Monday, March 16, 2009

Retail Therapy

With popular stories like "Confessions of a Shopaholic," the idea of shopping might sound therapeutic to some. When I walked into the mall with two teenagers on Saturday, I froze. I was on another planet. We set our rendezvous time and they were on their way for an hour of bargain-hunting; I stood there looking around as if I'd never seen a place like that. I've been steeped in work, with no time for malls lately. Luckily I had taken with me a bag of reading and I almost plopped myself down like the older gentlemen do, waiting for their spouses so they can go home. I realized, however, that I really did need three simple things: a watch, a coin purse, and some vitamins.

I found the watch in the first five minutes. The customer service at the store was what kept me there. The young lady behind the counter worked for twenty minutes to adjust and re-adjust the links on my new "affordable" Fossil watch as if it were a Rolex. She used her best manners and didn't seem to lose patience with this tedious job. I walked out of the store feeling like a new woman, no longer needing to carry my phone around to see the time. I grabbed the vitamins next and then ended up at the department store in search of the coin purse. I found it quickly, but as I approached the register I realized there was a line. Dread. That's when I usually give up and walk away, but the conversation I heard from the mother/daughter pair surprised me. They were praising "Cassie," the salesperson for her excellent customer service. She had a pierced lip and two bright red streaks on either side of her long dark hair. She did not look like the epitome of service, but her smile grew as these gals continued their compliments for her money-saving advice to them on how to get the best deal at check-out.

It was my turn to have the sale rung up, and Cassie was still beaming, lip ring and all, from the earlier pairs' praise. She greeted me warmly, regardless of my small purchase, and wished me a great day. I felt valued as I left the store, and I sensed that Cassie enjoyed brightening people's days just as the girl in the watch store seemed to enjoy helping people with the right fit. Customer service was a priority for those I encountered on the weekend, and when Monday rolled around the theme continued. I made a deposit Wells Fargo and they were more cheery than the weekend retail salespeople, even calling me by name. I stopped at the market to purchase milk and juice, and the checker was happy to share the excitement of his son hitting a home run! The bagger chimed in about her favorite sport and we all had an instant connection.

These are just my little daily errands, but in the space of two days I was met with so many smiles that I wondered if the world had suddenly gotten back on course. I realized that the people who were so full of kindness and pleasant manners must simply be happy people doing their jobs and feeling good about that. They didn't appear to be stressed out about their 401k plans, they were just getting by and making it nicer for those in their midst. There is enough time to worry and to be self-absorbed; believe me, I speak from hard-won experience. Some people, like the watch salesperson, Cassie, the bank teller, and the grocery store checker all work as if they understand the secret to happiness is treating others with kindness throughout each day. We can be vigilant and return these retail kindnesses by acknowledging when we see them and by sharing their contagion.

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