I was buying a pack of T-shirts today in one of those department stores whose names end in “mart”. I thought it would be a simple transaction. While I often order over the Internet to make it easier to compare different products and choose exactly what I want, to avoid shipping delays I sometimes visit this chain store for small items such as this.
Unfortunately, today I was surprised to encounter some unexpectedly pushy sales tactics during my visit. The cashier wanted me to sign up for one of those discount/bonus cards.
— That’s one of those credit-card-like plastic cards that makes you eligible for store discounts that people without the card don’t get. You normally get the discount in exchange for registering your name, address, and phone number with the store, and I would guess that you’re effectively paying for the discount by selling your contact information to some marketing mailing list. This is an annoying trend that’s been spreading for the past decade. It seems like there’s no place you can shop now without running into this garbage. I only have one of these cards, and it’s for the chain grocery store I’ve visited every week for the past ten years, so the savings have paid off over time. —
Sometimes I do visit grocery stores where I don’t have a discount card (which is basically most grocery stores), and I often run into this little annoyance (being asked if I have a card) at those grocery stores, but I found it odd that a department store would even use discount cards. I expect this garbage from grocery stores because that’s where people tend to shop every week for items that run out often (like food). With grocery stores, the savings can add up quickly, but I expect a person would only shop at department stores maybe once every few months (for various household items that shouldn’t wear out that often), and any savings should be diluted over time to nearly the point of nonexistence.
Putting the silly economics aside, what really irked me about this little social interaction was the way I wasn’t asked whether I actually wanted to sign up for the discount card. Ordinarily the exchange goes a little like this:
Cashier: “Do you have a discount card?”
Cashier: “Do you want to sign up for one?”
The cashier then proceeds to tell me my total, I pay, and I go on with my life.
I don’t mind this too much. I don’t mind spending a few minutes interacting with a stranger, and I’ve gotten used to turning the person down when he/she asks if I want a card. — Although, once a cashier did actually put an activated card and a blank paper application in my bag, which I promptly threw in the trash when I got home (because I neither asked for it nor did I want it). —
What annoyed me about the cashier I encountered today was that she didn’t give me the chance to say “no”. She immediately asked for my name and phone number for her to enter into a screen on her computer, as if I was supposed to automatically give out personal information just because she asked for it. This felt awkward. I felt instinctively obliged to comply with this fellow human being standing in front of me. It felt like saying “no” would have been rude, but I wanted to say “no” because I don’t need some potential marketing firm wasting my time with voice mails that I would delete immediately anyway nor do I need to receive physical junk mail that I would just shred (if she would have asked for my mailing address next), and these conflicting motivations caused me some apprehension. What could have been a nice, relaxing, friendly social interaction became tense for a moment, and all for the sake of a $12 pack of T-shirts.
After a few seconds, I was eventually able to summon the courage to say “no”. I simply told her, “I don’t want to give out my information.” I think I had to say it twice because she didn’t give up the first time.
The general lesson is this. Never be afraid to say “no”. Sometimes it could be a relatively harmless situation like this. Other times it could be more serious. Just remember that if someone is pressuring you into doing something and not giving you a choice, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a choice. Sometimes you create the choice.