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Is There A Minimalist Approach To Being A Good Customer?

by Gip Plaster on April 19th, 2011

Even people who live simple, deliberate lives must sometimes buy something, but it can be tricky to be a smart, alert consumer and still stay true to your minimalist lifestyle principles.

Part of living deliberately is living a life that’s so calm and well-structured that there’s no need for getting upset or getting into situations where there’s friction between you and another person — isn’t it?

Living simply also means being polite and understanding — if for no other than because being impolite or lacking compassion gets you complicated reactions.

But is there any place in a simple life for complaining? Can calling for a manager be part of your best life? Do you have to give up being a savvy shopper to stay true to minimalism?

The Simpler You Are, The Harder It Gets

Simplifying your life disconnects you from lots of life’s nonsense. Rules that are made just for the sake of having them by people who have nothing else to fulfill them become harder to abide as your own life gets so unencumbered by nonsense that you can see through everyone else’s.

Or to put it another way: Other people’s nonsense becomes even less tolerable once you’ve eliminated most of the nonsense from your life.

Most Stores Do Not Embrace Simplicity

I’ve never visited a simple store. Stores embrace elaborate policies designed to separate you from your money and avoid reuniting you with it when your purchase doesn’t prove satisfactory.

What should you do when you’re getting screwed by a store that’s so obviously in the wrong?

The simplest thing to do is to accept that they employ unevolved creatures involved in complex systems of their own making — and move onto a better, more interesting portion of your own life.

But if you’re like me, you can’t let that happen. Something inside you won’t let someone else get by with something — and your budget requires that you keep as much of your money as possible.

Do you insist on getting what’s due to you even when it costs you time? What about when it costs you dignity?

The Things I Know About Being A Good Customer

I’m not always a good customer who stays true to simple, minimalist principles.

Here’s what I know about this subject — even if I don’t always practice it.

There’s no point trying to teach anyone a lesson. The minimum-wage clerk who deals with your problem doesn’t care one way or another about the company or you. And the manager who comes to the company’s aid makes only a bit more than the the clerk and also just wants his or her paycheck, not a list of your problems.

Sometimes, justice doesn’t prevail. Stores shouldn’t hassle you or make you jump through hoops to get what’s due to you, but they often do. Fixing the store is probably impossible and definitely takes more time than you have, so you may have to move on without winning.

Being ill-prepared leads to consumer problems. You’re much more likely to be satisfied with clothes if you try them on, and you’re more likely to be satisfied with appliances if you research prices and features before you make a purchase. Careful shopping leads to fewer problems than impulse shopping.

Limiting purchases limits problems. There’s no simpler way to avoid purchase problems that to avoid buying anything. If you consider every interaction with “the grid” — stores, companies and systems — as a potential problem transaction, you soon see that avoiding spending avoids potential problems.

Online shopping has its own problems. Buying clothing or shoes online can be problematic if you require a good fit, but if you aren’t picky, shopping online can help you avoid the hassles and upselling involved in traditional retail. But most companies make you pay the shipping if you return something by mail, and that’s a hassle.

And You?

I think the secret to being a great customer while also being true to your simple lifestyle is to avoid buying as often as possible and to be prepared and thorough when you do make a purchase.

What do you think?

While some minimalist sites and simple living blogs might be reluctant to talk about being a good customer, we all have to interact with the retail world sometimes — even if we don’t think it’s becoming to admit it.

Do you do it well? Do you avoid it as often as possible, as I do? Or do you actually enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the hassles of the haggle?

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9 Comments
  1. Most clerks do not dictate policy or store layout. My experience is different to yours in that most store workers do try to be helpful. The exceptions are rare.

    Maybe a minimalist approach should entail not making sweeping generalizations or assumptions about the person on the other side of the counter.
    Steve recently posted Free Online Picture Editing – Picnik

    • Robert Wall permalink

      Steve, I think part of this has to do with the store size and the level of “corporateness” to it.

      Most employees that I’ve seen at Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, Sam’s Club, etc. don’t exactly trip over themselves to be helpful, but they don’t necessarily go out of their way to be annoying either.

      Exceptions (both ways) are notable.

      Then again, if I walk into a small mom & pop store and there’s a teenage kid behind the counter, they seem to be more likely to want to help me out.

      Both categories of employee, at the end of the day, usually just want to be done with their job and go home – but while they’re there, the ones at the smaller stores seem friendlier.

      Just my $0.02.
      Robert Wall recently posted An Open Question For Readers

  2. “Living simply also means being polite and understanding — if for no other than because being impolite or lacking compassion gets you complicated reactions.”

    Only you would say that being polite is only necessary to avoid complicated reactions Gip. Ha, ha. 🙂

    I do invest my time seeking justice if I feel that my purchase decision was less than promised. In fact, it’s easier for me to do that when the store clerk doesn’t really care about my problems, because it’s likely that she won’t take my dissatisfaction with the product I purchased from her company personally.

    That said, I don’t love the hunt or the haggling. I despise it! Because of this, I try to make informed purchasing decisions and stick to products I know I like.
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted 20 Free or Really Cheap Ways to Entertain Yourself

    • My natural leaning is toward terse rather than polite, so you’re probably right. I’m the only one who would say something like that.

      I like the Jay Leno approach to clothes shopping: Choose a type of shirt and pants you like, then order 60 of them… except my budget could more easily manage about 5 of them.

      Gip

  3. Alex permalink

    Being polite & good manners are a core principle for me, not everyone is polite or cares about their job, but you can change the world one person/interaction at a time, by choosing how you interact yourself.

    But back to the subject of being a good customer, limiting purchases & also how often you shop is a good starting point. Not sure about the US but here in NZ Good Friday & Sunday are no Trading days ( shops can’t open) you would think the world had stopped spinning, personally I would like to see that on all public hols so everyone get the benefit & a break … I realise this expectation is unrealistic in the current set-up but doesn’t stop me wishing for it 🙂

    • Here in the US, there are very few restrictions and what can be sold when — except a few restrictions on alcohol sales on Sundays leftover from the old “blue laws” that prohibited the sale of many items on Sundays.

      Most stores here are open Good Friday and many are open Easter, although some close — but it’s up to the store to decide.

      Overall, retail employees are treated poorly here by their companies, although a few companies have established a culture that allows them to close on holidays and set shorter hours. Still, you find an increasing number of stores open on Christmas day, for example, and I don’t think many of them make sure their Christian employees are scheduled off.

      There is a problem with the whole retail mentality here, and there’s no real sign of that changing.
      Gip

      • Robert Wall permalink

        Up here anyway the city is a ghost town on Christmas day as far as finding a retail store that’s open. The Walgreens (the one that’s 24/7) is still open, and that makes at least some sense. A few gas stations (again, usually the ones that are 24/7 otherwise) are also open. But everything else is shut down.
        Robert Wall recently posted Foodie Friday – Paring Away The “Pre”s

  4. One thing I’ve found is that now that I’m a more conscious consumer and shop/buy less, it’s easier to choose to shop in places where I find a more pleasant buying experience. One example is buying plants from a mom & pop garden store that’s been in our area for years. It’s farther away and higher priced than the big box stores, but the staff is so knowledgeable and helpful, I gladly pay more and drive farther to shop with them. If I was trying to fill my whole yard with annual flowers (which I actually tried to do years ago before I discovered the concept of simpler is better) instead of keeping just a few small pots of flowers, I would have to choose the big box because of the lower prices. But making more deliberate purchases allows me to use my money in a way that assures a more pleasant and productive experience, not just more stuff for my money.

    ….and I too wish the stores would close more often. Sadly, if people will shop, the stores will stay open and I think a lot of people (at least around here) shop for sport and entertainment.
    Amy recently posted News! and an apology

    • Lots of people do shop for entertainment, which is baffling to me because shopping is far from enjoyable.

      You’re right, being deliverate is the key to just about everything.
      Gip

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