The Walking Sales Target
Surviving the personal pressure of mall shopping
Illustration by Brian O’Daniel
One of my favorite cartoons from Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” involves two bucks, standing upright. As one of the bucks looks at the target the other has on his chest, he observes, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.”
Although I’ve never seen it, I know from experience that I, too, have a target, and it’s been my birthmark for as long as I can remember. Like the ill-fated, limping gazelle on the savanna, I can be spotted miles away on my slow-moving approach toward any retailer. I barely escaped the holiday season, the one time of year when my odds of getting lost inside the herd could work to my advantage.
I’ve never stood a chance against a retailer with a sample of a food snack, a skincare item or the demonstration of a product I don’t need – I’m a moth to the proverbial retail flame. And nowhere does that flame burn brighter and hotter than at a mall kiosk, the epicenter of retail’s worst predators. Exhaustingly aggressive, the kiosk barker warrants a flashing sign overhead to warn the unsuspecting passerby, “Do NOT make eye contact! Do NOT make eye contact!”
Let me be your flashing kiosk sign, fellow gazelles: NO eye contact! Keep running! This is Rule No. 1 in your line of defense.
If it’s too late and you’ve made eye contact (or if, like me, you have the telltale birthmark) your next hour (and quite possibly, your emergency savings) will undoubtedly be hijacked by a salesperson who seems unusually concerned about the condition of your skin.
Rule No. 2: For the love of all things holy, do NOT accept a product sample for any kind of lotion, potion or gel.
Kiosk barker: “What are you currently using for your skincare, darling?”
Unsuspecting prey (accepting packet): “Who? Me? Uh, I, uh … ”
KB: “Because you really have beautiful skin for someone your age. I’d just hate for you to throw it all away before it’s too late.”
UP (confused): “Too late for what?”
Prey has now violated Rule No. 3: Do NOT engage!
KB: “You have one minute? Just one minute, dahlink. Come here. I will show you how to firm up that area you’re having trouble with around your eyes. It will just take one moment – step over here and watch this.”
UP (looks at watch): “Uh, hey, that’s OK, really. I was on my way to pick up a gift. I should go.”
KB (feigning insult): “You don’t have one minute to take care of yourself? This is your problem, dahlink: You’re too busy taking care of everyone else – give me just one minute. Do it for YOU, dahlink.”
Barker leads Prey to the shadowy perimeter of the kiosk, where Prey pauses to reflect: I have been too busy taking care of everyone else!
Rule No. 4: Yeah, we’ve all been too busy. Just RUN, gazelle! RUN!
Barker tells Prey to extend her arm, and applies a silky potion of unknown contents onto her trembling hoof.
KB: “Do you feel that velvety texture? This is what your skin deserves. I have many clients who pay $400 for this tube. Today, I feel so generous. I am practically giving it away and I don’t care! Today (whispers), I sell it to you for only $299 – if you don’t tell my supervisor.”
UP: “Wow – that’s a great discount – you said two-ninety-nine, right? Uh, where is the decimal?”
Rule No. 5: Forget about decimals! GET OUT!
KB (amused): “Ohhhhhh! You’re so funny! No wonder you have so many laugh lines on your face! You make other people to laugh, too! What is it you’re doing for a living?”
UP: “Um, marketing?”
Rule No. 6: No names! No details! Foam at the mouth if you must – just get out!
KB: “Oh, well, there you have it. Marketing is very stressful. No wonder you have such deep lines … you will love this. And you just need a small, small amount every night, dahlink.”
UP: “That’s nice. Gosh, look at the time! I really have to go.”
KB (angrily): “So just like that – you’re going to waste all my time after I took you in and consulted you about how to fix your face?”
Prey makes a hasty, unapologetic bolt for the other end of the mall, where a waiting kiosk barker recognizes her birthmark and offers her a product sample. She accepts.