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Retailers RULE out Customers by 'Rogering' them

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Contributor:
Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

I am not sure when wheel clamping and bag searches became part of the whole ambience of shopping, but recent personal experience has reminded me of the often farcical nature of rules.

Most rules are created by Governments, organisations and businesses as a response to behaviour that is considered unacceptable to the rule creator. Governments and Local Governments do it on behalf of the people they represent. Businesses and organisations do it to preserve their profitability and/or values.
 
The problem with rules is that they are aimed at a small minority, but because of the absolute nature of rules they cast a wider net than their original intended targets and end up punishing more people than just those the rule makers had in mind.
 
For road safety, speed limits are set and drivers face penalties if they are caught exceeding them. That is fine (no pun intended), but many of those caught speeding are safe, law abiding drivers who have inadvertently strayed a few k's over the limit and happen to be driving past a speed camera or police officer at the time. Will the fine make them better drivers? No it will not, because we weren't inconsiderate scum in the first place.
 
In our pursuit of rule enforcement we can lose sight of what the rule is in place to correct and end up enforcing the rule for the rules sake. In a business sense especially in tough economic times, that can have serious consequences for businesses and their staff.
 
A successful retail operation is built on the basic foundation of - products that people want, attractively displayed and sold at a profit by knowledgeable staff (not acting like being there is the worst experience of their short lives). A good general rule would be – 'We will give people lots of reasons to buy from us. Because if they don’t we are out of business’.
 
If you haven’t already met him in your own retail adventures, allow me to introduce you to Roger the Rule Jockey. Roger is dedicated to enforcing the company rules because they are there to be enforced. He is determined to ride his horse Rule Boy all the way to the finish line regardless of what carnage he causes around him.
 
One of my recent 'Roger' encounters was at a department store. I went in to see if they had something in stock I was after. They didn't, so I left.
 
When passing the exit Roger stopped me and asked if he could look inside my bag. I was a bit dumbfounded and blurted something like “don't you normally have to have some grounds for suspicion to search a customers bag” at which point Roger calmly said "I am not accusing you of anything", while pointing to the 'we will only let you in if we can rummage through your bag' sign.
 
I said "fine check my bag then" and dropped it at his feet. To this Roger proudly announced that while he wanted to look in my bag the rules meant he was not allowed to touch it. I said “I don't care you have my permission to have a look”. Roger was unfazed – “I am not allowed to touch your bag”. Realising I was not getting anywhere I reluctantly unzipped my backpack and showed him my sweaty gym clothes. "That’s fine sir" said Roger obviously with some sense of fulfilment that compliance had been achieved and a little perplexed that I was getting agitated.
 
Regardless of the compelling reasons that will be presented as a defence for such a policy, I felt a tad unloved that I had been singled out in public, and that passersby could easily arrive at the conclusion that I was under suspicion for theft.
 
I wanted to congratulate Roger for being the first staff member in living memory at this particular store that was interested in talking to me. But I backed off, knowing that Roger Rule Jockeys, don't like sarcasm – It is viewed as a direct challenge, which automatically shifts them to DEFCON 3 on the overreaction scale.
 
A few weeks later I met Roger again. He had morphed into a checkout supervisor.  I parked in the supermarket car park opposite work and brought a couple of items. Having a meeting to go to I left the car there knowing that I had time under their parking rules to stay there. My meeting ended up running overtime and I dashed out to shift the car only to find that it had been clamped for staying 11 minutes past the maximum allowed time.
 
This severe crime against society had the penalty of $150. Knowing that where towing companies are concerned, resistance is futile, I paid the fine and got the clamp removed.
 
Having never overstayed my time before and being a regular shopper I went in to protest to the checkout supervisor - Roger. He informed me that it was the towing company who enforced the parking rules and there was nothing that he could do. I protested that I had actually shopped in the supermarket but had shot off to a meeting and was late back. Roger said that “if I had brought a lot, like over $100 then they could waive the fine”. I said that I had only spent about $8, but that I shopped in here most work days, and had done for a number of years.
 
“Well” said Roger “if you can bring in a lot of receipts we could have a look at it”. I said “I don't need receipts; your checkout staff know me because I am in here so much”. I left with my articulate (and loud) parting shot that "it was a crappy way to treat your customers".
 
What Roger the Rule Jockey failed to grasp was that what was important was not fining me $150 for 11 minutes excess parking time, but that I was a customer and I wasn’t coming back – ever. I understand that at Christmas and sometimes in the school holidays the car park rule might need enforcing. But why does it need to be enforced when the car park is mostly empty?
 
In both instances Roger is happy though. He rides off into the sunset on his trusty steed Rule Boy contented that another successful day has been spent making sure bags are not filled with stolen stock and that the car park remains a beautiful shade of half empty grey. What he failed to notice in the glare of the setting sun, was the sign he passed that pointed to a town called Bankruptcy. He was a long way from it but on his present course he would get there eventually.
 
Here is a simple message for all you businesses out there doing it tough in a recession. Don’t RULE out prosperity by annoying your customers.
 
That is twice I have been Rogered now. While the experience is not physically painful it does create a certain degree of mental anguish that doesn’t go away in a hurry.
 
Am I alone in my encounters with Roger or do others of you have your own tales to tell of retail rule jockeys who make sure that a happy shopping experience always comes second to company policy?
 
 

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