Dear Office Max,

I'm writing because there is something seriously wrong with the way you do business in my neighborhood and I think you should know about it.

I came in to your store tonight hoping to shop quietly, without interruption, and without the heartless "hellohowareyou?" issuing from the cashier nearest the front door. I know your strategy, you see. I used to work retail myself. I know that "greeting customers" is actually code for "theft prevention". The idea that making someone feel like you've "seen" them is going to somehow dilute the meth coursing through their veins and deter them from stuffing fourteen wireless mice down their pants to sell on the street for cash is some pretty optimistic thinking. But, hey, you keep at it! To be honest, I used to think that you actually cared about making customers feel welcome at your store. Office Max, there is only so cozy I can feel in a 20,000 square foot airplane hangar lit with giant fluorescent lamps. No amount of friendly greeting at the door is going to confuse the issue. It's still a warehouse. A warehouse full of objects just on the brink of obsolescence who wait patiently like Corduroy the Bear to be taken home and loved. I might as well be stocking up on ammunition or plane parts or frozen swordfish steaks. Let's just call a duck a duck, shall we?

When I walked into your store tonight, I had my phone headset on. Yes, I was that guy, talking on my phone while shopping. But, you see, that's my right as a customer: I have a right to shop with my earbuds in if I want to. I thought yours was a store that embraced headset culture. After all, all your employees wear them, no?

I was asked by no less that four different employees if I needed help finding anything. FOUR. And they all talked RIGHT OVER the conversation I was having on my headset. No apologies, no "Excuse me", absolutely NO acknowledgment that I was on the phone. Nothing.

Here's the thing that is most maddening about being asked if I needed help while I was clearly talking on the phone: your stores are all signed appropriately. You get maximum points for way-finding. All stores like yours are laid out the same way. Seriously. If you've been in one, you've been in them all. I know where your freaking pens are. Why? Because they're located in the pen aisle. Your paper? In the paper aisle. The other reason I know where everything is? Because I come in to your store A LOT. I do lots of office supply purchasing for my clients, and I frequent your store because it's close to my house. (Guess that whole asking for my zip code thing all those years in a row really panned out, huh?) Anyway, your employees KNOW who I am. They know I NEVER need help shopping your well-signed store. They also know that when I DO ask for help, it's because I can't find something. It's not for lack of looking either. It's because you don't sell what I'm looking for and I hold on to the hope that perhaps you've stuck the letter openers in the upper stratosphere of your shelving and I can't see it. Even with 20,000 square feet, you still manage not to carry certain office supplies. How is this possible?

I can only presume, based on the number of times I was asked if I needed help, that your average patron has the approximate intelligence and grabbing capabilities of a herd of blind walruses. I'm sorry that this is the case, but you might consider training your employees to be able to discern a blind walrus from, say, a young woman clutching a shopping list and pushing a shopping cart very determinedly towards the pen aisle.

I've been in the store over the past five years dozens of times with checks from my clients. Only today, because I had a printer in my shopping cart, did one of your employees call a manager over. Yes, the check was written for a large amount. I get that this requires some theatrics, some furrowed brows, some serious squinting at my driver's license, the check, my driver's license, the check, my driver's license. I get that this might even require your employees to use their - gasp!- headsets! Most visits, your employees are teasing each other using these devices, giggling while they ring me up over some inside joke being transmitted through their earbuds. They're not paying attention to checks or IDs. Most of the time, I have to remind them to scan my "rewards" card (rewards which have NEVER been issued, I might add). But tonight, I was treated like I'd just been caught trying to traffic a shipping container full of Russian prostitutes. Your concern, Office Max, for your bottom line, is laudable, but I give you an F for your performance.

Another area you fail miserably in? Your ability to listen. Against my better judgment, I asked one of your stalkers/employees for help with your printer section. Your employee, though I specified I wanted a duplexer in the machine, but was not interested in wireless capabilities, pointed more than once to machines that had wireless capabilities, but no duplexer. I chose to ignore this. When I finally decided on a machine, he pointed to the spot on the shelf that should have contained the box for said printer, shook his head disapprovingly, and told me he'd have to get one from the back because the "dummy before him" hadn't replenished the one he'd sold. Was this my cue to shake my head disapprovingly as well? Should I have tsked tsked and suggested that the "dummy" be given a demerit? If so, I failed. I just stood there a little dumbstruck.

Your see, even on my worst days working retail, I followed the Rules Of Working Retail. Oh yes, Office Max. I know all about the Rules. I used to sell nearly obsolescent shit for a living, too, you know, and I know there are Rules. The First Rule? The CUSTOMER is the enemy. Not your coworkers. Retail is a battlefield. Breaking ranks is grounds for court martial (or at least being snubbed in the breakroom). Why would your employee call his fellow comrade a "dummy"? Is this the look of the new Big Box Soldier? Has our individuality superseded even our most basic instinct to not foul the nest? Do your employees not honor the retail rules of engagement?

Another sticking point, Office Max: your lack of motivation. Your same insurgent employee then asked me (these are his words verbatim) if I "really wanted the printer" before he "went through the trouble" of getting it from the stockroom. Forgive me, Office Max, but, um, is it not your job to SELL MOTHERFUCKING OFFICE SUPPLIES? Is it so much "trouble" to keep the shelves stocked? Perhaps I am mistaken about how supply and demand work. I am under the impression that when you have something shiny to sell, you put it out on display so people can ogle it and blindly hand over their wallets. This ensures you can get rich and that I take home a cheap plastic printer that will undoubtedly break in five years. I'm holding up my part of the deal. The least you can do is put your shiny stuff out where I can see it.

It's clear my expectations need to be not just lowered, but completely thrown out. Your store is located on some strange vortex where a salutation becomes a repetitive verbal assault, the personnel would rather talk smack about each other than keep the shelves stocked, and "help" means saying "Uh, I don't know if we, like, carry that". So, rather than demand more of you, I'm going to demand less. I'm going to use the time honored method of boycotting your store. And from now on, I'm going to order my supplies the old fashioned way: through the Internet.


Lo -I feel your pain. More than once I have had the urge to jam an 8 inch knitting needle into the eyes of the brain dead incompetent flotsam of retail dunderheads in almost every store I visit nowadays. -John