Boston Market used to have a salad that I found especially delicious. I discovered the “used to” part the last time I went there with a hankering for that salad. When I learned they had discontinued it, I stepped out of line and left without buying anything. I wasn’t mad, didn’t make a scene–I just wanted what I wanted, and I wasn’t going to settle for something else just because I was there.
The employees and the other customers all gave me the same look, one that said, “Seriously? Aren’t you hungry? Just pick something else.”
But I wanted a salad, none of the others appealed to me, and I knew that Panera has another salad that I find especially delicious, so I went and got that one.
I see too much settling-for-less among my clients. It makes me loath to do it myself. If they don’t have what you really want, sometimes you might have to settle (if you’re too hungry to wait, say), but more often you could just leave emptyhanded.
This is not something that came naturally to me. As a child, I acquired the message that people who leave a store without buying anything probably stole something. I don’t know who taught me that, but I know it’s a belief I carried well into adulthood. I felt like I was doing something wrong if I couldn’t find anything I wanted and left the store emptyhanded. I felt like I had to buy something to legitimize my presence there.
Eventually, I came to resent this and I started to leave without buying-just-to-buy, but it felt really strange. I felt like all eyes were on me–especially security. I was careful not to hurry, to keep my head up so I wouldn’t look guilty, to hold my hands away from my body … all contortions to demonstrate my innocence.
I hadn’t done anything wrong, but leaving emptyhanded felt criminal.
Maybe stores perpetuate this feeling intentionally. Have you noticed how many of them make it difficult to leave without going through the checkout lines? My favorite is to leave a warehouse club without any purchases–no receipt for the suspicious door person to mark off with a highlighter. Oh how they scrutinize me as I leave emptyhanded. The irony there, of course, is that pretty much everything they sell is in huge packages. I couldn’t fit a pallet of paper towels in my pocket or my very small purse. So they look at me like, “Nobody leaves here without buying. Where did she hide it?” At first it rattled me, but now it gives me smug satisfaction.
Try it sometime: Go to a warehouse club, look around at the things you don’t need, and leave without buying anything. Join me in the resistance.