The target audience

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Why retailers’ preconceptions are insulting to the customers

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan 6, 2016

Just browsing, I’m always just browsing—at least I used to be. I tend to panic a little when a retail clerk pops out from behind a rack of clothes and inquires: “Can I help you look for anything?” Nope, just browsing. However, recently I’ve started making some bigger purchases, and I’m not talking about televisions, hockey gear, or computer software. I’m talking about appliances, furniture, and an engagement ring. Not exactly kid’s stuff, these are bona fide adult purchases. It’s a next step understandably, and hey, I’m proud to be making strides.

My problem is not with having to grow up and buy expensive things seldom advertised as “action packed,” my problem is with the service I get upon buying them. It’s subtle, but like all forms of discrimination, it’s apparent. I look younger than I am, I’ll admit it—and if I don’t, people will insist that I do. It’s a gift and a curse. Whenever a liquor store employee doesn’t ask me for identification, I feel they should be fired. Yes, I look young and so in many adult situations, I’m treated that way.

It doesn’t matter how old I look, though. It doesn’t matter how much money I may have. What matters is that I should feel welcomed and be kindly guided through the shopping or buying process without feeling like a kid taking food from the adult’s table.

Many retailers make status a commodity in their stores. If you are seen buying something there, you are of a higher class or tax bracket. When young people enter the store, they are perceived with suspicion. It’s uncomfortable and that’s probably why they do it. Capitalism has turned retailers into machines that only focus on those who have and ignore those who don’t. And sometimes when those who do have look like those who don’t, they experience a less than satisfactory customer service. It’s as if a server at a restaurant only served those who tip well and disregarded those who don’t. That’s kind of a shitty way to deal with customer service—as if it’s a commodity, sometimes with a monetary value.

To the people working in retail, I say this: don’t ever assume that someone doesn’t have money to buy your product. Don’t ever make it sound like they need help paying for it. They might, but they might not. Your job is to facilitate a sale, not to make assumptions about their livelihood. While statistics and data on a given demographic are useful in determining marketing strategies, isolating or alienating outliers—discriminating against age and wealth—is not.

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