Thursday, March 1, 2018

Little Shop of Horrors

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Over the past month, I've done a great deal more retail shopping than usual - my usual being Christmas gifts and a once-a-year bra and panties replacement - and I'm getting some insights into why bricks and mortar stores are (at least according to the New York Times) dying out.

Shopping apps designed by Russian troll farms (apparently.) Nowadays, it's not enough to go to the store during a sale, or to clip a few coupons from the Sunday paper and hope you wont lose them in the back of your wallet. (You will.) Every establishment has their special app they want you to load onto your groaning, overstuffed iPhone. In the video clip describing this wonder, neatly-coiffed shoppers wave their phones around the store, pinging hidden sale items and walking away from the cash register with enough in discounts to cover two tickets to Hamilton

In the real world, the first problem is setting up the damn account. The app wants to know your name, gender, birthdate, family connections, favorite color, height, weight, vacation destination and assorted other pieces of information they will use to bombard you with emails for products you will never buy. It will take you four tries to set up a password the app considers appropriately secure because it doesn't tell you you need to have a letter, a number, a capital letter, a non-numerical symbol, nothing consecutive, nothing that resembles a word, and no variation on any other password you have ever had. You wind up with something like ieP^3#9qR, which of course you forget, so the next time you go shopping you have to spend twenty minutes re-registering a new password.

Twenty minutes is also the time it will take at check out for you, the cashier, the swing cashier and the front end manager to figure out what offers to scan, how to scan them, why the scanner doesn't work, and then to double check everything because it looks like one of the discounts is missing. Yesterday afternoon I bought a button collared shirt, two long-sleeve Ts and a blouse (For me? Of course not. They were for Youngest.) at a store we shall call Marget (except we pronounce it Mar-zhay 'cause we're fancy.) After we performed the ritual dance of scanning, swiping, checking, and fixing via manager override I had spent a quarter of an hour extra and saved five dollars. Maybe what they need is an EZ Pass for clothing - you pay full price, but in exchange you get to walk under a scanner and be out in the parking lot in under three minutes.

In all fairness, the apps are still better than those damn coffee shop loyalty cards you got punched. I never got a free cup - instead I had a half-dozen crumpled cards in my purse with three stamps each.

Stores that are vast wastelands uninhabited by humankind. Specifically, an establishment we'll call Tracy's. I've made a pilgrimage there early every spring to buy a delicate fancy frock. (For me? Ha. For Youngest's prom/senior fling/spring formal.) Every year, the store has fewer and fewer employees. I've long ago given up on the idea of a clerk, say, bringing clothing to the changing room. Instead, I schlep enough prom dresses to qualify as a Teamsters transport and switch models and sizes until Youngest finds the One True Dress that will make her look like a radiant princess. (They all make her look like a radiant princess. She's 17, 5'8", and wears a size 6.) 

Then we begin a trek not dissimilar to the great crossings over deserts and mountain rages of old. Only we're not looking to import the riches of the fabled Indes. We're just trying to find someone - anyone - to take our money. (Literally ours this year. She paid half.) Eventually, after crossing from Ladies Better Dresses to Shoes to Juniors, we find a staffed register in the Lingerie section. 

Unfortunately, everyone else shopping has found the same cashier, and we all back up like the Lincoln Tunnel on a rainy day. Time to locate, try on and select dress=45 minutes. Time to locate, stand in line and purchase dress=45 minutes. That latter also includes the poor clerk giving me a mandatory speech about how wonderful my life will be if I apply for a store credit card. God only know what would happen if anyone ever took her up on the offer. Rioting from the rest of the queue, I suspect.

Register receipts with more marketing on them than Times Square. I'm looking at you, pharmacy we'll call BDS. I itemize my taxes, and so am forced to keep receipts from filling my prescriptions. Which I have in hand, right at the top. Followed by an ad for grape-flavored children's croup medication, a coupon for adult diapers, a survey form, and offer to join the BDS loyalty shoppers team, and, for all I know, the location of the Holy Grail. I never get down that far, because by now the receipt has unscrolled to the floor, forcing me into an awkward maneuver whereby I attempt to accordion-fold three feet of paper while juggling my bag, wallet and purchases. Inevitably, I give up, crumpling it into a wad large enough to staunch blood. It joins the other paper wads at the bottom of my purse, awaiting the Day of Resurrection.

And finally,

Prominently displayed hand sanitizer/wipe dispensers with nothing in them. Come on, guys. Have you read about this year's flu season? How hard is it to throw in a couple gallons of Purell and some Clorax sheets? 

How about you, dear readers? Anything that makes you want to run back home an pledge eternal fealty to Amazon Prime?

47 comments:

  1. I am chuckling, Julia . . . sadly, this is all so true.

    For me, annoying is when I finally get the store app installed on my phone, but it refuses to work whenever I’m in the store hoping to shop.

    But shopping isn't nearly as frustrating as trying to check out with the stuff I’d like to buy. There are eight self-check-out counters open, but only one [with a line halfway to the back of the store] with a real person doing the checking out. Apparently, no one can open another line in that sea of unstaffed check-out lanes . . . but a half dozen folks can come over and beg me to use self-checking. ARGH!

    I’d stay home and shop all the time, but home shopping [or posting on blogs] isn’t any easier if your internet service is down [again] . . . .

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    1. That drives me crazy! I mean, if you have to have two to three clerks patrolling the self-check-out area at all times, why not PUT THEM TO WORK cashing customers out? I realize the end game is to do away with staffing altogether and give us the privilege of working for the store for free, but so far, that seems a long way from roll-out.

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  2. Oh, so funny, Julia, and sadly, so true. I did read an article yesterday that Tracy's is now going to offer more clothing in their stores. Perhaps they will get the staff to go with it? Soldier on!

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  3. I work with an extremely bright, talented, and charming millennial, and my frequent complaint to him is that millennials make everything harder. Because he is married to his phone and his computer, everything is designed to relate to him through his phone and his computer. Since I am not married to my phone or my computer, his world does not relate to me.

    I long for the days when simple transactions were simple. If I wanted to see a movie, I went to the theater, bought a ticket, went in and found a seat. Easy. Nowadays I have to go online, set up an account, pick a theater, pick a time, pick my seat, print my receipt because my phone is too old to run the app, go to the scanner booth at the theater, log in, remember my password and which card I charged the ticket on, scan the ticket, scan the ticket again because the scanner has too much snot on it to work properly, and finally track down some supercilious teenager to let me into the theater because I'm clearly too stupid to understand technology.

    Of course, if I want to upgrade my technology so everything will work again I need to make an appointment to speak to a designated guru in the Temple of Tech, where everything is running further behind than your average doctor's office. I can't simply walk in, say "I want that one," pay for my purchase and walk out. There are no cash registers. I have to talk to a guru. He wants to put me on a plan. He won't actually tell me how much my new tech costs because it will just be folded into the plan, which will keep charging me forever because the guru is certain I'll never allow this terrible tech gap to happen again. Except, of course, the new tech I'm about to buy will be obsolete next week because I was too stupid to keep up with the latest press releases about when the new version is coming out, and clearly too old to sleep outdoors in front of the store so I can get it on release day--you know, the way the millennials do.

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    1. Gigi, I feel your pain from the bottom of my heart.

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    2. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went to a movie at a Regal theater nearby. We walked up, bought our paper tickets, went in and handed them to a kid who tore them in half, skipped the snack stand (wife had a couple of candy bars in her purse), found our theater, took a seat. If I had to go through all of the steps you describe, Gigi, I flat would not go.

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    3. Sounds like The Fox near me in Toronto. Except they're so low key, we don't even have to hand in the tickets once we've bought them. They trust us.

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  4. I don't shop in person much, except at BDS and for food and I have no time or room for store apps. I confess to grieving over our Kmart closing in the next town. I went there all the time. New pillow? Check. Christmas lights? Check. My favorite cotton underwear? Check. Toys, sports stuff, lotion, even thread in a pinch. RIP, Kmart.

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    1. Remember Ames? And Zayres? Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?

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    2. Dites-moi où, n'en quel pays,
      Est Flora, la belle cashiere?

      I worked in a Zayre one summer in high school. We had so many summer employees that it was sometimes hard to keep busy.

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    3. Our Zayre's had the longest checkout times in the history of retail. Seriously, it could take half an hour to stand in line with three items.

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    4. Jim, that made me laugh.

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  5. I've never liked shopping and, as you described, it's a even more miserable experience today. Thank God for Amazon!

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  6. I buy some stuff online, but generally I like to go shopping for my stuff in the stores. Unlike Julia and I'm guessing a lot of the other women here on JRW, I don't have the problems you all seem to have in buying clothes at department stores.

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    1. I could do a whole blog on the experience of men's vs women's clothing. Except it, too seems to be changing - my son was complaining some shirts he bought (wrapped and without trying them on, of course) didn't fit like his other 16 1/4 regulars. Just wait until the manufacturers start vanity pricing men's pants, Jay...

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    2. Julia,

      I just find "fat guy" size and I'm good. It's harder to find them in the cheap outlet store I go to since I hate spending money on clothes but at least I don't have to go to the "fat guy" store where there isn't any discount.

      As for shirts, your son really does need to try them on. For me, again, I just buy "fat guy" size and I'm good. Of course, most of the shirts I buy are concert T-shirts.

      The few collared shirts I own are "death or date" items, where they only get worn if I have to go to a funeral or get a date. And yes, they get worn more for the death than the date.

      Vanity pricing for regular men's clothes really would be a bad idea for all the guys who don't care about clothes. For those like me that only care about how inexpensive the clothes are, it would be a REALLY bad idea for the companies. The one time of year I shop at the Fat Guy store is around the holidays when they send me a $20 coupon simply because I'm on their mailing list. This year's purchase was a 3X Boston Celtics T-shirt.

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  7. I love the BDS Coupons! And extra bucks! (The tiny bit of bds money that you get that proves that you have been paying way too much for everything and now they are going to give you a tiny fraction of your own money back. ). I fall for it every time!

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  8. As for the apps, I just say no. I can’t take it. Once I accepted the app at Med Path and Meyond, Just to get a discount on towels, and got emails from them every day after work. Gah.

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    1. I'd love to ask the people in their digital marketing department "What do you do if you get an email from a store EVERY DAY?" Just because it costs them a fraction of a penny, doesn't mean the average Joe and Jane will enjoy having their inbox cluttered.

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    2. I get those emails from various sports stores and music shops. I just put them in the spam folder. I only look out for the Barnes and Noble coupons.

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    3. Exactly! It quickly becomes annoying—so what’s the value for n that? Oh—right. They have your info. And they don’t care.

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  9. I'd prefer to never have to shop again, especially for clothes. Horrid experience in every way. However, if I must shop (and I do like to have food in my fridge), then I choose smaller independent establishments where they smile hello and offer me a taste of a new kind of apple before I buy it. Failing that option, I go online where I love the exact opposite - just me and my mouse clicking away. But I think we should all beware of how Amazon et al. are insidiously inveigling their way into our lives. And don't get me started on Alexa! No way is she coming into my house...

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    1. Amanda, we'll be talking about Alexa tomorrow - I hope you'll weigh in!

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  10. At least twice a month I end up at my local big box store with a list of everything from bandaids and laundry detergent to the kiss of death: lightbulbs. I try to carry the empty package with me. What kind? How many watts? Is a twelve-pack cheaper by the bulb than a two pack? One regular check out lane is open, with at least 10 carts ahead of me piled with a month's supply of canned goods and toilet paper. Or I can try self-check, with a similar 10 carts piled equally high and half the stations not functioning. If you have an item with no bar code (for instance, a tee shirt with all the tags ripped off), everyone behind you is toast. The last time I was there, I read People magazine and a tabloid while I shuffled my cart forward, customer by customer.

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  11. I can relate to ALL of this (except substitute boy's dress shirts/pants/shoes). But two great shopping experiences recently: 1) HUGE grocery effort and the clerk, looking at the total rising higher than tide, asks if I have a 'store coupon'? Apparently, you stop on your way IN and ask at customer service for a coupon. She urged me, in a low voice, to go get one while she finished ringing me up. Saved a bundle. Next, at the fabric store (looking for a zipper but finding instead mucho new quilting fabric), the young millennial cutting my fabric asks if I have the store app on my phone. I tell her I don't want it because I don't want to be inundated with texts. She explained that the only time I will receive more than 2-3/month will be before Black Friday. Saved another bundle AND she was right! Oh and I too miss our local KMart terribly, but prefer to check myself out--I can cut my wait/aggro times significantly and don't get behind that person who is particular about how her things are bagged, whether that outfit/shoes/diapers will fit her next-door neighbor's aunt's nephew's wife's new baby, and she knows the clerk and they are also catching up on each other's news.

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  12. The thing that gets me about Marget is that there are two dozen check-out lines, and three to five of them are open. I guess maybe they use them all on Black Friday and Christmas week, but the rest of the time they sit there reminding us how few cashiers there are. Some Halloween I want to but some of that cobweb stuff and come back and put it over a few of the registers, and see how long it would last.

    I'm an app abstainer--I gladly miss out on saving a few pennies here and there to keep my life simpler. I do carry discount cards for the grocery and drug stores, because they really do seem to make a difference every time. I don't think these stores expect anyone to pay the "regular" price that you get without the discount card. I think they have competitions to see who can be the most enthusiastic when telling me, "You saved eight dollars AND FORTY CENTS today by using your Farris Bleater customer card!!" Can't wait for the farmer's market to open.

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    1. Jim, I don't they they do - times when I've been at a different drug store, the cashier has just swiped her copy and boom! my bill was lower. Which tells me the sale price is the real price, I suppose.

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  13. Discount cards are insidious! We use the grocery one, and it is attached to our phone number, and it actually works in a lot of other areas with stores with different names (Groger has bought umpteen smaller chains over the years). And my husband does use the gas discounts for his SUV. Naturally, I never get to use it, but I only buy about six gallons of gas every two weeks.

    I've had a "Tracy's" card all my adult life, since locally they came out of our original Federated store, Shillito's. They send SO many coupons, and if you do actually get to a register with a human being, they constantly push you to use their "Plenti" card. For what, I've never been able to figure out. None of the so-called deals one can get with the points save any more than I can find elsewhere. And then after fishing around for an unexpired coupon, either it doesn't work for that item (it rarely does), or the terminal offers you choices that don't even match the coupons you do have. It's maddening. One good thing, though: our local store has an employee who has been there for decades. She always recognizes me, and is quick to help me check out, unlike most of them. But she's nearly my age, and she won't be there forever.

    The only store app I use is BDS, and only to renew my prescriptions, and only because that's the store I have to use with my Medicare plan. Otherwise, I'd just say no.

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  14. Regarding self checkout lines: jobs that did NOT go "overseas". Just saying.

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    1. The robots are coming for us all, Karen.

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  15. Truly I haven't shopped in a mall since early Oct. 2016! Guess I'm pathetic! If I can't get it locally I go to the internet. Between amazon and that Maine store all of my needs seem to be covered. However I prefer to actually speak to someone on the phone, but although they discourage that when I finally get an actual person they are wonderful and so helpful!

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  16. My comment disappeared. Now I bet it appears twice.

    Julia, I'm laughing over all of this. How about, "We don't have that item in our stores. It's only available on our website." Then why did I go to the store in the first place????

    Mary/Liz

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  17. Ah shopping, used to be my favorite sport. I've even shopped for others, quite gleefully finding just the right thing at just the right price.

    Then I became moderately mobility impaired. When I have to limp out of the car and over the ice to the trunk and retrieve the rollator, shopping becomes daunting. On the other hand, I can get pretty much everything online, and returns are getting easier and easier, particularly with
    Amazon Prime,free shipping and free returns, packages picked up at my door. I know there are those of you who think Amazon's the antichrist. Talk to me again when you are in your late seventies with a bum leg, absent rotator cuffs, and a lumbar spine that looks like a train derailed, leaving vertebral bodies strewn along the tracks.

    Today I received via UPS a bathing suit. It fits fine although I look like the dog's dinner in it. That wouldn't have been any different had I tried it on in the store. After all, who is going to see me but another bunch of Q-tips at the JCC pool in the ancienne classe de femmes arthritiques. Somehow I don't think there will be an Esther Williams amongst them. Although I'm betting on quite a few Esthers. (אַלט אַרטריט פרויען קלאַס alt artrit froyen klas)

    I have no store apps on my phone, see no need for them. The only brick and mortar shopping I do is Trader Joe's, because they have the coffee I prefer, and Wegman's, because it's fun. Both places I use my walker for short sessions and the motorized cart if I've the urge to go up and down each aisle. And I've been known to go shopping for shoes, the one thing I have no luck with ordering online.

    Alexa is fabulous. More about her tomorrow.


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  18. I am dying!!! This reads like an Erma Bombeck column - hilariously poking funny fury at the day to day ridiculousness of our own making that we endure just to buy a pair of pants. I’m allergic to shopping, so I have nothing to add except I’ll pay double or triple for an item just to get in and out of a store in ten minutes.

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  19. Though I have an iPhone, I don't carry it, or use it much, it just sits on the charger. Thus if I went to a store and they tried to have me load an app, I'd ask "load it where?" "Do what with it, since I have no phone?" "Are you saying you discriminate against persons who do not have an expensive digital device? Really? Perhaps you could give me the non-discriminatory price, the lowest price?"

    No, I probably wouldn't say all of that, but I'd certainly ask why I had to have a smart phone to get a fair price. Also, I often buy with cash, and expect that not to be a problem. Old fashioned? Yes.

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  20. This was so funny and I was laughing as I read. Unfortunately, it's funny because it's true.

    I do still like to buy clothes in a store, but I rarely buy clothes, so I don't have to deal with it much. I am sad that retail stores are going away, but with what you described, is it any wonder? Not to mention things are cheaper online since they don't have to pay the employees who stand at registers and try to sell us stuff we don't want/need on top of the stuff we already plan to buy.

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  21. Oh boy. You are preaching to the choir. I put one app on my phone for Sprouts; good for digital coupons. I couldn't remember the danged password for it so never used it. I disappeared that app. I just cut a coupon out of the newspaper for Sprouts good for $5. Yea! I used to get my rx's from DBS until new health insurance said to go elsewhere. DBS probably is overpriced for rx's. But their discounts and looney bucks are good to use on other stuff and my husband definitely uses them. I have a Groger card too and the looney bucks I accumulate are wonderful for discounts at the gas pump. I have to say the employees at the local Groger are really nice and helpful. I rarely go to movies but when I do it is to an old fashioned theater with paper tickets, popcorn, and wine! Did anyone catch X-Files last night? Talk about a nightmare when technology targets you. That was scarier than monsters.

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  22. Julia, you made my snort my coffee. (Much less pleasant than snorting tea, by the way.) But you haven't mentioned the most compelling reason to stay out of Margate--the mysteriously filling cart! You go in for one little thing and you walk out an hour and a half later with a $200 bill!!!! Amazon may be the antichrist, but if I need a vegetable peeler or a can opener, I get just a vegetable peeler or can opener, not a new set of sheets, flannel shirts for the Hub, a t-shirt and yoga pants for me, a useless vase, and cat-scratching cube...

    The only store card I have is Tottery Barn, which is just for fun. No apps. My phone will run them but my brain won't. And I refuse to go through the self-check line at BigBoxCo because I want a human on hand if I go into cardiac arrest when I see the bill. And, besides they put all my nuclear-winter-stock-up into boxes for me. Most of my grocery shopping I do at Trader Joe's, because I can find things, they have real humans at every single register, and the humans are NICE. (And they have flowers.)

    I can't remember when I've bought anything in a department store other than make-up or shoes, although my daughter and I do have outings to the mall--but only THE mall, Northpark Center, because it is the absolute temple of upscale consumerism, an experience in itself, and the best people-watching anywhere.

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  23. I've also experienced the mysteriously filling cart at Marget, Debs. My Marget is 1/2 block away, and my primary source for everything other than fresh items from the Market, and I always leave with at least one full bag. Last week, the concierge in my building greeted me with, "My name is Ingrid, and I'm a Marget addict. The first step is admitting you have a problem!"

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  24. Oh my gosh! SO hilarious!!

    My favorite peeve is the "Bucks/Buckz/Bux" you earn but can't redeem for three to six weeks, then promptly forget about until you find said Bucks/Buckz/Bux crumpled at the bottom of your purse well past the expiration date.

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  25. Funny but too true! I refuse to get pulled in to all the apps...gave up the smart phone for a flip and do the vast majority of my shopping on line now.

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  26. I don't do apps but use coupons and some loyalty cards. When I needed new land line phones, I looked them up online but when I went to Penney's, they didn't have any. Luckily the clerk pointed me to Target in the same mall. I really like to feel material, try on clothes, and ask for help on buying some things so I prefer real stores. If only they had more people to help you. Seems to be a vicious circle that they are closing stores to save money because they didn't spend money hiring enough help to keep the customers.

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  27. What a delightful read. And completely spot on! Thank you for the giggles. Have you ever read the article about JTMixx (possibly) by the Onion?

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  28. I work for a Big Box store that is trying (seriously) to do away with cashiers (and I-R-1). I hate shopping for clothes on line. I can't trust it will fit or hang on my round body the way it does on those skinny models. And, don't tell me about shoes. 1 of my feet is 1/4 of a size larger then the other, 1 foot I broke some years ago and I have to try on the shoes to make sure they don't rub the area of the break (since by the end of the day the ache would be horrendous, been there-had that happen.
    I miss Target so much. The only one in my area closed 12 years ago, the one near my sister's house (three states away from here) closed just recently. The best "off the rack" clothing I've ever found has been at Target, second best at Dress Barn. Hoping it doesn't close also!!!!

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