Year in Review: An SA’s got to do what an SA’s got to do

Note: No Reader Outfits tomorrow, though please feel free to send in outfits for 1/8 anytime! All outfits I’ve received this week will run on 1/8/2012. 

If 2010 was the year Anthropologie exploded in my closet, 2011 was the year I started exploring other brands again. It’s painful to say that since Anthropologie is my favorite store but it’s true. Over the course of this week (and leaking a bit into next) we’ll review the year that was for Anthro and look ahead to 2012.

During a trip to Philadelphia I watched a curious scene unfold at the Walnut St Anthropologie. I was waiting in line for the cash wrap. The customer in front of me, already at a register, was getting huffy and I couldn’t help but listen to their conversation. She had three or four items ready to be purchased and wanted to use the birthday discount. But she didn’t have the birthday card from Anthropologie with her, or any form of ID proving it was her birthday month. When the SA explained that she needed to see the birthday card or at least a state ID the customer bristled. The SA offered to hold the items or do whatever she could but unfortunately she knew her manager would not allow her to just apply the discount.

The customer asked for the manager, who told her the same thing as the SA. The customer then proceeded to berate the store manager — called her names, explained how she didn’t know anything, and promised to tell all of her friends how awful a store Anthropologie was and how especially awful the manager was. All this over $40 or so. I had instant admiration for the manager, who even after this inappropriate public onslaught politely told the customer that she was happy to hold the items for 48 hours but that the policy was that she needed to see that card to give the discount. The manager even apologized and explained that without the card, if her totals at the end of the day didn’t line up the store could get penalized and that was why she was holding firm, not because she didn’t want to help. With one final curse-laden tirade the customer left fuming.

It’s tough sometimes being a store associate.

With all of the issues I’ve experienced with Anthropologie in 2011 one thing has remained top notch: the in-store customer service. I’d need more than two hands to count the wonderful things SAs and managers have done for me this year. They’ve mailed large purchases to me from the store. They’ve called me when a new item I’m looking for comes into stock. They’ve helped me put together outfits and they’ve helped me find items that a particular store doesn’t have. They’ve opened their doors to me early for personal shopping appointments. And none of this is special treatment — it’s stuff they’d do for any customer.

Many of the NYC SAs know me and are wonderfully friendly. But even outside the city I hardly ever encounter an unhelpful Anthropologie employee. It’s the same deal with charge/sends or store pickups. I’ve been to Anthro in more than 10 states and in 10 states the staff has been wonderful. That’s pretty impressive! (And I can’t say the same for some of the other chains I visit on my travels.) Every so often I get emails from community members about stellar treatment they’ve received. I always encourage them to forward these to the home office so the managers and staff can get the kudos they deserve. Besides the NYC staff whose awesomeness I know firsthand, I constantly hear great things about the Durham, North Carolina team, the Santana Row team in California and the Wayne, Pennsylvania team at the first-ever Anthro store.

Issues do arise unfortunately. I hear sometimes about particular stores with unfriendly staff and I know from time to time SAs have bad days. But more often than not the conflicts between customer and staff originate in outside factors. Let’s take a look at some.

Inconsistent policies/Wrong Information
Many chain stores post their return/exchange policies right at the cash register. I understand why aesthetically Anthropologie doesn’t want to — they’re pretty ugly posters. But I do wish the store associates had some kind of quick reference they could call on when a customer questions a decisions.

For example, one of the most common incorrectly-applied policies concerns price adjustments. Anthro’s own website clearly states that items are eligible for PAs within 14 days of the order shipment. Yet I’ve heard countless SAs tell customers that PAs are based on the order’s placement date, not the shipment date. Usually the SAs will give the PA anyway as a courtesy, but when something is a matter of policy there shouldn’t be any need for special courtesies!

Another common misgiving is around combining discounts. Can you use the birthday discount on top of other promotions? If a sale item gets an additional cut while on promotional discount can you get both the PA and the promotional discount applied? The new point of sale system at Anthropologie’s stores has cleared this up somewhat — store SAs can’t key in more than one discount per transaction so if the price doesn’t already include the discount you can only apply one promotion. Yet even with the physical impossibility of applying multiple discounts I’ve heard customers argue and try to bully their way into paying a lower price.

A final common issue is wrong information. Sometimes this on the customer side and sometimes it’s with the SA. As word of the birthday discount spreads many people feel entitled to it (as is the case with the customer at the top of this post) without realizing that it’s a lottery and a perk that not every customer receives. We’ll leave the discussion of the validity of a lottery for another post. And on the flip side, sometimes it’s the SAs who don’t have the right information about charging shipping on charge/sends or applying price adjustment to out-of-stock items, etc. It’s weird when the customer is more informed than the SA but this time of year I’m sure many community members have experienced just that. And it’s not because of lack of training, it’s just that seasonal SAs especially can’t be trained on every scenario. You learn as you go for the outlier cases.

Does anyone work over here?
Ever waited (and waited and waited) to try on a pair of shoes at Anthropologie? I hardly ever see the shoe room at Rockefeller Center staffed — I almost always have to flag a harried SA down. At Chelsea Market the shoe display is by the cash wrap but the shoes themselves are downstairs, meaning even a nearby SA has to trudge pretty far to retrieve my desired size.  Doing a charge/send is also a guaranteed minute-muncher from your monthly phone allotment, though at least Anthropologie has drastically improved this process by fielding charge/send calls down to the fitting rooms or backstock instead of through the cash registers.

And while Anthropologie has become much better at calling its staff to the cash registers when the line gets very long, I have still waited for 15 minutes or longer during my brief lunch break while 3 or 4 of 8 registers are staffed.

My pet peeve at Anthropologie has to be the fitting room service though. I have waited over 10 minutes for my size before (sometimes finishing up all my try-ons long before the item arrives) and been told my size isn’t available only to find it myself on the racks a few minutes later. I stopped going to the 5th Ave Anthropologie for awhile because on Saturdays the fitting room line was routinely 30 minutes long. (Ever waited 30 minutes with 18 items on your arm? I have, and I have the hanger scars to prove it. And yes I realize that in trying on 18 items I am part of the problem!) 

These are all minor quibbles of course and don’t detract much from the overall experience. I understand that to remain profitable a store only employs so many people. I guess I just wish they had holiday-level staffing all the time or at least a better disbursement of staff. It’s always kind of weird to me when I see the store manager walking behind the cash registers but not actually running one during the high traffic periods. (I know why they do it — still not sure I agree why it’s done that way.) I’ve seen customers end up taking out this frustration on SAs even though it’s not their fault.

A lot times the issue is that SAs and managers only have so much latitude. A policy from the home office might make sense in writing but be plain silly in practice. I hope that Anthropologie will take a look at some of their policies that don’t make a lot of common sense. When I worked retail a wise manager told me that the only policy he wanted me to remember was that when in doubt, err on the customer’s side. If you do that, he told me, in the end both store and customer will win.

The intent of this post isn’t to blame customers or SAs or Anthropologie — just to remind everyone that we’re all human and yes, at the end of the day it is just clothing. I’ve seen people take the attitude of treating SAs like lower-class citizens which is ridiculous, and I’ve seen SAs be unnecessarily rude to customers on rare occasions. For us as community members I think it’s doubly important to treat SAs well. We’re in the stores a lot, we know our stuff, and if we build relationships with the stores they’ll reward us with excellent service and maybe a few hints every now and then. Especially at this time of year when customer patience wears thin and SAs are managing large crowds let’s remember to treat each other like equal human beings. We’ll all be happier for it.

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