Canadian shoppers briefly forgot their manners earlier this year, when Target liquidated all 133 of its department stores in that country. Deal-hunters across Canada waited outside for hours only to find discounts that ranged from disappointing (10% on most items), to slightly less disappointing (Valentine’s day cards were 30% off on February 15th).

While shoppers are feeling underwhelmed by Target’s liquidation sale, the store’s employees got more than they bargained for on opening day. Disappointment turned to anger and anger to misbehavior. Workers were left in tears by “unruly mobs” that hurled insults and abandoned loaded carts. Already facing the stress of unemployment, it is no surprise that some cashiers emotionally checked out.

Target’s Canadian bounce out is a teachable moment for both corporate office hires and bargain buyers. The back-to-school shopping season (July through September) is the second biggest shopping period of the year, accounting for 25% of annual retail sales. Discounts abound, giving deal lovers a chance to redeem themselves.  On your next shopping trip, don’t go mad when a clearance sale is bad; follow these tips and you’ll be glad you had:

  • Find out before you go out: A good bargain hunter will know that time is money. Invest yours wisely by finding out if the sale will be worthwhile. Check flyers, websites, and signage to see just how good the deals will be. Pay attention to fine print; it may tell you that discounts are by rebate only, or on select items. You can also browse the store to see what items are already on sale. Those with steep discounts are less likely to be reduced. If you plan to travel a long distance to a store, call beforehand to make sure the items you want are in stock.
  • Be a friend and less you’ll spend: If you want to experience scarcity, go to a clearance sale. When times are tough, we can only rely on our friends. At the store, the person who tries on 15 shirts and doesn’t bother folding them again doesn’t make any. Politeness pays: it is a known fact that salespeople who are treated with kindness are much better at locating items that are out of stock, and are more likely to tell you about additional discounts. At the same time, a recent University of British Columbia study of luxury hotel staff found that employees often take personal revenge on rude customers, giving bad directions or serving them cold food. Clearly, if they don’t want to see you again, service staff will make sure you don’t come back.
  • The price is not a vice: While front line staff are an easy bullseye, they have no say in pricing. In Target’s case, the prices were set by a liquidator who must pay those owed money by the company. The list includes vendors, charities, and tax authorities. The more they can recover, the lesser the burden on these groups and on taxpayers.

Whether at a back-to-school or other clearance sale, rudeness is a shopping fail.

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