Saturday, November 22, 2008

Steal this jacket! *

So last weekend I'm in Marshalls in New York, killing time by attempting to try on clothes while the wife shops for accessories that'll sit in the closet unworn for six months till she sells them for 10 cents on the dollar at a garage sale. I say attempting because Marshalls, like many current department-store chains, uses a variety of security measures that massively complicate the process of getting the clothes off the rounders and onto your person. Shopped for leather jackets lately? You know why I'm asking. Almost universally now, "better outerwear" is affixed to the display by means of a sheathed metal cable that makes it impossible to actually (a) put the damn thing on, unless you also want to wear the cable, and (b) walk to the nearest mirror to see how you look, unless you want to drag the entire display along with you. Of course, you do have another option, and it's the one the store is trying to enforce upon you: You can go find a teenage sales associate, and once she finishes filling in a colleague on all the juicy details of last night's drunken hook-up, she'll come assist you"assisting you" consisting in this case of watching you like a hawk to make sure you're not wadding the bulky garment up into a tiny ball and stashing it in your mouth.

Marshalls also uses ink tags, whichthe store ominously warns shopperswill burst and spill their contents all over your thieving sociopathic hands, should you try to remove them before paying. (Some of the tags were clipped right over the buttons/zippers, so that you literally could not open the garment in order to try it on.) This is the next step forward after those old-style security tags, the ones that leave subtle but permanent holes in whatever you buy, and set off those shrill alarms and that oh-so-polite automated announcement telling you to return to the register in order to be arrested and fingerprinted.

All of this takes place under the watchful eye of the ubiquitous security cameras, which aren't even discreetly concealed in vents or light fixtures anymore; they're right there in plain sight now, bulging conspicuously down from the ceilings. One assumes that this too is by design: We've got our eye on you, fella. Then finally, as you're about to leave the store, there's the burly security guard, eyeing you skeptically and unsmiling in a way that suggests that the instant before you're off store property, he's going to intercept you and demand to see your receipts. Which, again, is precisely the intended message.

As you can tell by now, I don't get out shopping very often
, but I'm astonished that anyone puts up with this. Just astonished. I can tell you, there is no freakin' way on God's green earth that I would regularly patronize a store that treated its customers like that. By the time I was done at Marshalls, I wondered why they didn't just put up signs like so:

Can we get something started here? Can we forward this post to others and get a grassroots movement going? I think we've got some unusual leverage this year, thanks to the sorry state of the economy and the stores' desperation to finish 2008 somewhere close to in-the-black. Whaddya say? Let's pick a few retailersstarting with Marshalls, maybe?and boycott. We'll carry signs of our own:
Drive the suckers into insolvency!

Then again, they'll just go to Washington for a bailout.

* It's relevant, but also an allusion to a memoir by one-time radical Abbie Hoffman.


RevRon's Rants said...

The store security people probably read the book as part of their training, Steve. And they could probably tell, by the shifty look on your eyes, that you had been known to stuff jazz albums into frozen pizza boxes* in your day, and weren't likely to have changed all that much over the years.

Perhaps when paying your next credit card bill for the store, you should write "Merry f***ing Christmas" on the check!

* - Another brilliant - and I've been told, effective - suggestion from the book.

ver word: dehystr!

Anonymous said...

Well, I check out return policies and buy the stuff first. If it doesn't fit, I return the items. I did buy a pair of boots with that ink thing in it and the sales clerk did not remove it from one of my boots. A ruined boot and a refund for me. I was told those ink things cost more money, because so few cashiers remove them properly.

Anonymous said...

What about today's delightful airport experience? At least in a store you don't actually have to pay to be made to feel like a criminal, whereas at airports, you're paying bigtime for the privilege. Nor do you (yet) have to remove all your outerwear, shoes, belts, jewelry, change, purses, etc.etc. and go through a search device in order to get into s store. Tried to get into a museum lately? That's a lot closer to the airport experience. Ugh.

Elizabeth said...

Um, about those accessories, Steve. I'm sure that I speak for Kathy and the rest of the womankind (with a rare exception here and there -- don't bother writing messages of protest, please) when I say that those (as you so glibly described them;) "unworn" accessories are absolutely necessary for the well-being of your family. Or at least one of its members. And they sit in the closet for six months because... because... because, one, they wait for the right season, and, two, for the right outfit with which to wear them (this, of course, means another shopping trip. Or two.).

Besides, don't dis the need for accessories in these tough times -- as any woman would tell you, they are saving our tanking economy. If anything, we need more accessories today, not less.*

*As you have no doubt realized, the above is a massive attempt at rationalization. I'm typing it while trying, unsuccessfully, to shut the door to my closet. Judging by my difficulty with it, our economy should be well on its way to recovery...


Rev -- LOL!

Elizabeth said...

More seriously: yeah, we (I) can tell you don't go shopping a lot, Steve. Welcome to THE American shopping experience, anywhere, any time.

But we have only ourselves to blame. Retail theft is a huge problem.

1minionsopinion said...

I hate shopping. I didn't like it before I worked retail and I despise it now. I worked for Walmart for a lot of years. They actually had us remove the gator tags off all of the bras so they could send them back for a refund. No security on the bras anywhere anymore and cashiers rarely remember to scan the bra itself, not the box.

And all those black globes on the ceiling? Only the ones by Electronics and Jewelery and the tills are guaranteed to have functioning cameras, even if no one's in a room watching the show. Most of the globes are empty so there are great blind spots all over the store for seasoned thieves. In our store, they'd duck into Ladies' Wear behind the fitting rooms (no cameras to spy on the ladies) to unpack portable DVD players and pop them into backpacks. I found five empty boxes one night. Infant's wear was another popular empty box graveyard.

Once I asked a manager why they didn't lock up more of those high ticket, high shrink items and you know what he told me? "That's not the kind of customer service we want to provide."

They'd rather it walk out the door than make customers wait for the only associate allowed to have the keys.

Customers get pretty crafty with the thefts there -- packing extra sheets into "Bed in a Bag" bags, stealing the photo pages out of the albums, replacing cheap cutlery with expensive ones before taking the box to the till, taking their pants off in mens' wear and walking out in brand new jeans, the theft of which goes unnoticed until several hours later when the skeezy crusty pants are found on a hanger with the tags in a pocket. Buying the computers, stripping them of anything usable, and returning them the next day because "they don't work." That was a popular one when they first started selling the cheap ones.

Sometimes the store even lacks security people, so good luck if you're an associate and think you just saw a five-finger discount go down. You can follow, alert someone else and call a manager, but if there's no official guy around, there isn't much point in reporting it. All you can do is hope they'll get caught by a greeter who isn't in his 80s.

I know it's a pain to be viewed as guilty when you're innocent, though. That's part of the reason I quit shopping there long before I quit the job - I just hated getting my bags inspected on the way out every night.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, 1Min, for the detailed and nicely balanced perspective. Clearly you haven't been to my local Walmart, though, which takes security a lot more seriously than yours did.

I do understand that there's a whole other side to shrinkage (no, not the Seinfeldian kind), and that loss prevention is a serious business for retailers. I've written on the subject a number of times, and have had the privilege of interviewing some of the legendary figures in the LP field, who--as you might imagine--have some wonderful, perversely hilarious stories to share.

Incidentally, I once did a piece for the Los Angeles Times Magazine about the things people steal from hotel rooms. As part of the story, I'd wanted to try to check out of several hotels while obviously carrying a lamp or a whole stack of bath towels under my arm--just to see what would happen, yanno? if anybody would say anything--but my editor nixed the idea. It's still one of my greatest regrets, that we didn't try it.

Stever Robbins said...

This is standard. Same thing is software, with this "activation required" crap.

I had a piece of mission-critical software that was "activation required." The company discontinued the product and next time I bought a new machine, a few years later, my mission critical software wouldn't install. And since the activation servers had been shut down, it took several months and letters to the Board to get them to replace the software.

I tried to explain that risking my business because someone else might pirate their software was profoundly disrespectful. I'm supposed to let my business's continued operations depend on their decision/ability to keep their server running, and by the way, I'm expected to allow their software to connect back to their servers and transmit arbitrary information from my machine ... all without blinking.

So the equation is: you must trust the vendors 1000%, and they can make you jump through hoops because you're clearly just trying to screw them.

Welcome to the 21st century. We have successfully been taken over by the life form "Business" and have been turned into nothing other than their (willing and compliant) slaves.

Been shopping yet today? Well get out there, people!! Business needs you!

Anonymous said...


Why are you slumming it @ Marshall's? The one's near me are rather dumpy, and I've never been accused of having high standards.

One time I bought a pair of work boots at a liquidation sale - 80% off - such a deal! But the Sensortronic tags weren't deactivated, so when I tripped the alarm exiting Home Depot and Lowes a few times before I figured it out.

I'm pretty much an on-line shopper now. And I never shop with my wife - we already have enough to fight about.

Elizabeth said...

And I never shop with my wife - we already have enough to fight about.

LMAO! Oh, brother...

RevRon's Rants said...

Ya' lightweights! Ya' ain't shopped until you've shopped at Macy's in NY just before Christmas. They need more than store security people... They need SWAT or the National Guard! I've actually seen fistfights break out over the last item on a sale rack.

Steve Salerno said...

Rev: I swear, I wasn't the guy holding the lead pipe, with the PlayStation2 hidden under my jacket...

RevRon's Rants said...

And I swear it wasn't me that *started* the fistfight! :-)

Elizabeth said...

Ya' ain't shopped until you've shopped at Macy's in NY just before Christmas.

So what are you sayin', Ron? That you are one of those desperate (and shameless) men who wait till the very last minute before Xmas, then run to the nearest store, and buy, panicking, whatever you can still spot there...?



Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

This comment is completely out of context with this conversation but I have been trying to find some more information - besides SHAM book which looks at the way selfhelp has changed society. I haven't found anything at all really but what I have come across are some critiques of your book. I don't know wether you have commented on them yourself and I missed it - but I would love to hear your response. I have attached two:


I hope you can read them and looking forward to any response.

Many Thanks

RevRon's Rants said...

Not in many years, Eliz! I hit NY while stationed in the City of Brotherly Love... figured it would be fun to do my Xmas shopping in NY. Big mistake. i did, however, get some great deals at the jewelry exchange. :-)

Online is the only way any more!

Alexandra said...

Dear Steve, shoplifting is a major problem. And here is another tragedy--the disappearance of public restrooms where a person can pee or take an dump and not have to pay for it.

Legions of places have closed public restrooms or have made them customers only, because existing ones are trashed or used to deal or shoot dope or for screwing. In San Francisco, I once saw three people(!) exit one of the automatic toilets, amid a cloud of what looked to be pot or crack smoke.

My father adored shopping with and for my mother, and the salespeople assumed he was homosexual. That's how much most men hate serving time in department stores.

Alexandra (Yes you can print all this on the blog if any of it is useful)

Happy T-day.

(regarding shopping, see the last item on the list)

Why Men Are Happier Than Women

1. We keep our last name.

2. The garage is all ours.

3. Wedding plans take care of themselves.

4. Chocolate is just another snack.

5. We can be president.

6. We can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.

7. Car mechanics tell us the truth.

8. The world is our urinal.

9. We never have to drive to another gas station because this one's just too icky.

10. Same work, more pay.

11. Wrinkles add character.

12. Wedding dress - $5000; tux rental - $100.

13. People never stare at our chest when we're talking to them.

14. The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected.

15. New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle our feet.

16. One mood, ALL the time.

17. Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.

18. We know stuff about tanks.

19. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.

20. We can open all our own jars.

21. We get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.

22. If someone forgets to invite us, he or she can still be our friend.

23. Our underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.

24. Everything on our face stays its original color.

25. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.

26. We don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.

27. We almost never have strap problems in public.

28. We are unable to see wrinkles in our clothes.

29. The same hair style lasts for years, maybe decades.

30. We don't have to shave below our neck.

31. Our belly usually hides our big hips.

32. One wallet and one pair of shoes, one color, all seasons.

33. We can "do" our nails with a pocket-knife.

34. We have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.

35. We can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives, on December 24, in 45 minutes.

Elizabeth said...

Off-topic altogether: The GOP economic brain, Phil Gramm, blames the current crisis on, I kid you not, predatory borrowers:

Or as my favorite spoof magazine, "Ironic Times," summed it up,

Honest, naive bankers easy prey for unscrupulous first-time buyers, many of them high school graduates.

P.S. Alexandra, this (why men are happier) is a hoot. (So funny, so sad, and so true.)