Phil Saunders, an assistant store manager at Ellwood Thompson's in Carytown (Photo by Jay Paul)
Routine shopping can be stressful enough, but with the holiday season in full throttle, anxiety is amplified by crowded stores. Ringing cell phones, running into friends or hunting for prime parking also can be distracting.
Amid it all, it’s not unusual for shoppers to leave behind valuables or prized merchandise in stores. Such was my experience when I left my purse in a Walmart Supercenter parking lot three nights before Thanksgiving.
Fortunately, that retail giant and many local merchants are accustomed to such mishaps and have policies to help ensure customer satisfaction.
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Phil Saunders, an assistant store manager at Ellwood Thompson's, the Richmond-based grocery and health food store, says customers leave behind valuables or merchandise at least once a week at the Carytown store. Cell phones rank as the No. 1 device customers most often leave behind.
Saunders says that whoever finds the lost item usually gives it to a store employee to place in a security box. Notes detailing who turned in the item, along with the time and date it was found, also go in the box.
Being in a hurry causes many customers to lose valuables, adds Saunders, who expects to see even more items left on shelves or in the store’s café between now and New Year’s Day. And, while grateful customers routinely offer tips to the finder, he says that employees rarely accept them.
Phil helps Ellwood's customer Mateo Clough (Photo by Jay Paul)
When I left my purse at a Brook Road Walmart, I was beyond grateful for the store employee who found my purse, which I didn’t realize was missing until after I’d driven 15 minutes across town to Carytown.
With my discovery came a slow, nearly suffocating panic. I had no money, no phone, no debit or credit cards, and no idea what to do.
Somehow my calmer self returned, and the pit in my stomach was replaced by prayer during my drive back to Walmart. When I arrived, I saw a young man herding carts near where I'd parked earlier.
Before I could finish my question as to whether he’d spotted a pink purse, he directed me inside to the customer service counter. He also chuckled, saying he couldn’t believe I’d left my iPhone with its purple case in the handbag.
“Millennial,” I thought.
I failed to get the young man’s name before leaving, so I returned to the store the next day hoping to find him and give him a monetary reward or gift card. However, a manager told me the store’s policy prohibits employees from accepting rewards or gratuities when they discover customers’ lost items.
While I’m disappointed that the young man wasn’t working that night, I remain impressed by his alertness and professionalism, and thankful for his honesty.
Leslie Wright, a spokesman for the Arkansas-based retailer, echoes the store manager, saying Walmart has a corporate-wide no-tip policy.
“We just want to do the right thing by returning items to their owners,” she says.
At the family-owned Hull Street Outlet on Jefferson Davis Highway, which sells used office furniture and military surplus supplies, customers mainly leave behind sunglasses or other eyewear, along with the occasional cell phone, tablet computer or a driver’s license.
“We just keep everything up front until they return to get it,” says employee Chris Finn.
As at Walmart and Ellwood Thompson's, customers who try to tip Hull Street Outlet employees for the rescued items are declined.
“We’re not looking for anything; that’s not our style,” says Finn. “Accidents do happen.”
The Centers for Disease Control offers these tips for holiday shoppers who may feel anxiety or stress brought on by the season. Hopefully they will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and help you hold on to your wallet and other valuables.
- Take breaks from listening to news stories, which can increase your stress.
- Keep your commitments and spending in check.
- Balance work, home and play.
- Keep a relaxed and positive outlook.
- Make sure to get proper sleep.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
- Get support from family, friends, a counselor or doctor.
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