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The Shoppers Have Spoken, and They Want to Be Left Alone

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A new survey found that pretty much everyone wants to shop without interference from salespeople.

Two shoppers walk into an H&M store.
Two shoppers, alone.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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If all the retail jobs in America are one day handed off to robots, it will be more than a little bit our fault — yes, us, the shoppers, who only wanted to walk into a store and browse in peace, without an employee asking us, “How are you?” (fine) or “Do you need any help finding anything?” (NEVER!!!!) The firm HRC Retail Advisory surveyed 2,900 people in North America and found that an overwhelming majority of respondents — 95 percent — want to be left alone while shopping.

Reading this, I did the natural thing and quizzed my coworkers about their preferences. All of them said they wanted space while shopping. For some, it’s purely a matter of convenience and efficiency. But for many it came down to the fact that being approached by a salesperson introduces a new layer of pressure to the whole experience.

It can feel like you owe them a purchase, or like you owe them emotional support. (I enjoy browsing beauty supply stores when I’m down, but when I’m confronted with a friendly staffer, I always feel like I need to play the role of the chipper customer. It’s a lie, and knowing that only bums me out more.) Sometimes you go shopping without a specific item in mind, and being asked what you’re looking for stresses you out because you don’t have an answer to their question, and then you get annoyed because they were asking the wrong question in the first place. How dare they misinterpret your needs! And then you feel bad because they’re just doing their job and are probably making a commission on sales. They need you! You’re not helping them!

It’s all very confusing.

Here’s another thing the HRC survey found: 85 percent of people would rather check prices at a scanner than ask a person for help. We make lots of nervous jokes about how Amazon will one day rule the world, but then it goes and creates stores with no cash registers and no checkout lines, which is exactly what a lot of us want.

Despite shoppers’ aversion to human interaction, their love affair with technology comes to an end at the dressing room. HRC found that only 17 percent of people thought tech-enhanced dressing rooms, a concept embraced by Neiman Marcus and Rebecca Minkoff, were actually useful. Reformation’s adjustable dressing room lighting might not impress this crowd either, since just six percent of respondents said they thought that feature was important.

Maybe technology helps us avoid taxing social interactions on the sales floor, but once we’re safely inside a dressing room — blissfully alone — we don’t need it as much. All we need are our smartphones, to text our friends and ask whether we should get this skirt.