Strictly business: Retailers, show us shoppers you care

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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The changing colors of late September always make me thankful to live in a region with pronounced seasons, each with its own weather pattern and set of cultural traditions.

And just as I am grateful to see the summer heat give way to the crisp days of fall, retailers are probably even more thankful for the approaching holiday season. I mean, what merchant wouldn't appreciate the period that generates nearly 40 percent of its yearly sales?

I just wish those merchants would show us customers more gratitude for helping them reach those sales goals.

Really, all it takes is a "Thank you," but that's not what I'm hearing these days.

Instead, most retail employees have replaced the traditional "Thank you" at the close of each sale with the much less sincere "Have a nice day," an expression that almost invites me to get the heck out of that stuffy old mall or big box or boutique store and enjoy the fall weather.

In fact, the phrase "Have a nice day" tells me nothing about whether the retailer appreciates my patronage and wants me back. It just plain sounds phony and flat, especially when uttered by a sales associate who cannot make eye contact.

And while you might think the phrase "Thank you" is as old as the hills, it's still more appropriate for a commercial exchange. Sadly, that saying has all but disappeared from face-to-face commerce, from what I've observed.

(Although just to have fun, I've found a way to bring "Thank you" back to the retail shopping experience by sometimes saying, "Have a nice day" first, so the surprised sales clerk responds with "Thank you." Tee hee.)

But it's just not the same as a good old-fashioned, "Thanks for your business. Please come back soon," said with genuine warmth.

It's the kind of encounter once thought to generate repeat business. The theory was first introduced to me in 1978 during my post-high school training to work in the women's accessories department at Meier & Frank, a former department store chain now part of Macy's.

Making eye contact

My training included a full afternoon of practice closing sales the M&F way, which involved the handing over of the package, simultaneous eye contact and a smile accompanied by the words, "Thank you."

Random secret store shoppers ensured that we followed these steps.

But nowadays, a "Thank you" at the store is about as rare as the "ka-ching" of old-fashioned cash registers, aside from the grocery stores' automated self check-out machines. Their staccatolike "thank you" sometimes seems more human to me than the actual sales associate, who simply stares into space and says, "Have a nice day," as they turn to scan the next item.

Sheesh.

My question for retail merchants is, "Do you really want to leave this kind of impression on shoppers?" If not, maybe it's time to invest in more training and retraining for new and existing employees to eliminate the expression, "Have a nice day" from your store's transaction repertoire.

Replace it with the phrase, "Thank you," and I'm telling you, that would be a nice day.

Cami Joner is a Columbian business reporter. 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner, http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business, or cami.joner@columbian.com.