EVANSTON — As the United States faces an unprecedented holiday season this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our seasonal shopping traditions are now also subject to massive changes. Local restrictions and consumer safety concerns have forced retailers around the country to recreate the Black Friday shopping experience virtually; marketing executives are focusing in particular on customers’ ability to make life miserable for local store employees.
Big-box retail giants Best Buy and Walmart are leading the charge in the effort to preserve Black Friday normalcy: both stores have already begun to offer virtual deals and have expanded their customer service availability to include “the really terrible early hours of the morning,” according to Best Buy’s website.
Walmart, in particular, is going out of its way to allow its shoppers to disregard the human dignity of its employees from home. In a Wednesday press release, the company announced that it is “excited to offer a new customer support option over Zoom” which will create a group video call with every employee of the customer’s local store, “on-demand, 24/7.” The service will not allow employees to unmute themselves or leave the video conference until the customer has yelled themselves hoarse or disconnected in blind fury.
Other retailers have been quick to respond with their own elevated service options. Encouraging customers to stay safe by shopping online, Target is debuting a chat support option that connects you not only to a sales specialist, but also a fake, AI-controlled customer to fight with.
“We’re always striving to use the latest innovations in technology to make the shopping experience better for our customers,” said Target spokesperson Aida Tremblay, 31, in an interview with the Chicago Genius Herald. “Now, with safety paramount, we’re thrilled to be able to keep customers safe and still force our employees to act as conflict mediators between adults acting like children.” Early reports have been positive, with many employees “shocked at how quickly the AI escalated the fight” and “horrified at the vulgarity right out of the gate.”
Big retailers aren’t the only ones having to adapt: as riled-up customers increasingly look to these larger companies to help them walk all over minimum-wage workers, mom-and-pop stores are struggling to stoke baseless rage locally. Amanda Hall, 60, is the owner of a gift shop in Evanston, and she told the Genius Herald she just doesn’t have the money to keep up. “We understand that our customers are feeling more entitled than ever,” she says, “but our website just doesn’t have the flexibility to repeatedly ask for a manager. Besides, I had to let all of my staff go.” Hall is accepting any swear words as a discount code for 10% off, but she remains worried it won’t be enough.
Although the entire retail sector has had to hunker down for a very unusual winter, these measures are a hopeful sign for our economy: scared and angry consumers are willing to deliver a successful first quarter for our country’s businesses, as long as those businesses provide a steady stream of underpaid hourly service workers to deliver as a sacrifice.