Letters of Life

Shopping (1)

I’ve been thinking about the shopping scene lately, and how the discrimination displayed by local sales staff is not going to get Singaporeans boasting about sales service as much as they boast about cheap hawker food. This is old news, but really, it’s time to nix atas (high-class) shops which encourage atas (snobbish) behaviour from sales staff.

Yes, pricewise, we are very competitive, and there’s lots of cheap and cheerful high-street fashion to pick up, from Liberty print blouses to leopard-print ballet flats to the latest Tokyo pantsuits. But the thing that never fails to prevent me from parting with my money countless times is lukewarm service. Retailers need to prioritise this issue. Your staff are the main reason why a spendthrift like me saves a bundle each time she walks down Singapore’s corridors of style and glamour. Yes, I love that bunny-pink cashmere wrap sweater and am all ready to whip out my Visa, but if the sales assistant is too busy serving someone else, or doesn’t read my cues accurately, then I’m not poorer by $200 that afternoon.

If you want to experience absolute service discrimination at the global brand stores, do (my Top 5):
1. Wear faded jeans (allover faded, not the artfully-faded type)
2. Wear slippers/Crocs/Birkenstocks (who cares how expensive they are? Unless you’re below 25 and have cute toesies and svelte ankles, they make your feet look ugly.)
3. Carry a backpack (the authentic-looking type, like Columbia). The bigger the better.
4. If you are female, do not wear any makeup. And for the bold among us, wear a dri-fit top, the kind you wear to the gym.
5. Catch the attention of the sales staff who will at this point, pretend you’re not really there. When you get it, speak in proper Singlish, with all the wrong grammar and mispronunciation.

Conversely, I had this interesting experience.
I was looking for men’s shirts in Takashimaya and was talking to a sales assistant about collar sizes and sleeve lengths. Now, I *usually* speak proper English. [I’m not being snobby or anything, but the fault lies entirely with my grandmother who, in raising me, spoke nothing but English, as did my all English-speaking family and relatives. I don’t recall Singlish ever spoken at those Sunday dinners around my maternal grandpa’s dinner table, and that included us kids. Even the teachers in my alma mater back then spoke proper English.]

Back to the story. Unintentionally, I spoke to the salesgirl this way. For some reason, she thought I was being snobbish, and she treated me, a fellow local, with absolute disdain. I didn’t get it. This was a department store, not Hermes, for goodness sake. Plus, it was the *Men’s* department, where usually, there’re hardly any airs either way. She was abrupt and adopted a patronising tone. She avoided eye contact and was coldly efficient in sorting and finding the size and style I wanted.

The next time I went back to the department to do an exchange. (Why do men have different length arms and neck widths that need customization that we women take for granted as SML.) I spoke in my broken, Western-tinged Mandarin. The response was fantastic. The sales girl responded back in fluent Mandarin, smiled at me, nodded cheerfully, and when I left with my exchange, I felt on top of the world.

Now tell me about your shopping experiences.

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