“Ask your customers to be a part of the solution, and don’t view them as part of the problem.” -Dr. Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting
And that’s exactly what I attempted to do. I will be the first to admit I identify as a passive, non-confrontational person, but a recent shopping trip at the popular Forever 21 boutique left me with a particularly sour taste in my mouth and an answer I simply wouldn’t accept.
As a bit of backstory, I had been on a hunt for tanks as the warm breeze of summer began cascading down upon me. After visiting a multitude of stores with little success, I thought I’d give Forever 21 a try. Now I must confess that the styles featured by the company aren’t necessarily my forte (i.e. moth eaten), but my roommate swears by them (and has a hefty credit card bill each month to back it up) so I went in with an open mind.
As soon as I entered the store, I was head-over-heels for a pair of beach prep shorts being proudly displayed by a mannequin. But I thought you were searching for tanks? I know, I know but if you only saw these darling shorts… Immediately, I located the shorts on a clothing rack only to be dismayed that a single pair was left and it wasn’t in my size. Luckily, I happen to wear the same size as mannequins so I set off to find an associate to help me in retrieving the display shorts. And here’s where the situation quickly transformed into a nightmare.
Firstly, I walked around the large store twice and was unable to locate a single associate of whom to ask for assistance. I finally made my way to the register and the cashier left her post to find an associate from the back room. I asked her about the shorts and she promptly informed me it was against store policy to sell clothes from the mannequin. Now as someone who also works in a clothing boutique I could not figure out why in the world a store would refuse to sell an item to a customer. Confounded, I asked to discuss the policy with the store manager.
The manager, who actually used to lead the shop at which I now work, restated the policy about not being allowed to sell me the pair of shorts. Simply wishing to have my feedback about the policy heard, I stepped outside the store to call the company headquarters. The customer service representative told me that it would be up to the manager’s discretion about whether or not to break policy and exchange clothes for money… you know the primary function of a store. Bear in mind that again I also work retail, so I ensured my tone of voice, diction, and affliction of words were at all times professional, courteous, and non-accusatory.
Going back inside the store, I was once again unable to find a single employee anywhere. When I finally tracked one down, I asked if we could exchange the mediums for the smalls on the mannequin, that way the product would still be displayed. I understood the size would be a little large for the mannequin but that, of course, is why clamps exist. The employee left to again retrieve the manager. After several minutes, she returned with the store policy printed out and attempted to force me to read the policy. She then accused me of being rude and condescending to her employees and expressed her shock about my attitude and poor behavior. The manager then went on to talk about my boss and how she would never allow me to speak like that at work. Can we please just talk about the extreme level of unprofessionalism from a manager belittling her customers and going so far as to drop names in an attempt to, I don’t know, threaten me that she knows my boss?
In a cool, calm voice as she was attempting to flash the printed store policy in my face, I asked if the employees had presented my solution about switching out the sizes of the shorts. Apparently they hadn’t, instead only informing her of my “brash” attitude. The manager told me my solution wasn’t feasible because of the difference in sizing. When I suggested the use of clips to bind the shorts in the back, we made our way to the front display and she removed the shorts for me to purchase.
Thinking the confrontation was finally over, I proceeded to the dressing area to ensure the shorts fit me properly. As I was trying them on, the manager apparently found my shopping companion, who we have in common as a mutual friend, and began discussing my “behavior” with her! Whether or not my behavior in requesting decent customer service was out of line, the manager had no business discussing encounters with customers to third parties.
After all the trouble that went into retrieving the shorts, I purchased them despite not being completely thrilled with how they looked on me. At the register, I issued an apology if my presented solutions came across as “brash.” At the end of the day, it’s just a pair of shorts. My friend was also told false information when she attempted to pay for her purchase (three other locations were called and vouched for the inaccuracy of the information she was told). It appears this particular location just needs to focus on coaching its staff to ensure the customer’s needs are meet to satisfaction. Like it or not, that’s the retail life.
After completing my transaction, I filed an official report with their customer service department. I hope the company uses this unfortunate encounter as a good training opportunity to discuss customer appeasement and hostile approaches by the management staff. More importantly, I’d like them to stress the importance of floor awareness and ensuring customers can easily target associates for help. I shan’t be returning to a Forever 21, but it is my hope that this was a unique situation not common across the board.
I reached out to the company for a statement, but they declined to comment on the situation. I did not find any tanks, either.
Feel free to share any encounters you had with customer service, either positive or negative, below.
Forever 21 is a fast fashion retailer founded in 1984 in Los Angeles, California. It currently has over 600 locations located throughout the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and the UK.