Having made the transition to the US from Asia, it’s hard not to focus on the obvious differences, including national pastimes. Shopping is Singapore’s national free-time activity and having engaged in shopping here and there, one major difference stands out: the interaction between the shopper and the sales assistants. In Singapore, customer service can be perfunctory at best. In San Francisco, the best way to describe it might be “overly personal.” I’m still on the fence about how I feel about each approach and which one suits me best.
When waiting to pay and the person serving says, “Next guest please,” it strikes me as possibly over the top. I’m a customer not a guest. Guests come to dinner. I thought this was only in the Disney Store, but no, it happens all over the place.
The first time I heard it in the Disney Store I thought that it was nice for the kids. It sounded kind of cute. I thought I misheard when the salesperson said it in Walgreens. In the shoe shop on Union Square, the assistants said “Next Shoe lover,” a bit strange for someone used to a forced “Hello” – at best – when shopping in Singapore.
Then there is the obligatory conversation about whether you are a member, would you like to join, are you expanding your wardrobe or shopping for a specific special event? If you buy two you get one free, have you used/worn/eaten this before, and what are you doing for the rest of the day? I didn’t have the same interactions in Singapore. Sometimes the shop assistants would follow you around the shop but didn’t say anything, they are more on call in case you have any questions. You can spy them out of the corner of your eye. I used to think they suspected me of shoplifting. I remember once looking at tights in a shop and the sales assistant simply said, “We don’t do those in large.” Not advice anyone wants to hear, although in some countries in Asia, you should be ready for it, as it’s generally easier to find small sizes compared to larger ones.
The enthusiasm ratchets up when you ask if you can try on clothes in the shops here, which can be very strange for a person not used to the way things work.
Lulu Lemon takes this to extremes. They ask you your name when you go into the changing room, then they write it on a little board outside your changing room, then they ask you how everything is going – by name! My name is Oonagh, and a common name in Ireland but not so much in San Francisco. Written on my little board I have had the pleasure of being known as Luna, Luma and Uma. To be fair if I did have to divulge my name to the shop assistants in Singapore it would have been more of the same.
I like a bit of privacy when I am trying stuff on, also a bit of time to think about whether it suits me. I don’t take these decisions lightly, and get slightly hassled when someone I have just met is saying “Oonagh (or Luna or…) how is it going in there? Another size, color, what else can I do for you?” Um… you could get lost for a bit while I try these clothes on?
Also in Lulu Lemon every time I even look at an item of clothing someone working in the store walks by and tells me that it would look great on me, or that it’s reversible or see the other colour and did I know it has pockets both inside and out? Sometimes the person telling me all this seems to me a bit too excited about it. I have ended up wondering if perhaps some of them are on something. Don’t get me wrong I would love to be that excited and energized by reversible pockets all the time.
In Banana Republic when I asked to try on a shirt the person working there introduced herself to me, asked me my name and very politely and nicely asked to let her know if I needed any help. She left me alone, maybe sensing my slight suspicion. Although when I walked out she said “Oh I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you….” really, it was just a top that didn’t suit me and not the end of a meaningful relationship. And yet an end to shopping bricks and mortar style may be an end of sorts as online shopping is something I have embraced with gusto since moving here.
More to come on online shopping in another post. Meanwhile, I’m heading back to Union Square. According to my new best friend Karen (works in Lulu Lemon), there’s a sale on this week in reversible yoga pants that are just my colour…