That's bullshit, man (or, observations at the exchange counter)

I’m taking a research methodology course for my master’s program in educational technology.

One of the requirements was to do a ethnographical study of some common setting. I chose the exchange counter at Future Shop, a major Canadian electronics retailer.

Ethnography is challenging!

I decided to go to Future Shop and observe the returns and exchanges counter. Here are my notes – hastily scrawled between visits by suspicious sales staff!

They’re punctuated by my hasty attempt at categorization while in the store … and are pretty raw, pretty much straight from my notebook.

1. Scene
Future Shop in Abbotsford. Big store, jammed with electronics, computers, media, appliances, etc.

Near the front entrance of the store there’s a long counter with several electronic cash registers on it. Service staff face the entrance; clients walk up to them. The cash register screens are visible by service staff only; not clients.

Clients enter a line at a sign. There’s a roped-off section suggesting where the line-up should be. When a cashier is free, people move forward.

Service staff have a fairly informal uniform – black shirt, tan pants, with a security ID tag around the neck. Clients are widely varied in dress from jogging pants to jeans to suits.

2. Bearded man
A bearded Caucasian 40-ish man steps up to the counter. He’s got a boxed product and a variety of papers – receipt, and some bigger sheet of paper. Phones are ringing. The PA system repeatedly pages various people in various departments. He talks to the cashier; there seems to be an impasse. He leaves with his papers and box.

3. Bald man
An 60-ish Caucasian man steps up to the counter. Strained expression on his face. Cashier (20-ish, female, short, dark-haired, Indo-Canadian) checks his receipt, checks his box, asks questions, taps data into her cash register. I hear him say “whatever.”

There’s little eye contact between him and the cashier. He has on hand on his hip, one hand on the counter.

She scans his credit card, seems to be finishing up. She cracks a joke, pointing at some place in the store. I don’t hear her words. He laughs.

She continues tapping on the cash register. She smiles again, saying another joke or anecdote. He smiles. The register spits out more paper for the client’s signature. He signs.

4. Self-assured man
My attention is captured by a self-assured Caucasian man in his early 30’s. Suit, tie, dress shoes. Goatee. Short, slim. Walks up to a 30-ish couple in the line-up with a Guitar Hero 3 box in hand. “That’s the wrong music game,” he says, loudly. “You should get _____” (can’t hear the name.) They smile, nod, answer shortly and quietly.

5. Finished
Meanwhile, the bald man finished, and is walking away.

6. 2 young guys
Two young Indo-Canadian guys in jogging suits and white runners step up to the counter. They say something. Cashier says something … I catch “buy something else.” They leave the counter, walk past me into the main section of the store. One says while passing “that’s bullshit, man.”

7. Self-assured man #2
The self-assured guy steps up to a recently opened position on the exchanges counter. He’s loud – I can hear him half-way across the store, although I can’t make out every word. He makes eye contact, unlike some others, and says confidently “I need to exchange _____ for _____” (couldn’t hear the names of the products).

8. 30-ish couple
Meanwhile, the 30-ish Caucasian couple step up to the other station. He puts the Guitar Hero 3 box on the counter, talks to the cashier. She opens the box, checks the product, and checks his receipt. I hear a few words she says: “what happened?” They seem to want to check if the guitar is still working.

The couple does not make much eye contact with the cashier. The stand slightly turned towards each other, talking very quietly.

The guitar inspection seems over – the cashier taps on her machine and and it produces a 3-foot long receipt. He signs it, and she hands over cash. Must have been an original cash transaction.

9. Self-assured man #3
He’s just finishing up with the cashier. Is still loud and somewhat perfunctory: “Thank you very much and have a good day.” He turns, walks away with his newly exchanged-for product, and walk out the door. The alarm sounds … he slows, half-turns, then continues walking out. No Future Shop employees do anything.

10. 2 young guys #2
The two young guys are back, with some small product in a plastic case. I hear the word “here” as they plunk it on the counter. One faces the cashier as she processes the exchange, the other faces his buddy. Both make little eye contact with the cashier.

The transaction is over quickly. They sign the receipt and walk out. The alarm goes off again – they continue walking out. No-one does anything.

11. Diffident woman
A Caucasian middle-aged woman sidles up to the counter, but stays a couple of feet away. After a minute or two, the cashier looks up, speaks, and the woman walks closer. They start talking.

12. End.
My time is up. I’ve been approached 4 or 5 times by Future Shop staff with slowly increasing levels of interest. Maybe they think I’m secret-shopping them, or work for a competitor. Time to pack up and get out.

. . .
. . .

This was very fun and very challenging.

I really felt a need for a video camera to capture information that could then be analyzed in depth later … I really felt I was missing so much detail that I wanted to capture.


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