Last Friday I heard a report on NPR about electronics chain Best Buy and their new customer profiling practices. I understand this has been reported on Slashdot, too. For those who haven’t heard the story, the deal is this: Best Buy has just implemented a sort of triage system that determines which customers are worth the employees’ time and which are not. They staff is trained to recognize certain types of customers and allot their attentions accordingly.
At the top of the list are “Barry” and “Jill,” descriptors that designate yuppie-types and soccer moms with a disposable income. “Ray” indicates a family man on a budget. “Buzz” is the electronics geek who comes to the store in search of computer hardware and the newest gaming technology. Best Buy really wants to lavish attention on Barry and Jill, since they are the most likely to spend more money on a regular basis. Buzz is the next most desired customer. He purchases high-dollar items, but it may only be a couple of times a year, so he doesn’t get quite as much coddling. And then you have Ray, who will not even be approached most of the time, because he doesn’t have a fistful of dollars (there’s a Clint Eastwood joke in here somewhere).
I was not really shocked that Best Buy employees do this. I was shocked that this system has become an official company procedure.
Look, I’m not naive. I understand that stores have been doing this since time immemorial. I shop at Nordstrom dressed nicely, and also dressed like a slob, and it’s no accident that the staff is much more solicitous of my needs on the former occasions than on the latter. Salespeople learn to recognize likely customers based on their shoes, watches, etc. Remember that scene in Pretty Woman–where Julia Roberts is turned away from the upscale clothing store because she’s dressed in thigh-high boots and spandex? This kind of thing occurs at most luxury stores across the world. What you don’t expect is for it to occur at a chain where the Wal-Mart crowd shops. Most anybody can afford to make a purchase at Best Buy, so does it seem right that the staff is being instructed to ignore Ray, just because it looks like his income is a bit lower? It makes me feel like vomiting all over Barry’s $500 shoes.
People try to pretend that class doesn’t matter in this country, that somehow we’re above all of that ugliness, floating on some democratic cloud of lofty egalitarianism. This is an outrageous joke. Truth is, this country has never been more socially stratified than now, and class mobility has never been more difficult to achieve. And then places like Best Buy come along and etch class discrimination right into their company policy. Just warms the heart, doesn’t it? Especially at this time of year, when we are reading Dickens to our children and dropping quarters in the Salvation Army buckets.
Best Buy wants to be the hot nightclub that only the coolest, richest kids get into. I’m just waiting for them to hire bouncers to keep out the riff-raff.
What do you say, dear Reader? Should we buy from Dell, instead?