New Age vendors

Ann Egerton

January 17, 1992|By Ann Egerton

EVERY CLOUD has a silver lining, they say, so I suppose the silver lining of this recession must be the crackerjack performance of our nation's retail salespeople. Lately, I have seen lots of examples of New Age vendors, nimbly dodging pink slips with resourceful enterprise and hustle.

Recently, when I was looking for a winter coat at a well-known Chicago department store, the sales person there, apparently surprised to find herself face to face with a customer, actually found two or three coats my size before she lost interest.

Later I admired a coffee table in another Chicago store and only had to call there three times from my home in Baltimore to get the necessary information about price, dimensions and shipping costs. When the table arrived two months later the glass top was only a tiny bit too large for the frame.

In a Washington department store, though, when I asked the price of a bottle of bubble bath, the salesclerk said she'd have to look it up on the computer, which perhaps was a nuisance, so I decided not to put her to any more trouble after she stood there and shrugged a while.

Many people have commented on this new post-modern attitude of retailers, which will surely scare the devil out of the Japanese. A doctor friend reports that it only took a salesman eight weeks to respond to an inquiry he made about a $4000 medical instrument. Another friend, out looking for an evening bag, said the salesperson knew so much about evening bags that she refused to sell the one my friend wanted, saying my friend obviously didn't know what evening bags looked like.

A recent news story reported that Stanley Marcus, chairman emeritus of Neiman Marcus, went shopping in December and found that inventories were low and that salespeople were bored and listless. Hardly anyone tried to sell him anything, he complained. Marcus clearly doesn't understand these New Age vendors.

Ann Egerton writes from Baltimore.

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