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MAY I HELP YOU FIND SOMETHING?

The idea of buying something that I can't see and touch on the Internet doesn't interest me at all, but it seems possible that store managers may be taking money under the table from computer companies. They're trying to drive people out of their stores so they go home and buy stuff on the Internet.

If there isn't a devious plot to drive us out of stores, how come they do so many things that irritate us when we go in one?

During the last days of my Christmas shopping, it got so I'd look through the front window of a store to assess what was going on inside before I entered. If I saw several salespeople standing around waiting to pounce on me the minute I came in and say, "May I help you?", I didn't go in.

Am I the only shopper who hates being asked, "May I help you?"? Even if I occasionally need help, I do not want to be asked, "May I help you find something?" nine times on my way to where I'm going. If I get lost, I'm not bashful.

The first mistake stores make is in assuming Christmas shoppers know what they want. Usually I'm "just looking," but I'm damned if I want to tell some clerk every few feet that "I'm just looking."

Shopping became so exasperating this year that I became offensive.

"Do you need any help?" they'd say.

"Yes," I'd reply. Just "Yes." They didn't know what to say next.

"Uh . . . what is it you're looking for?"

"A present," I'd say.

"What did you have in mind?

"I don't know what I'm looking for; that's why I need help."

Other times, in other stores, I'd vary my reply to "May I help you find something?" I'd say "Yes. What do you have?"

It seems to me that "What do you have?" is as sensible an answer as "May I help you find something? is a question.

In big stores where there are many cashiers, it pays to study the lines for a minute before you get in one. Cashiers vary in the speed with which they carry out a transaction. Some take the money and dispatch customers quickly. Other cashiers always have a problem with something. The worst thing that can happen to you in a line is when the cashier has to call an assistant manager over to solve some problem or give a price on an item the tag has fallen off. Maybe the tape on the machine that prints receipts has run out and needs to be reloaded.

No amount of studying lines in advance will save you from getting behind someone who pays by check and doesn't start getting his or her checkbook and ID out until the cashier gives a total and you've already invested 10 minutes in that line.

From the time you enter a store and are irritated by "May I help you?" to the minute you get in front of the cashier, some stores don't miss a chance to send you out vowing to shop via the Internet. When the cashier looks at what I have put down on the counter to be bagged and priced and says "Will that be all?", my blood pressure goes up another five points. I say something like, "No. I'll go back into the store now and get some other things. I just brought these items up to the cashier's counter for practice. Is it OK if I leave them here with you?"

Why do cashiers think people appear in front of them before they have everything they're going to buy?

I like stores. I enjoy buying things in stores. I just wish they didn't do so many things that drive me out.

Tribune Media Services

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