The Shoppers from Hell

Article excerpt

IS IT WRONG TO CALL YOUR LEAST DESIRABLE CUSTOMERS "DEVILS"?

Recently, I came across a staggering statistic in the Wall Street Journal. In an article discussing Best Buy's daring attempt to drive away its worst customers, the journal reported that out of 500 million customer visits to the consumer-electronics giant each year, 100 million were deemed "undesirable" by the company. In other words, one in every five persons who walked through the doors at Best Buy was a person the company wished would walk right back out the door and never come back.

"Undesirable" customers are the skinflints, tightwads and penny-pinchers who constantly apply for rebates, purchase returned merchandise at a discount after buying and returning it themselves, or resell marked-down merchandise at a profit on the Internet. These types are always on the prowl for bargains, always haggling, always demanding high levels of customer service. seemingly, Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson is now determined to rid his company of these irksome, profit-cutting individuals. Specifically, Anderson is rolling out the red carpet for desirable customers known as "angels" while shooing away annoying customers known as "devils."

It's not hard to understand the logic behind this strategy, but frankly, I'm surprised that the lawsuits haven't already started flying. In an era of astonishing sensitivity about labels -remember the uproar when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used the term "girly-men?" -I am amazed that the Journal would dare to use the term "devils" to describe putatively "undesirable" customers. The very notion that a major American retailer would refer to a segment of the consumer population in such explicitly satanic terms is shocking particularly in light of the Procter & Gamble satanic Web site incident a few years ago. I have not the slightest doubt that in the fullness of time we will see a host of lawsuits brought by aggrieved parties seeking judicial redress for the harm inflicted upon them by the use of such an odious term.

This is not to say that the devil imagery is entirely inappropriate. One can readily sympathize with Best Buy and others that must ceaselessly devote so much of their resources to servicing precisely those customers who are making it most difficult to turn a profit. …