02 September 2013

A Shopper's Right to Browse

There’s a salesgirl in an upscale furniture store called Saccaro out in Barra da Tijuca, a neighborhood in the western part of Rio, who seriously needs some sales management skills. For starters, I suggest she read Harry J. Friedman’s best-selling book, No Thanks, I’m Just Looking, to get a feel for how to assess her customers. She might then consider that when customers actually say, "No thanks, we’re just looking," the proper response on her part would be, "Fine, feel free to browse, if you need help just give a shout," rather than the scolding rebuke Mark and I received on a recent shopping trip to Rio, a rebuke that reverberates in my ears to this day.

Me and my shadow
But let me back up for a moment. This is not the first time in Brazil that we’ve come up against a clash of ideas about what constitutes good customer service. I’ve written about it before (April 5, 2012 blogpost) and I’ll probably write about it again. For me, the act of shopping, or browsing, is often more fun than the final buying. But Brazil is less addicted to recreational shopping, and their language reflects that. Portuguese makes no real distinction between "shopping" (fazendo compras) and "buying" (comprar), and there’s no specific word for "browse" either. The expression olhar sem compromisso (to look without obligation) misses the deeply satisfying "browsiness" of a good browse. Leave me to my own devices and who knows but that I won’t buy something I wasn’t intending to buy. But in Brazil most salespeople can’t just leave you alone, they must follow you around the store in case you have an urgent question, they point out things you don’t need to have pointed out, and explain things you don’t need to have explained. I don’t know, I for one can’t shop if I'm being watched and followed, period.

So here’s what happened at Saccaro, the furniture store Mark and I entered in our ongoing search for chairs:

Salesgirl:  Good morning, may I help you?

Us:  Good morning. We’re just looking, thanks. (Oh, please, just let us browse.)

Salesgirl:  Well, I’ll accompany you and show you what the store has. (Foreigners, I knew it.)

Us:  That’s okay, we can see what you have, and we know what we’re looking for. We’ll let you know if we have any questions. (Sweetheart, it’s a furniture store, you have tables and chairs and sofas. Duh.)

[We start to walk off, the salesgirl begins to follow.]

Salesgirl:  Here we have our veranda furniture . . .

Us:  Yes, we can see that. Really, it’s not necessary to accompany us. (Leave us alone!)

Salesgirl:  I have to accompany you. It’s my job, and you don’t know the store. (Foreigners, they always think they know everything.)

Us:  Actually, we do know the store, we’ve been here before, we bought a beautiful piece here a few years ago. So really, if you just let us shop . . . (Oh, this is ridiculous!)

[We walk off again, salesgirl continues to follow, albeit quietly. But she can’t help herself . . .]

Salesgirl:  Over there is our home theater area . . .

Us:  We have no interest in your home theater area, we’re looking for very particular chairs, we'll know them when we see them, and you're being very distracting. (Doesn’t she want to make a sale?)

Salesgirl:  Look, I can’t let you walk around unattended, we consider that to be very rude. Let me explain something you don’t understand. I know that you’re foreigners, maybe it’s different in your country, but you’re in Brazil now . . .

Us:  Actually, we live in Brazil, we’ve lived in Brazil for 11 years and we’re very familiar . . . (Now she's going to lecture us?)

Salesgirl:  . . . and this is how it’s done in Brazil. We are here to serve you, to attend to your needs, and show you the store, and let me also say that our Brazilian customers are very happy with the way we take care of them.  If you live here, you should know to do things the Brazilian way! (So there.)

[We'd had it. We walked out of the store and she lost any chance of a good sale. Not exactly tensions on the Gaza Strip, but one more sorry story of one side not understanding the other.]

Our first and now last Saccaro purchase

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