12 Days of Retail Christmas: Top 10 Dumb Customers Part II

Not all customers are bad.  But these are the worst customers I ever dealt with; whose rudeness, ineptitude, or lack of civility convinced me to forever trade in my retail keys for the much more celebrated career of education (italics = sarcasm).  Numbers 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 here.  

Treadmill display: Please check your heart!  
5.  Cheap Fatsos.  I have a lot of sympathy for the gravitationally-challenged people, being apart of the crowd myself.  But, like many subcultures, they don't have a good PR person working to dispel the stereotypes of this Newton oppressed people (Newtons or N. is the force of gravity, not Fig Newtons, which no honest fat person actually eats, as they have fruit in them).  Working in Sporting Goods/Fitness Department at Sears for a number of years, I could almost tell you which customers were merely shopping on doctors orders, and that they were going to buy something completely inadequate to their needs.

This was exactly the case when George, a 6' 4" and roughly 365 lb. guy came waddling into the store with his oxygen tank and his obviously exhausted "helper" son.  I helped this duo for over two hours, strongly advising them against the entry level treadmill, the Weslo Cadence.  While none of our treadmills at the time were built for anyone over 300 lbs., some would actually perform decently for at least a  year under that kind of abuse.  George, though, was adamant that the cheapest Weslo treadmill at $265.00 would suffice.  I flat out said, "just save your money and walk on the road when it's nice, cause this will not work for me, and I'm only 230 lbs."  George's mid-20's son agreed with me as well, but watching the two, I could tell the son had lost thousands of these stubborn battles.  I finally got George to get on top of the treadmill (I set the incline at a decent percentage, as the motor needed every advantage to keep momentum).  I turned the speed to low, and George stepped on.  Instantly the treadbelt stopped, the motor whined and made a weird humming noise.  No movement for at least a minute.  George stepped back onto the side rails which made the cheap plastic components squeak under his weight.  The belt, now free of his enormous weight, shot forward like a slingshot.  "I'll take it," George said.  I was just as baffled as George's son.

A week later I see this model sitting in the loading dock, returned by our delivery department.  Knowing it was George's treadmill, already getting mad at his stubborn fat body, I looked at the notes for why it was returned--"Customer died."


 It was the most awful customer call back I've ever had to do.  I called his son, returned the money to their Visa card, and offered my condolences.  Our 15 minute conversation is ours and ours alone, I will not share the details.  But If it's possible for strangers to bond over seemingly mundane interactions, I felt like George's son and I had a moment that transcended basic sympathy.  God works in mysterious ways.

4.  The "after closing" loiterers:  Most people strongly dislike their jobs--clocking out the minute their shift is over.  In retail, "closing" means you don't leave until every customer is gone and all your other duties are finished.  For some reason, some customers have the idea that their time is more important than the dozens of workers still on the clock because of them.  "Uh, ma'am, you do realize we're closed, right?"  "Oh, I'll just be a few minutes, I'm just getting some color sample cards.  I have no idea what kind of atmosphere I want my bathroom to have."

Image from Career Opportunities:  Being stuck with Jennifer Connelly doesn't really send
 the negative message stores like Target want to send for staying after hours.  

Anyways, one night I was closing at Jerry's Home Improvement in the lumber yard.  It was late November, and the cold rains were pelting the isles.  The yard supervisor had sent everyone else home except for me.  Apparently one customer was coming out for some exterior wire.  When he finally gets his vehicle out to the yard, I see the order:  285' of the heaviest duty exterior braided wire (the stuff that goes from power line to house).  Usually we sold 50'-100' of this wire off our 1000' wooden spool.  It was extremely heavy, and almost impossible to pull off the spool by oneself.  I had a trick where I wrapped the wire around my forklift cage, and used the forklift's power to pull if off the spool...we had markers on the yard going out to a hundred feet.  Logistically, this meant that I would have to pull the wire 100', roll it up by hand (which is easier said than done), mark the wire, load the 100' back onto my forklift, pull another 100', roll that up as well, and do it again for 85'.  The final weight of the roll was so heavy I was pushing it with my back just to keep it somewhat rolled.  I was outside in the rain for 45 minutes, by myself.  Not once did the customer, my supervisor, or anyone still inside the store offer to help me.  At 9:35 (over a half hour after we closed), someone inside the store walkie-talkied me:  "is anyone still with a customer?"  "Yeah, I'm still outside rolling up this fricken' stupid ass wire!"  I radioed back on every channel, not caring what manager heard my anger.  (I got written up for this "outburst").

Long story short, I was soaked to the bone.  I was shivering and exhausted.  My Jerry's hat literally was dripping water like a waterfall.  We had to use the forklift to lift the wire up to the guy's truck bed and push it off.  The roll was less than pretty after the 150' mark, but it would still unravel easily for the customer, yet he said, "Well, its ugly, but it will work I guess, thanks."

I wonder if they still tipped?  
I wanted to punch the completely capable contractor guy in the face.  I just spent 45 minutes in the freezing rain for a back-handed complement.

This nation really needs to reconsider what is "tip-worthy" service.  Taking my order and refilling my Pepsi twice is worth 15-20% and breaking your back and catching pneumonia for someone gets a "thanks."

3.  The commission dream killer:  Some sales are easier than others, and other's aren't worth the effort you put in...but none are worse than when someone wastes your time and buys it online after stealing all your hard earned knowledge.  Some situations are even worse.

You'd only have to pay me $12 to relocate to Guam.  
Long story short, a guy comes in who just took a position in Guam.  His new job is giving him $12,000 in relocation necessities (his words), and for the next four hours I fill out his dream order...finding him the best way to maximize his dollars on Craftsman tool boxes, tools, yard equipment, appliances, televisions, a treadmill...I worked across the whole store, getting permission in departments that usually didn't let "outsiders" touch their merchandise.  I told the guy I would research the cheapest way to get it all to Guam.  I called four different exporting companies, who usually didn't deal with non-commercial shipping.  Finally, I found him someone who would do it all for about three thousand...but we were still under his 12 grand total by a few hundred dollars.  I was looking at roughly $400 dollars in total commission.  It was the only sale I worked on all day.  I filled out a whole itemized statement and a mock sales receipt and faxed it to the number he gave me.  The fax came back as non-delivered.  I tried again.  No luck.  I called the number he gave me.  Wrong number.  I never saw him again.  8 hours of work, making deals with people on the phone, being a salesman superstar, all for a phony liar.

2.  The "I can pump my own gas" customer:  Oregon does things differently.  We don't need a sales tax, which means we struggle to fund anything as a state, while allowing sneaky Washingtonians and Californians to cross our border and smuggle our goods back into the states to avoid taxation.  I don't blame them.  It often confuses our out-of-state travelers as well, that we have Gas Pumping Technicians.  Guys trained in the art of inserting a gas nozzle, squeezing the handle, punching some numbers into a display, and obtaining your preferred method of payment.  I'm not sure why Oregon still hangs onto this stupid employment opportunity, but it does give many young kids their first taste of customer service.  It was my first job, and I was good at it.  We had manual pumps, and I was awesome at the "perfect pump."  Stopping the gauge on the exact dollar amount with the pump going full speed.

Well, in drives a yuppie Californian in one of the Volkswagen New Beetle redesigns of the late 1990s.  I start to walk over to the front door, "What'll it be?"

"I'll do it myself.  You guys always spill gas on my paint-job.  F$%#ing morons.  Only in Oregon."

This image appeared in my dreams that night.  
Offended, I said, "Dude, it's illegal to pump your own gas.  I can be really careful." (Secretly I wanted to spill some gas on his car now).

"Well sue me, dumb S#!+"  he said as he inserted the nozzle and pumped twenty dollars into his Beetle as I stood silently dumbfounded.

He tossed the 20 dollar bill at me, and peeled out in our narrow lane.  But not before I saw a small drip  mark of gas on the curved wheel well of his new Beetle as he drove off.  Californians.

"Don't take it out on me that you drive a chick car!" I yelled at his exhaust fumes.  Oh well.

1.  The F-bomb customer.  I estimate that I've been swore at maybe 50 times in the almost ten years I was in retail service and deserved maybe ten percent of those outbursts.  This was the worst (as was my reaction).

Jerk: "Hey, I'm in a hurry, I'm here to pick up my metal yard cart."
Me: "Oh, did you have one on hold?"
Jerk: "You should know, you sold it to me."
Me: "I'm sorry, I don't remember selling a yard cart (a large cart pulled behind a lawn tractor for clippings, debris, etc) in the last few days."
Jerk: "Well, I f***in' bought it over the phone, and you f***in' sold it to me."
Me: "You must have me confused with someone else, but I'll see what I can find."
Jerk: under his breath, "f***in stupid kid."

Yard work:  Causing profanity laced tirades since 1646.  
I went to the package pick-up, shaking my head the whole time, and found one plastic yard cart waiting to be picked up.  I got the salescheck number, and other information he would need to pick it up without a receipt.

Me: "Well, I found the cart they sold you, but it is plastic, were you wanting this one?" I said as I pointed to the metal one on display...it was on sale for $120.00, twenty dollars more than the plastic one.
Jerk: "What the f***?  I clearly told you I wanted the one in the ad!  F*** typical of Sears!"
Me:  Looking through the ad. "Well, the one in the ad for $99.99 is plastic...but if you want I can substitute the metal one for the same price as a favor?"
Jerk:  "What the f***, CHRIS, fix this f***in SNAFU, now, I'm in a hurry!"
Me:  Now losing my patience.  "Look, I didn't sell you this, and I'm doing you a favor which I could get in trouble for...if you swear at me one more time, I'm going to call security!"
Jerk: "No, you call a manager you little bastard."
Me: "Gladly."

Finally a manager comes out, and I hear the jerk swearing up and down the isles.  I'm keep myself within earshot, still shaking from anger and frustration.  To make matters worse, I hear my manager apologize for my behavior.  Eventually, the manager gets to the register, and I give him the salescheck information.  Ironically, the manager is doing exactly what I was going to do, only now it took another ten minutes of his precious time.

Cooled off, I look at my manager and ask, "Did we get it all worked out?"

"Yeah, no thanks to you, you f***in jerk!" he deadpans.

I waited for my boss to defend me, which he silently did not, and I was so angry I walked to the stock room where I found the one metal yard cart left.  It was standing on end, as tall as me.  The loading guys were coming near with their hand trucks, and just before they got there, I pushed his box over.  The unassembled metal parts clattered like a huge wind chime.

Oddly, rap music started playing during my
Office Space moment as well.  
"What are you doing?" the stock guys asked.

I told them the story.  They were so angry at this guy they'd never met that they joined my packaged vandalism and pushed to box hard to ground at least four times.  We kicked it like gang members, always careful to keep the box looking unbruised.

The cart was returned later that week.  It had a few uncharacteristic dents and scratches.  I hope it was a huge inconvenience.  Whose the jerk now, buddy.

My manager had to do the second return.  I'm sure it was fun.  You know what they say about karma.


  1. You're killing me, smalls! Being that most of my career has been supporting a sales team - from Symantec to Procter&Gamble, I've had my share of outrageous, bizarre, and heart-wrenching customers. If I had a PENNY for every time I had to hit the "mute" button on the phone, I'd blow Bill Gates out of the water.
    Your honesty, and cynical hilarity, is SO refreshing.

    1. Yeah, the high up corporate world is probably more uncivil to each other than those on the ground floor. I used to think if someone was making two or three times as much money as me, they deserved the curses and angry stares, but I've learned that nobody deserves to be treated less than human.

      By my calculations, you've had to hit mute button at least 5.3 Trillion times! I hope you bought the extended warranty on that phone! (If I had a penny for every time I exaggerated...).

    2. Isn't it sad? Some people go out of their way to make you feel sh*tty. I've learned patience, and the blind understanding of not knowing how their day was before they encountered me. Patience, is truly a virtue.
      On that note, I think I'm going to buy a sword, and name it kindness. So I can kill people with it...

    3. The hubby is pretty high up in the corporate world and still gets cursed at regularly and pretty creatively I must say. He laughs and says it's a good thing he played football. It prepared him by having grown men grabbing his facemask and yelling and spitting in his face. He says it's easier to let it roll off his back now. Still you have to wonder why people think that is the appropriate way to get people to get a job done. Is it really that difficult to be nice?