There are times when you need to make a quick trip to the store, buy an item or two, pay up, and make a quick exit.
Now tell me, how does that work out for you?
I present you with a slightly exaggerated, but not-that-far-fetched scenario as we follow the defenseless consumer who wants to buy a simple bottled water, paying cash.
Clerk: Do you have your rewards card?
Me (lying): I dunno. It’s somewhere deep in my purse. Why? Is there some kind of discount on this water?
Clerk: No, but do you have your rewards card?
Me: It can’t be that much. Just ring it up please. I’m in a hurry and my husband’s outside with the car running.
Clerk: It’s probably under your phone number. Just tell me what it is and I’ll pull it up.
Me (sigh): It could be any of 3 phone numbers. I don’t care that much. Just please let me pay for this. I have cash.
Clerk: Well, if you don’t have a card I can sign you up really quickly. It only takes 5-10 minutes, and…
Me: No, please, I’m in a hurry, and the gas just isn’t worth saving a nickel, ok?
Clerk (annoyed): Okaaaaay. Can I have your zip code?
Me: Now why would you possibly need my zip code?
Clerk: I don’t know, but I need it to ring you up.
Me: Ok, it’s 12345
Clerk: Great! Now I just need your email address.
Me: I don’t have an email address.
Clerk (bewildered): You don’t have one?
Me: No, I hate the internet.
Clerk: Well, I need your email address to put you on our mailing list.
Me: Bummer. I guess I don’t get the privilege of being on your list. Look, I’m trying really hard to buy something from your store, and…
Clerk (at a loss): Manager, please?
The register light comes on and the impatient people in line all seek out another checkout lane.
Me: What? I’m paying cash for a bottle of water. Look, I have $2! Ok, just please give me some change and I’ll use the drink machine outside. I should have done that in the first place, I guess.
Clerk: I can’t open the drawer without a manager.
Me (sighing): All right, I’ll wait.
Clerk: Oh, and one more thing. It may make you rethink the vending machine. But I can help you save 10% on your total purchase today. Interested?
Clerk: No, really. All you have to do is sign up for a store credit card at 22% interest and you’ll save a whole 10% on your ENTIRE purchase today. It only takes a few…
Me: It’s hardly worth 15 cents to me and the ding on my credit score for opening up another retail account. Just let me pay for my water, PLEASE!
Clerk: But being a preferred customer will give you first notice of all our…
Me: Forget it. I’ll go outside and buy my water from the machine. (Goes outside and loses money in machine, because the exact change was needed, then goes back inside to clerk for refund).
Clerk: Suuure, we can give you a refund. I just need you to fill out this form with your name, address, phone number, and email address, and then I’ll get the manager to come open my drawer.
Me: Can you just give me that bottled water I was trying to buy and we’ll call it even? Or just point me to the damned water fountain?!
Clerk: No, but while you wait, I want to give you this form. Take this with you so you can rate our service today. Just go like our Facebook page, click on the link, answer our survey, and you’ll be automatically entered for our big sweepstakes. You could win a $100 gift card and…
Clerk: Come back! I didn’t get to ask if you would you like to donate a $1 to the overworked cashier fund? You get to sign your name on this piece of construction paper that I cut out myself, and it goes on the wall, and…
So maybe I exaggerate just a little. But is this scenario that far-fetched?
Apparently, you must be prepared when you walk into that store. You should be armed with a manufacturer’s coupon, a store coupon, a rebate form, the store rewards card, and possibly your social security card, birth certificate, and a list of your current medications. You thought this was all about a transaction? No way. You’re racking up points that must be good for something, although I’m never sure what. Maybe you’re saving pennies on each gallon of gas. Maybe you’re fulfilling obligations to cash in on that rebate–you know that piece of paper and receipt that you’re going to lose before you get to the car? Or maybe you’re working toward becoming that preferred customer. And maybe–just maybe– you’ll go (gasp) gold if you frequent the store enough.
And on top of all that, you’re going to be asked to relinquish your privacy, bare your internet soul, provide all your contact information, your age, your mother’s maiden name, maybe even all of your internet passwords.
By the time you’ve run your errands across town and made a few stops here and there, you’ve sacrificed a lot of wasted time, needless conversation, vital information, and most of your livelihood. In short, you’ve whored yourself out to the marketing world that is tracking your every purchase. Your every scan. Your every move.
It’s true, and they want to know everything about you. Who are you? Why are you buying that bottled water? Are you particular to that brand or did you buy it because it was on sale? Would you have bought a different brand if you had a coupon? Are you a frequent buyer of bottled water? Why didn’t you buy some trail mix to go with it? Would you if we generate a post-purchase coupon for that? What about a Buy 1, Get 1 Half Off Deal? Would you buy more water if you got a discount for buying in bulk? By the way, where do you live? Why do you come here to shop? Do you shop anywhere else? How does the price of our bottled water compare with theirs? How can we stay in touch with you? Can we blast you with spam on the internet? What if we give you a $5 coupon for letting us? In fact, just tell us how can we get more of your money and keep you in our store so long that you don’t have time to shop anywhere else.
As an Advertising major, perhaps it’s ironic that I find this all annoying. I appreciate the world of marketing. I get it. And I get that times have changed. It’s not all about commercials, jingles, surveys, and focus groups anymore. Information is, or can be, at our freaking fingertips. And if we allow it, it can be at theirs.
As a blogger and social media enthusiast, I ask myself the same questions. Where is the line to be drawn between asking people to follow your blog, click on your ads, comment on it, like it, pin it, tweet it, digg it, stumble it, share it, vote for it…whatever the current trend may be? I’m smart enough to know that if I hound people on doing all those things, I become pushy, abrasive, and pretty much annoying. At that point, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to sell, because you’ve pushed away your audience.
I could go on an on, but am finding myself quite parched. A good cold bottle of water would really hit the spot right now.
If you liked this post, you might like All I Really Need to Know About the Corporate World I Learned at McDonald’s.