As a web professional, I struggled with writing about this because not only is the web where I work and play, it’s where I learn and teach. I’ve always tried to remain low-key and try to avoid jumping to conclusions.
In my line of work, the logical, user convention and user patterns determine what actions should be taken and how. I stray away from, “My favorite color is this so let’s use it” and fall steadily on the “Based on information, this is what I perceive to be a good action.”
You’d find very few people in my life who would describe me as emotional. I’m also generally very stoic and even when voicing heated opinions can probably sound like an automaton.
But this Saturday, June 19, 2010 at Target, I experienced something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. I experienced being profiled to such a degree that I wasn’t even allowed to hold the product that I wanted to purchase.
It was a sunny afternoon, I was wearing a short sleeve olive green hoodie from Old Navy with denim sailor pants. My afro was pulled back in a headband, and I was just stopping in to pickup a flat iron. In the week before, I’d bought 2 Sims 3 games and spent about $180 bucks at the same Target. I felt safe shopping there.
Once I got into the store, I was helped by a male team member who answered a question I had about the location of the flat irons. After reaching the second floor (where the flat irons are located), the friend who was shopping with me called for help.
The first team member who came over couldn’t help me because she didn’t have the authority to unlock the magnetic rack. The flat irons had alarm wrap-arounds (some people call them Spider locks) for the higher end models. I was deciding between getting a CHI and an FHI. The single deciding factor was temperature control.
I just wanted to make sure that the temperature could be controlled and in the event that I couldn’t get one of those, I was willing to settle on knowing how many degrees it reached.
The second person who came over to help unlock the product was personable. But the problem starts, when instead of allowing me to read the box myself, she read it to me.
She looked for the degrees, incorrectly asked me if the wattage was the degrees from the display models, and when she was done with the first flat iron she was comparing, she immediately affixed it back to the rack. I was not able to hold the product in my hand or read for myself.
In her way, I do think she was trying to be helpful. She read to me from the box how the FHI brand was supposed to be better for frizzier hair because it had negative ions and then she looked at me and smiled sincerely. I did mention I had an afro right. I decided to let it slide because you’ve got to pick your battles.
I was upset, but I tried not to show it visibly. I told her that I guessed I’d take the FHI one. Instead of handing me the box, she asked if I was still shopping and then took it down to the counter for me at an entrance that wasn’t near the one I came in. I’ve since asked Target employees around the country if this is their policy. The answer to that is No even though they have different policies at different store. The Manager of the store also confirmed that.
I felt sad, and I informed my friend who had been looking for a laundry basket at the time that I didn’t think I wanted to buy it anymore. But I secretly felt compelled to buy it to prove that the team member’s hunch about me stealing was incorrect. I realized early on when she wouldn’t let me hold the product that the team member saw me as a loss prevention risk.
I was upset about what happened the more I thought about it. I talked to my husband it and called my mom. I was trying to be sure that I wasn’t overreacting about the experience. I like to keep my powder dry. I told them, exactly what was written here and they all agreed that it was strange.
My friend called the Target to make a complaint that Saturday. What we received on Monday from the manager was this:
I followed up with the team member that assisted you with your purchase on 6-19-10. I asked her if she recalled the situation. She did remember the interaction. I informed her that the guest is allowed to view the product. I also went on emphasize the importance of providing a fast, fun and friendly experience for our guests.
The team member that you had the interaction with is a new team member. We will continue to work hard to ensure that all of our guests get a fast, fun and friendly experience in our store.
Thank you for the feedback and look forward to seeing you shop at Target in the future.
T-1419 -Portland, OR
I told Max that this response was unacceptable and it didn’t seem that he understood the importance of what I’d just written him. That one of his workers, that on the basis of nothing more than how I looked, decided I was a loss prevention risk.
I explained this in a detailed email to guest relations and they wrote this back to me:
Dear Seven Boyd,
On behalf of Target, please accept my apology for your dissatisfaction with your recent experience at the Portland East location.
Target respects individual diversity and strives to create an environment in which each Target team member treats every guest with respect and courtesy. I regret that you felt your experience did not meet our expectations.
I'm making your concerns available to the regional and district offices to ensure that Target team member training sufficiently addresses the issues you raised. I do hope our response restores your confidence in our service commitment to you and that you'll provide us another opportunity to serve you.
We appreciate the time you've taken to share your concerns.
At first, I didn't want to talk about the experience because honestly it's painful. She made a deliberate decision based on perceptions of race and class that I was a loss prevention risk. I found it shameful to discuss. I felt the onus was on myself, maybe I looked, did or was dressed incorrectly. I also thought no one would take it seriously.
I was really fired up and I had created artwork to show what I felt like when I was treated this way. I was going to create a whole campaign about how it. Now, I feel nothing. I feel no fight.
In a week and a half period, I'd spent over $300 at that Target on 2 The Sims 3 games, the Flat Iron, a blender, and some other things. Now, I am going to take them all back. I can't really justify using them to myself.
I don't believe that the person who helped me was trying to be malicious. I believe she was trying to protect her company and her job. She just did it in the wrong way, which made me wonder about what they teach in Target's Loss Prevention classes.
I said that I wasn't looking for heads to roll. I just wanted to make sure that no one was ever treated the way I was again. I also believe things will be better next week. I'll smile again, I'll work as I usually do. I will look at collateral and user interfaces and feel happy again.
I'll be able to see the amazing things that all of the companies I've admired and worked with have done and find subtle brilliance in them like I used to. I dream that I won't find myself wondering if they would let me hold the box if I went into the store, or if they'd follow me around (like what used to happen when I was younger) or if they'd ever hire me.
I preferred to shop online before, and I think that's how I'll be doing it from now on. It probably won't be with target, my edge case experience has soured that for me.