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Business Etiquette - In A Department Store

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Let us now see courtesy at work in a big department store.

Mr. Hopkins has taken a morning off to do a little shopping before he goes away on his summer vacation. He wants to buy two shirts, a trunk, a toy for his baby, and a present for his wife. He is not sure what he wants for the wife and baby.

Mr. Hopkins does not like to shop. He remembers his last expedition. A haberdashery had sent him a cordial letter asking him to open an account. He did so, but one morning later when he went in to buy a waistcoat the rude and inefficient service he met disgusted him so that he has not been back since. He knew exactly what he wanted and asked for it. "Oh, no," answered the smart young clerk. "You don't want that. People have not been wearing waist-coats like that for years. This is what you want," and he exhibited a different style altogether. It happened that Mr. Hopkins knew better than the clerk what he wanted, and the fact that people had not been wearing waistcoats like it made no difference to him. As a matter of fact, the only reason the clerk made the remark was that he did not have them in stock, and thought perhaps he could sell by substituting.

There are other haberdasheries where the service is distinctly good, but Mr. Hopkins decides to go to a department store instead. Haberdasheries, however excellent, do not carry toys for one's baby nor presents for one's wife.

Helpem's store has been warmly recommended. He will go there. It is his first visit.

When he enters the door he is bewildered by an array of women's scarfs and gloves and per-fume bottles, handkerchiefs and parasols, hand-bags, petticoats, knick knacks, and whatnot. He almost loses courage and begins backing toward the door when he catches sight of a man in uniform standing near the entrance. He sees that this man is directing the tides of shoppers that are surging in, and approaches him.

"Where can I find the trunks?"

"Third floor. Elevator in the rear," the man answers briefly (but not gruffly). People who have to answer thousands of questions must be brief.

As he passes down the aisle Mr. Hopkins, who is very observant, notices that all of the girls—most of the clerks are girls—are dressed in a pleasant gray. This gives an agreeable uniform tone to a large establishment which would break up into jarring patches of color if each clerk were allowed to wear whatever color happened to strike her fancy. Good idea, Mr. Hopkins thinks, very necessary where there are many, many clerks.

He does not have much trouble getting the trunk. He knows pretty well what he wants, and the obliging salesman convinces him that the trunk will probably last forever by assuring him that an elephant could dance a jig on it and never make a dent. He asks Mr. Hopkins if he wants his name on it. Mr. Hopkins had not thought of it, but he does. No, upon second thought, he will have only his initials stenciled on in dull red, W. H. H. The trunk will be delivered in the afternoon and he goes away well satisfied.

The shirts are somewhat more difficult. He is attached to a certain kind of collar and he likes madras shirts with little black stripes or figures in them. The man shows him white ones and wide striped ones and colored ones with the right collar, and he almost decides that the place does not keep madras shirts with little black figures in them, when he suddenly realizes that he was so intent on getting the collar that he forgot to say anything about the material or color. He begins again, tells the clerk exactly what he wants, and in a few minutes the proper shirts are before him and he is happy. While the clerk is folding them, he asks about ties. It is a good thing. Mr. Hopkins remembers that he has forgotten ties. They have great bargains in ties. He drifts over to the counter and presently has three lovely ones. One is red, and Mr. Hopkins resolves to be more careful than he was with the last red one. His wife burned it. He must keep this hidden.

The ties remind him that he needs a bathrobe. An agreeable clerk sells him a dull figured bath robe, comfortable and light for summer and guaranteed to wash, and tells him that a pajama sale is in progress about four counters away.

When he has bought six pairs of pajamas he begins to think of the baby's present. Toys are on the top floor. The girl there—a wise department store always chooses carefully for this place—is very helpful. She asks about the baby, how old he is, what toys he has, what toys he has asked for, and so on. Mr. Hopkins tells her, and after showing him several ingenious mechanical contrivances, she suggests a train with a real track to run on. Mr. Hopkins is delighted.

The girl asks if the youngster likes to read. He does not, but he likes to be read to. "Why don't you take him a book?" and in a few minutes he has the "Just-So Stories" tucked under his arm. As he leaves the girl smiles, "Come back to see us," she says.

All the clerks have said this. The clerk who sold the shirts said, while they stood waiting for the change, that he could depend on them. They would not shrink and the colors would not run. "We are here in the city," he continued (the store was in New York), "but we have our regular customers just as if we were in a small town. We don't try to make just one sale and get by with it. We want you to come back."

The girl at the toy counter tells Mr. Hopkins that there is a woman downstairs who will help him select something for his wife. He goes back to the man in uniform to locate her and finds her in a secluded booth on the first floor. She asks several questions about whether he would like china or silver, furniture or linen, but Mr. Hopkins wants to give his wife something personal—something she can use or wear. He has been married several years but not long enough to know that this is a dangerous thing to do, but the woman is wise. She suggests a silk parasol, a kimono, or a dozen handkerchiefs.

Such a service as this is not possible except in very large shops, but in most places clerks are quick to respond with suggestions for gifts. There is a pleasure about buying them and selling them that does not go with ordinary transactions.

When he buys a parasol the clerk suggests that they have a very large assortment of hand-bags, but Mr. Hopkins's day's work is done, and the clerk does not insist. None of the clerks in a good department store is insistent. They offer suggestions and stand ready to serve, but they do not try to impose their ideas or their goods upon the customers. Mr. Hopkins leaves well satisfied with himself and his purchases. He will come back.

The trunk is delivered in the afternoon, not by the regular wagon, but by an express company. It is a busy season. Mr. Hopkins is still further delighted. These people keep their promises. And as he tips the man who brought it up —he had to climb three flights of stairs—the man gives him a card. "Here's one of the boss's cards," he says, "in case you want any hauling done." Without doubt the man has been instructed by the boss to distribute his cards, but he does it with such a grace that it seems to be on his own initiative.

It rarely happens that a business man or woman can shop in the leisurely manner described above. Most of their shopping has to be done during the half hour after lunch or during a frantic few minutes snatched at the beginning or the end of the day's work. One morning Mr. Hopkins had to leave home without a collar because he forgot to send the dirty ones to the laundry (his wife was away that week) and dashed into a little shop to get one on the way to the office. He would have felt like murdering a clerk who wanted to show him something nice in the way of gloves or mufflers, and he would have had a hard time to restrain himself from violence if the clerk had started in on a eulogy of a new shipment of English tweeds.

An intelligent clerk can usually tell when his customer is in a tearing hurry. It is an unpropitious time to make suggestions. The clerk must see things from the customer's point of view. It is permissible to suggest something else in place of the thing he has asked for but it is not good manners to make fun of it or to insist upon a substitute. Recently a woman wanted to buy a rug for her automobile. She knew just what she wanted, but the bright young clerk insisted that she wanted something else. She finally bought the rug, but it was in spite of the clerk rather than because of him. Too many salesmen kill their sales by thinking and talking only of their product. The customer is not half so interested in that as he is in himself. Good salesmanship relates the product to the customer, and does it in such a way that the customer is hardly aware of how it is done.

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