What Happened to Old-Fashioned Service?

April 20, 2014 Updated: April 16, 2014

Whatever happened to old-fashioned service? You know, the kind that when you ask a salesperson a question and you don’t feel apologetic for bothering them.

It used to be that salespeople existed to help customers. Now they file their nails, gossip with each other, text on their electronic devices, and in general act as if the customer is a major annoyance.

There are still some stores where the sales staff are there to help you, but they are fewer and fewer. Even the top stores on Fifth Avenue are making it harder to get service. There are some large, expensive Fifth Avenue stores where individual designer salons actually have no sales people. You have to walk around the floor like a lost soul, looking for someone to help you.

The major chain drugstores are completely lacking in service. You ask where something is and your answer is a vague wave of the hand. Recently, I picked something off the shelf but couldn’t find a price. I asked a saleswoman whether the item was free. After all, there was no price on it. My attempt at humor went over her head—she gave me a dirty look and said, “of course not.” When I insisted I wanted to know the price, she sighed and looked it up, letting me know how annoyed she was with me.

According to law, a store must sell an item for the price marked. If, by mistake, the item is marked too low—too bad. They still have to sell it at that price. Recently, I had an argument with a cashier because she insisted the price marked was for a sale that was over but they hadn’t had a chance to adjust the price tags. I called over the manager and was finally able to buy it for the price marked.

Even going to a manager doesn’t necessarily get you service anymore. I had a coupon good for $5 off a purchase of $20 or more at a chain drugstore. I bought a number of items, took them to the register, and when the cashier rang them up it came to exactly $19.99! I wanted to use my coupon, but the cashier said it wasn’t $20 so I asked for the manager. The manager agreed with the cashier and wouldn’t honor the coupon. I was so angry, I walked out vowing never to shop there again, which I don’t do very often.

But then I decided to do something about it. I called the executive office and explained the situation to a gentleman who apologized profusely for the manager’s poor judgment and arranged for me to get my $5 discount.

I think one of the reasons so many stores go out of business is their lack of service. Management has to do something.

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity agency in Manhattan. She may be reached at silverbergm@mindspring.com.