We’ve all seen it: someone trying to return something that is, as they say, gently used. But imagine having to live it every single day. That was Freeman Hall’s life for the 15 years he spent as a self-described “retail slave,” working at the handbag counter at the Big Fancy, his pseudonym for “a department store that prides itself on customer service.” (Um, Nordstrom anyone?)
The L.A.-based author’s new book, “Retail Hell” (Adams Media), is an amusing window into the world of hyper-consumption (remember those days?), full of outrageous -- and humorous -- tales of shoppers behaving badly, all in pursuit of an “It" bag. There was Patty, who offered to pay Hall $10 to buy her a Burberry bag using his employee discount; Virginia, who came to the Big Fancy every day for the company, not the handbags; and Raelene, who left a mountain of bags and paper stuffing in her wake, but rarely bought anything.
I chatted with Freeman for a few minutes on the phone recently to talk about what really happens on the other side of the register.
At what moment did you decide to write this book?
I was standing in the middle of the Big Fancy, frustrated with screenwriting, and all at once a crazy customer, a crazy store manager and a crazy co-worker walked by me at the same time. I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” Then I thought of David Sedaris, because I am a big fan of his, and it suddenly hit me that I was supposed to write about this crazy department store.
What are some of the shopper stereotypes you got to know over the years, who became characters in your book?
A Looky Loo is somebody who goes into the store and wanders around a lot. When they become a problem is when they want to know the entire history of the Fendi sisters, because you know they are taking all your time up and not planning on buying anything. Their favorite day of shopping is Black Friday. Those are the days when retail slaves should all call in sick.
A Shoppersaurus Carnotaurus is a shopoholic on steroids. They roar into the store and buy anything they can, and they always want what’s hot and current. The good ones don’t return anything, but the bad ones come in at lunch and buy up all this stuff to show off to their friends. Then the next day they come in with sunglasses on to return everything.