Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not what they mean by ‘sales volume’

It seems like only yesterday that I was in the aisles of an electronics store, scratching my head. No, not from the usual lice. I was there to pick out a DVD recorder for my father-in-law. And I couldn’t make a decision for the life of me. What’s more, it was lunchtime and I was hoping to actually get some food, too.

If you know I wrote about electronics in a previous life, you know my trouble wasn’t from feeling clueless about the technology. No, my issue was that I couldn’t think. I glared toward the corner of the floor, where one of a rack of auto sound systems was playing music at a volume loud enough to make the deaf hold their ears.

“Excuse me,” I called over to a passing employee, “could you please turn that down? I’m trying to pick something out here.”

I tried to put myself in his position and imagine the answer that would come: “Sure…and can I answer any questions for you?” Which made it all the more surprising when he sauntered to the offending device… and cranked it up even higher. Smirking, he walked away.

Shopping, it’s time I admitted, just isn’t about the shopper.

This is about more than the din. Just arrive at the intersection of aisles, for instance, at the same instant as an employee in most department or grocery stores. Do you think you get to go first? Or pick up a customer-service phone to ask for help in, say, housewares. Don’t worry, you won’t have to step aside for the stampede of clerks arriving to help; they’re no suckers. Once in Kmart, I saw a skeleton with a pocketbook, leaning against a shopping cart. It was nowhere near Halloween.

Yet the music, so to speak, sets the tone. Just try to walk through the doors of the typical store with something in your head. Anything from the quart of milk the kids need to the brilliant notion of a new invention that will make you millions—forget it. One blast of that music, and whatever was in your thoughts is long gone.

The Muzak many of us once heard in stores was bland, incredibly boring and annoying to listen to—but only if you listened to it. Muzak, after all, was background music; you could tune it out without much effort. For most stores today, what you’ll hear instead is one beat-heavy track after another. You only have to be in the store for ten or twenty minutes? Tough. You have to listen to what will get them through their agonizing shift.

My father-in-law, Eddie, probably the coolest man I know, takes matters into his own hands. It’ll be the middle of the afternoon when he goes up to the manager. “Tell me who you see shopping here,” he’ll tell the 25-year-old, who doesn’t have to look: Everywhere around are seniors. “Do you think they want to hear this music?”

Not that his strategy always works. I could tell him what does work: shopping online with his music of choice playing softly on iTunes. But at 82, he just wants his store back.

Someone else probably does, too. And it’s only proper to accept heavenly justice with that certain demonic glee.

A few months after that DVD-recorder shopping experience, you see, the last bit of news about Circuit City hit. My first thought was sympathy for the many, many good people who would soon lose their jobs, with the hope they’d quickly find new work. But in my next thought, I could almost hear one particular young man’s feet pounding the pavement. Now, that was music.

1 comment :

  1. One of my worst pet peeves happens to be the universally pervasive, atavistic and utterly atrocious junk that now passes for music. It seems that, no matter where you go today, you are brutally assailed with uncouth violence, and always base and primitive in tone and character. It seems to me, at the very least, that any voyeur of this kind of music is not to be trusted, much less exalted, although I do realize that by taking this position, I'm bound to hoe a lonely row, especially today, in this age of surfaces. Vinnie Perratore