to change everything else with it. One of my clerks told me the other day-of a girl who had changed almost every article of her trousseau, not once but three times. Then at the last minute, she changed her mind about changing her name and brought everything back for refund.”
What is being done to combat this abuse?
“Suspicion,” stated an exchange manager,” is our chief weapon of defense. We, of the exchange, were not born suspicious, but we have gradually acquired suspicion by having this frame of mind thrust upon us. As far as we are concerned there is no one who is above suspicion. That is part of our business and when a person has come more than twice or three times to the wicket we know them and are ready for them.”
He went on to explain that they were sometimes unduly suspicious, however, and that it was not always the most obvious signs of guilt that lead to anything. He illustrated his point by telling of a woman who bought a coat for her small boy and had him wear it. When she got to the door, she did not like the color it showed in the daylight. She bade the little fellow take it off and then carried it back to the exchange counter.
“This has been worn,” said the girl as something hard in the pocket of the coat bumped against the counter. Before the woman had time to explain the girl had thrust her hand into that most sacred precinct of masculine youth and pulled out a top, a bit of string, three pennies, two fish-hooks, a marble, half a licorice cigar and a rabbit’s foot!
The store detectives and investigators do much to prevent illicit exchanges in big department stores, but it is very often the girls themselves who discover that things are not as they should be. They develop keen observation and indeed they need it for that troublesome one per cent, who fail to adhere to the adage that “honesty is the best policy.” _
Observation led to detection in the following case. A handsome fur wrap was pushed across the counter of the exchange office. The girl noticed a slight wrinkle or two in the lining, which she knew had not been there when the coat went out.
“Has this coat been worn? she asked. “Oh, dear me, no!” exclaimed the claimant for money hack. “I wouldn’t do that.” ’ A .
The girl, apparently not so sure, turned
out the small inside pocket. It revealed nothing, however, and she was just about to pass out the three hundred dollars, the cost of the coat, when a tiny bit of green paper, caught in the pocket flap, fell to the floor. The girl declared that as she looked at it it appeared to wink at her. She picked it up and examined it more closely. It was just big enough to hold the number of a theatre seat. The coat was not accepted.
' How Some Are Caught
THE rule laid down by the stores that no returned goods shall be accepted if they have been worn, is less rigidly enforced in Eastern Canada than in the West. In a western store a small piece of confetti, caught in the folds of a lace dress, once spoiled a purchaser’s chances of a refund.
And how some people will .bide their time!
“I had refused to take in an article of wearing apparel,” said an exchange girl of long experience, “because there was no bill and the goods were distinctly Spring stock and this was the late Fall. The next Spring, after coming in from lunch one day. I saw the goods, which I had refused six months before, lying on the counter. The purchaser was foxy enough to have taken her cue from me and brought her goods in at a more seasonable time.”
The element of chance, too, is one to be considered by those who are trying to “put something over” the exchange department.
One Easter Sunday the manager of a hat department sat behind one of her exclusive models in Church. She recognized it immediately. After the holidays were over the wearer of the exclusive model returned with it to the shop. The hat was carefully enclosed in its box, together with the bill of sale. The Churchgoing manager was on the floor and there ensued a somewhat heated argument, but the hat was not taken back into stock.
Another mere incident of chance cost two elderly maiden ladies the price of a jade necklace, a pair of jade ear-rings and a filigree silver bracelet, in the shape of a serpent with a pigeon-blood ruby set in the head.
The manager himself waited on the one “single lady” who came to purchase these things. When she had picked them out she asked that they be sent to her house that her sister might pass on them. They were sent and that night the manager sat behind a jade necklace and a pair of jade drop ear-rings, at the opera. He gave no thought to this, as jade ornaments were not particularly distinctive. Later, however, when the curtain dropped and the lights came on, the woman sitting next to the wearer of the jade, raised a white and rather bony arm to arrange a lock of iron-grey hair which had escaped from its fastening. The manager recognized the filigree silver serpent, with the pigeonblood ruby head. There was no mistaking that. The manager let his gaze wander from the serpent to the face of the wearer. It was the maiden lady!
In another case a sneeze led to detection.
Two sets, of “salts and peppers” had been sent to the home of a well-known customer on approval. They came back two days later together with the information that they were not satisfactory. The clerk, who was about to return them to stock, blew what he thought was .a speck of dust from the top of the pepper-pot and immediately fell into a violent fit of sneezing. .
“Say, you getting grippe? inquired a fellow-clerk.
“Grippe, hell!” gasped the victim, between sneezes, “Pepper!”
Near at hand lay a morning paper and. between customers, the aggrieved clerk later that morning, and with eyes smarting, read that the covers had been laid for twelve at the table of the customer, who had borrowed the “salts and peppers.” Though such things as these do happen, much has been accomplished through the education of the public. They are gradually being taught that they cannot fool a department manager on his stock, that they cannot always, or for very long, parade “borrowed plumes” and that returned goods will only receive consideration when they are in perfect condition.
“This applies particularly to a certain close-fisted race,” stated an eastern manager. “They are among the greatest abusers of this privilege. They will buy
'things at our bargain-sales, carry them away to theirjown small shops and try to get a better price for them. If they are not able to dispose of them, they bring them back to us, shop-worn and dirty, and expect us to take them back.”
Not long ago two members of this race staggered up to the exchange wicket with their arms full of shoes which had been on the bargain tables of a big store several months before. They were dusty, scratched and faded. • Spilling the contents of their arms on the counter, they demanded a refund for the shbes at their original prices. They were much disgruntled when they had to pick them up and carry them all out of the store again.
While customers unfold and spread before the exchange girls these garments and articles which have not proved satisfactory, so, perhaps unconsciously by word or gesture, they unfold glimpses of their own lives with their tragedies and trials.
A silent, sad-faced woman, whose hair was beginning to grey at the temples, under a dingy, rusty, black hat, stepped up to the exchange desk of a departmental store and, presenting a parcel, watched grimly while the girl unwrapped it. A child’s bonnet fell from the paper. It looked as if it had had constant handling, although the girl could see it had not been worn.
“Couldn’t you use this?” inquired the girl. “It’s rather badly mussed and I’m afraid we can’t take it back.”
The little woman’s eyes filled with sudden tears. She stood for a moment before the wicket, her lower lip clenched between two rows of set teeth, then turned abruptly and walked away. She had spoken no word, yet the girl who stood holding the tiny head-piece knew this mother’s tragedy and longed in her heart to comfort her, but she was already lost in the sea of shoppers.
Some Sad Stories
A BRIDE of only a few days sent all the dainty, colorful garments which had composed her trousseau back to be exchanged for dull, black clothing. The girls in the exchange did not learn her story, but their hearts went out to her.
Then came a man to the exchange desk one day and presented a parcel which had not been opened. It contained a man’s shirt. The floor manager happened to be in the office at that moment. He glanced at the shirt and his interest was piqued. He picked it up.
“We haven’t handled this stock for ten years,” he said to the man at the wicket.
“It is just ten years since my brother bought it,” was the reply. “He was taken sick shortly after making the purchase and never left his bed again. He is dead now and we are selling his effects.”
So Life, the greatest of tragedians, plays on before the wickets of those servers who care to watch, and yet, with the master art of drama, is forever entering the role of jester to turn sadness into laughter.
Some humorous situations arise out of the fact that people are prone to bring back gifts, and receive their equivalent in money.
A woman, explaining why she had brought back a child’s dress, said: “I’m afraid it is too small.”
From somewhere below the level of the exchange wicket came a small voice:
“But, muvver, you didn’t try it on.” “Hush, child, of course, I ‘put it up’ to you.”
“But. muvver.” still insisted the small voice, “what will Gran’daddy say when he knows, we gived his dwess away?”
The exchange girl’s scissors snipped the string of the next parcel that was shoved into the exchange and a seal-skin coat fell from its wrappings. The woman who presented it wore an exact duplicate.
“Just like a man,” she said indignantly. “I have wanted a seal-skin coat for years. My husband always said he couldn’t afford it. Now, just the very day when I decide to buy one for myself, if my husband doesn’t land in with another. ' Well, I’ll just have the money back and jolly well spend it on something else.”
In the grocery department an obliging manager was listening to the complaints of one whose purchases had been damaged in delivery.
“That pie you sent me,” said the voice over the wire, “was in a horrible state—all broken and squashed.”
“I am sorry, madam,” returned the manager, “that our driver should have been so carolas. What can we do to make it right?”
“I want my money back.” TW voice was strong and vibrant—even rasping.
“Yes,” agreed the accomodating head salesman. “I will be glad to arrange a refund for you if you will bring back the pie.” .
For just a moment the wire transmitted nothing to the ear of the waiting manager -—then—surely another voice—spoke into the mouth piece, so weak and far away it seemed, “—but I—I can’t. We’ve eaten it!” and a resounding click of the receiver ended the interview.
A dejected-looking youth, with a “morning-after-the-night-before” appearance, laid a heavy gold watch on the jewelry counter of a big store.
“Gim’me the money f’this, will you?”, he asked hopefully.
The watch was new and in good condition and the lad received its full value— $100.
A few days later the irate father of the resourceful boy entered with fire in his eye.
“What do you mean by giving away my money?” he flung at the astonished clerk. He was so angry that it was some time before he could be induced to speak rationally and explain.
“It was my money that bought the watch, wasn’t it? Well, then, when you gave it back to my son you gave him my money, didn’t you? Now he’ll buy $100 worth of good times and won’t have a thing in the world to show that he was ever twenty-one.”
“The jewelry department has its own peculiar troubles,” said a manager of that section. “We get things back years afterwards. People think that because our
goods do not wear out that they are entitled to keep them a life time and then bring them back for exchange. They forget that fashions and styles in jewelry change almost as rapidly as in dry-goods, hats and shoes.”
Another jeweler has estimated that some ..exchanges cost him as much as $1.25 on one article.
“Some sales transactions take from half an hour to an hour, to put through. Counting the loss of a clerk’s time, the box or case in which the goods are sent, the paper, string and delivery, makes our loss on some articles returned a great deal heavier than many people would think. That is the trouble. People don’t think. It is the non-thinking public that make so much work. If they don’t want to be fair to us, let them at least stop to consider themselves when they are buying. ‘Am I getting a second-hand article? Has some one else been wearing it? Where has it been?’ ”
Little acts of kindness, of courtesy, anger or impatience are sidelights into the character of those whom the exchange girls serve. They see and come in contact with all kinds and classes, yet human nature is the same in all. Those who are in a hurry to be served are all catching trains: those, who anticipate trouble because their goods, have been out over a time iimit, have had death in the family.
“If all the people were dead that we hear about, and all those who were catching trains caught them,” said one exchange manager, who apparently possessed a saving sense of humor, “one half the city would be in mourning and the other half en route.”