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The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles [Paperback]

Jeff Martin
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 2008
From mom-and-pop general stores to big-box, strip-mall chains, it is impossible to consider the American experience without thinking about the buying-and-selling retail culture: the sales and the stockrooms, the shift managers, and the clock punchers. If you've ever worked in retail--and most likely you have--you probably have a funny, frantic, moving, mortifying, outrageous, or ridiculous story to tell. The Customer Is Always Wrong is a tragicomic and all-too-revealing collection of essays by writers from all corners of the literary world--writers who have done their time behind the counter and lived to tell their tales. Jim DeRogatis, author of Let It Blurt, for example, describes hanging out with Al himself at Al Rocky's Music Store, while Colson Whitehead explains how three summers at a Long Island ice cream store gave him a lifelong aversion to all things dessert-like. This book not only shines a light on the absurdities of retail culture but finds the delight in it as well. If it weren't for the customer, after all, our economy would not function--nor would we slaves-to-the-paycheck get our turn to shop until we drop. And for every abusive customer or moronic employee, there are those people who come into our stores--and our lives--and change them forever... one price tag at a time.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The mundane tasks and indignant exchanges with impossible customers are hilariously captured in this collection of personal essays by a cross-section of writers and humorists. Some, like a spa attendant's dishy tale, are spun with a catty flair and flirt with a mild contempt for frivolous consumers; others, like Wendy Spero's turn as a door-to-door knife seller, are outrageously funny and incorporate life lessons in the litany of humiliations. Breezy and occasionally creepy musings on everything from guilt over serving fattening Swedish pancakes to seniors to the horrors of working at Sears may provide some nostalgic chuckles and perhaps even some unpleasant flashbacks as this collection elevates retail selling to a rite of passage. Two stories in particular that have less to do with the frustrations of the job and more about the impact of the experience on future endeavors: Hollie Gillespie recounts her days as an industrious child entrepreneur and maintains her steadfast optimism in humanity, and the memories of writer and one-time drummer Jim DeRogatis, who passed the time—but never worked—in a local music store reveals the enduring influence of a mentoring shop owner and achieves true poignancy. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Ohh we've all got a retail tale.... Dec 12 2008
By Luanne Ollivier #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Well this seems like an appropriate time to post this review. The countdown is on ...only twelve shopping days left until Christmas......

The Customer is Always Wrong is an eclectic collection of essays penned by writers who have done time in the retail jungle. I think most of us have "served the public" in a retail capacity at some point in our lives - your first job, putting yourself through university or an extra part time job to make ends meet. For some people it's a fantastic fit, for others - well, it's not. As Jeff Martin says in his introduction, "If this book can help shed a little more light on the often-disregarded retail experience, then we have done our job and done it well."

I was hooked from the first story - a college age student's summer job in a large department store chain, the descriptions of the rah rah manager and the attitudes and antics of the staff had me laughing out loud. The tales cover the gamut - from an upscale spa, a video store, home improvement, coffee shop, porn warehouse plus more. One of the best was Wendy Spero's tale of door to door knife sales, preying on friends and family. The saddest was the porn store, though not for the reasons you might think. The most fascinating was Elaine Viets. She writes a series called The Dead-End Job Mysteries. She actually takes on retail jobs to research her characters.

Having worked in a large retail chain for many years myself, I could appreciate many of the crazy, imperious and downright odd demands made by customers. I often said to the staff that we could write a book based on the almost daily occurrence. However there was good as well, but there aren't that many of those stories in The Customer is Always Wrong. My only complaint - it wasn't long enough! I devoured it in one sitting. Martin himself works in a bookstore - I'm sure that that's a book waiting to be written.......
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS WRONG ed. by Jeff Martin Nov. 6 2008
By thepaxdomini - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Customer Is Always Wrong is a collection of essays on retail life. The book is edited by Jeff Martin, manager of a Tulsa Barnes and Noble, and features 21 anecdotes by writers you most likely will never have heard of about their own personal experiences working at a wide selection of retail jobs.

For the most part, the essays range in quality from slightly boring to fairly amusing. A highlight is Victor Gischler's tale of his time spent selling hearing aids, which made me laugh for two solid minutes.

Anybody who's worked in or shopped retail (that is, everybody) can relate to something in this book, and it's an entertaining enough read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Series of Essays on Life in the Retail World Aug. 31 2008
By Frederick S. Goethel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Often humorous, occasionally poignant and at all times all too real, this book is a collection of essays on life in the retail world. Many of us have been there, whether as full time employees out of college or as part time slaves during our high school and college years. Any of us who have performed the retail job duties will recognize many of these stories. I was laughing much of the time; almost cried a couple of times, but I enjoyed the book completely at all times.

Don't let the fact that you have never worked in retail stop you from reading this book. You may learn a thing or two about life in the retail world and you may think twice before being snooty to those poor clerks behind the counters.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely hilarious! Jan. 14 2009
By L. Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a must have for anyone who has ever worked in retail. Every story with the exception of one had me rolling over in laughter. It's also a quick read and the stories are short and to the point. It also really leaves you questioning just basic human nature and knowing that whoever you are, you're o.k. Great book to give as a gift as well.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ohh we've all got a retail tale.... Dec 12 2008
By Luanne Ollivier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Well this seems like an appropriate time to post this review. The countdown is on ...only twelve shopping days left until Christmas......

The Customer is Always Wrong is an eclectic collection of essays penned by writers who have done time in the retail jungle. I think most of us have "served the public" in a retail capacity at some point in our lives - your first job, putting yourself through university or an extra part time job to make ends meet. For some people it's a fantastic fit, for others - well, it's not. As Jeff Martin says in his introduction, "If this book can help shed a little more light on the often-disregarded retail experience, then we have done our job and done it well."

I was hooked from the first story - a college age student's summer job in a large department store chain, the descriptions of the rah rah manager and the attitudes and antics of the staff had me laughing out loud. The tales cover the gamut - from an upscale spa, a video store, home improvement, coffee shop, porn warehouse plus more. One of the best was Wendy Spero's tale of door to door knife sales, preying on friends and family. The saddest was the porn store, though not for the reasons you might think. The most fascinating was Elaine Viets. She writes a series called The Dead-End Job Mysteries. She actually takes on retail jobs to research her characters.

Having worked in a large retail chain for many years myself, I could appreciate many of the crazy, imperious and downright odd demands made by customers. I often said to the staff that we could write a book based on the almost daily occurrence. However there was good as well, but there aren't that many of those stories in The Customer is Always Wrong. My only complaint - it wasn't long enough! I devoured it in one sitting. Martin himself works in a bookstore - I'm sure that that's a book waiting to be written.......
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life on the other side of the counter. Aug. 28 2009
By Cathy G. Cole - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've been in retail more years than I care to remember, so I received this book from a fellow Paperback Swap member with a great deal of interest. How many essays in this book about retail experiences would strike a chord in me? The answer is: about a third.

Granted, retail is one of those occupations that can stretch credulity some days. Hospital emergency rooms, policemen, firemen and other emergency services pros don't own the monopoly on strange encounters of the human kind. Anyone who deals with the public knows the perils of full moons and the first of the month. Opportunities are ripe for looking at a co-worker and saying, "We should write a book." It's that very thing that editor Jeff Martin tries to cover with his selection of essays in The Customer Is Always Wrong, and the results are rather uneven.

The low point of the book for me was Anita Liberty's essay entitled "No Good Deed...." For the life of me I don't know if the piece was honestly supposed to be funny and completely missed the boat, or if there was a layer of irony and sarcasm woven through the lines and I'm the one left standing at the pier.

The high points of the book were the essays written by James Wagner ("Other Things in Mind") and Elaine Viets ("Minimum-Wage Drama"). For me, those two essays spoke the truth of my own experience. Wagner brings up the phrase "the customer is always right," correctly pointing out that this is

"...a theory drummed up by an owner who didn't have to deal with the day-to-day public, who only had to take in their money and then spend it on cars, stocks, and vacations, the likes of which the people who did deal with the public would never see."

For anyone not familiar with Elaine Viets, she is the author of the Dead End Job mystery series. She's gone out and worked each of the jobs covered in her series, so she's been on more than one front line. Some of her observations are short and to the point: "The first rule of retail is that everyone wants to check out at once" and "Working retail is like going to the theater-- except you get paid to watch the show. Also, your feet hurt."

Although the choice of essays in the book is uneven, the book is more than worth reading for Wagner and Viets alone. If you've ever been on the other side of the counter, the book will have you reliving some of your own "glory days". If you've never worked on the other side of the counter, you should read this book. Unless you're totally self-absorbed, you'll learn a thing or two.

Working retail is often thankless, and you can be subject to tremendous mood swings. But in amongst the days that make you worry about your sanity are the ones that make you smile, make you laugh, and make you put on your comfy shoes and head in to another day with the Public. Because....Steinbeck rules! (Right, Elaine?)
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