Voice precognition: One reason more why brick-and-mortar stores are disappearing


I placed the shrink-wrapped box on the counter and the checkout girl smiled at me. She had a light in her eyes, an intimate twinkle that was hard to match, unless you were genetically gifted or practiced a lot.

It went downhill from there.

“Hi, how are you doing today?”

Her first question was fine. The second one, asked as she scanned my purchase, told me everything I needed to know about the rest of our relationship.

“Would you like to purchase our extended warranty program that gives you peace of mind against hardware problems for an additional two years?”

“No thanks, I’m not interested.”

“May I ask why?”

“It’s just a fifty-dollar device. If it breaks within a year, it’s still under factory warranty and I’ll get it exchanged. If it makes it longer, it probably won’t break between years one and three. Besides, all extended warranty policies like this are done for a profit – the customers lose in the long run. So while I do realize some situations call for an extended warranty, mine isn’t one of them. I stopped in to quick get this thing – I could’ve ordered it online for less cost, but I wanted it today, and now I just want to get back to my office.”

…I would’ve said that, but I didn’t. I just shrugged and looked away. Her eyes lost a little of their twinkle, and her lips changed from their happy-looking parabola to a resolved parallelogram. It was clearly my fault I wasn’t spending more money, and by doing so I was disappointing her personally.

She tried again.

“Are you a member of our ‘Super Savers’ program?”

“No, thank you.”

“Just so you know, I don’t work on commission! Can I interest you in our interest-free credit card that gets you 5% off every in store-purchase?”

“No, thanks.”

She hovered carefully-painted fingernails above the cash register keyboard.

“Can I get your home phone number for our records?”

“No.”

My answers were growing shorter. Just like my temper.

All I wanted to do was to spend fifty bucks and leave. If she kept asking me questions, my clearly-throbbing forehead vein was going to pop and she’d be responsible for the mess.

“Why is it so hard,” I said, frustration boiling over, “to just give you my money? I don’t want anything else!”

There. It was out. Some things just had to be said.

“I’m sorry,” she said. Her intimate eyes now flashed cold and arrogant. “I have to ask the questions. It’s just my job.”

“Just because it’s your job doesn’t make it okay.”

Again, some things just had to be said.

…Actually, everything above is what I wanted to happen. Reality was a bit different: I said “no” to all questions, paid my money, got my purchase and left, my thoughts a seething irritation. I pledged not to appear in that store again if I could help it.

Online shopping isn’t immediate, but the experience can’t be beat. A store’s customer treatment tells us exactly how they see their clients: In this case, I was a money-filled udder. Squeeze me hard and milk me dry.

Attention every store everywhere: The easier you make the shopping experience, the more likely it is that customers will come back.

Some things shouldn’t need to be said.

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