Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Brown salesman, where art thou?

IN ONE OF those awkward occasions I let my guard down to be pathetically coaxed by Mom and Tita Chi-Chi to go with them to the mall, I faced a moral dilemma upon entering Mom’s new favorite store Zara (with branches in Glorietta, Powerplant, and probably in other malls).

I don’t know the history behind this chain of stores, but from this ignoramus’ observation (of price tags), Zara seemingly caters to high society (and those who aspire to be) in their attempt to transplant European mod to our 33-degree weather.

The thing I noticed about Zara (in Glorietta) was their sales attendants. Clad in their hip slim suits and spread-collar dress shirts with necktie knots the size of Pacquiao’s fists, these Filipinos walked in a cool, calm, and collected gait.

Their mannerisms were measured but unpretentious. Their hands moved easily and proficiently as they took pens out from the inside pockets of their jackets, or while handling the particular blouses of specifically requested sizes (XL for Mom).

They talked and listened in a gentle and attentive manner. Their overall demeanor was that of an aristocratic butler, only less high-browed.

I thought the whole thing was a sham. There was something I couldn’t accept about it—something that just screamed WRONG!

When I think rationally, my angst was unwarranted. The yuppies who roam around Greenbelt are much more pretentious. Self-conscious fellow collegians are more “fake”.

Then why such a negative attitude towards these sales attendants? After all the years of hearing Dad talk about good customer service, why do I still hesitate to approve of its manifestations?

Is my view of Filipino salesmanship so stained that I’ve lost sight of how things are supposed to be done?

It’s that last question that pointed me to some sort of answer.

The sales attendants of Zara weren’t Pinoy enough. I’m not talking about the kabastusan or “hustle” motives of certain tinderas. (Regardless of place, certain virtues of salesmanship are universal.) I’m not even talking about the Pinoy tendency to be jovial—the jokes and innocent flattery shared between sales attendant and customer that can be annoying.

I was looking for the sense of familiarity Pinoys can display to strangers—that innate ability to become instant acquaintances.

As the professionalism of Zara is exemplary, I wonder: can’t professionalism be more pleasant? In a weird way, the “natural” manner in which they [Zara sales attendants] conduct themselves looks foreign and rather “rehearsed”—like award-winning method actors portraying something outside their usual character.

I remember a couple years ago, in another high-end boutique in Greenbelt, Mom, Tita Chi-Chi and Lola were snubbed by attendants because they were conversing in the local dialect of Antique. (Apparently, only English or Tagalog speakers merited their attention.) Now that’s universally foul and discriminatory.

Zara attendants were nothing close to that. In fact, they were close to being how sales attendants should ideally be. Their training should be commended. In many ways, they lived up to the brand name.

And still I can think negatively.

I don’t know…but the Pinoy was missing.

As polite as they were, they lacked the personal touch. They achieved their goal in maintaining the image of the brand, but who are they selling that brand to?

P.S. I’m in no way a frequenter of fashion boutiques (much less Zara) so my opinions might all be based on the grumpy mood I was in. All you fashionistas may react freely (violently even).

In the mean time, I’m off to SM to buy me some socks. Sana may back-to-school discount.


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