UNINFORMED SALES CLERKS….Tyler Cowen makes the case today that sometimes uninformed sales clerks are a blessing. Perhaps so ? although I think he’s being unduly optimistic in the final sentence of his post.

I’m notorious among my friends for refusing to ever ask sales clerks for help if I can conceivably avoid it. They mock me for this, but here’s how I keep score: every time they ask a clerk for help and get steered the wrong way, I get a point. Every time I wander around aimlessly (and fruitlessly) because of my stubborn refusal to ask for help, they get a point.

Here’s how the game works. A few days ago in a grocery store, a friend asked a clerk whether they had peaches. The clerk stroked his chin, stared at the ceiling, and said he didn’t think so, but if they did have them they’d be over there. I got not one, but three points for this encounter because (a) he was a produce clerk working in the produce section, and he didn’t know whether they carried peaches, (b) he didn’t know where they’d be if they did have them, and (c) he was wrong. They did have peaches and they were located about five feet from where he was standing when we asked about them.

More generally, my clerk-ophobia is due to the fact that sales clerks are often both (a) ignorant and (b) genuinely eager to help. This is a terrible combination, because these well-meaning souls insist on wasting boatloads of your time even when it’s clear after only a few seconds that they don’t know enough to be helpful. Unless you stop them quickly enough, they’ll drag you off to conversations with other equally clueless clerks, ask you to wait while they “check the back room,” noodle around witlessly with their computer, or scurry around the aisles while you trail along helplessly. I hate this with a passion.

Now, at this point you’re probably thinking that I sound like a bit of a jerk about this. And you’re right. Why, just a couple of months ago a clerk at Circuit City was very helpful while I was shopping for a laptop computer for my sister. (He was the second clerk we talked to, but still. He was very good and sold us neither more nor less than we needed.) But we all have things we’re jerks about, and this is mine. And I figure it doesn’t really hurt anybody since I merely avoid clerks. It’s not as if I’m actively rude to them or anything.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I used to be a sales clerk myself. And I hated it. So I guess this cuts both ways.

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