Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Holiday Help Friendlier, but There's Room to Improve

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Holiday Help Friendlier, but There's Room to Improve

Article excerpt

As she shopped this holiday season, Judy Stern expected she'd have to put up with grouchy store clerks or just a lack of help on the selling floor. She was pleasantly surprised.

"Maybe they're being coached, but the sales people seem to be a lot nicer this year," said Stern, who was shopping at New Jersey's Livingston Mall on Saturday. "They say nice things like, 'Have a happy holiday.' I am being greeted at a lot of the stores, too."

One sales clerk at a Sam Goody store even accompanied Stern while she looked for a karaoke machine for her grandson.

This season, retailers, criticized for giving consumers the cold shoulder, are making a big effort to be warm and fuzzy. Stores including Limited Inc.'s Lerner New York are planting perky staffers at their entrances to greet shoppers. Sears, Roebuck and Co. is providing strollers that can be converted into shopping carts. At Aveda stores, customers waiting in checkout lines get free hand massages.

At Wal-Mart stores and Bloomingdale's, customers might find shorter lines at the cash register, thanks to speedier machines that reduce transaction time. Wal-Mart also has some self-service checkout counters, enabling customers to scan and pay for merchandise themselves.

"Everyone wants to exceed expectations this holiday," said Ed Holman, president of Bloomingdale's. "We want to make the shopping experience more pleasant."

Still, there are plenty of problems. At department stores, the retailers that generally have the worst service, tales of untidy fitting rooms and lack of help abound.

In Boston's Downtown Crossing shopping district, Paula Higgins said she has been frustrated by the lack of service at department stores.

"I had to wait in line at the register because there was only one girl there. Then she didn't have any change, so I had to use my credit card," she griped.

"Service is horrible," said Tamika Greene, another shopper at the Livingston Mall. …

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