Salespeople, Please Let This Introvert Shop in Peace introvert shop salespeople

There is a lot of emphasis today on preserving and supporting local economies. We are encouraged to “shop local” to keep small business, main streets, and traditional mom and pop shops viable. Shopping local is said to maintain the traditional social backbone of a community and to prevent large corporate venues from completely overtaking community life.

I love the idea. I like to do the right thing and make a difference. When I shop at a big box store, I make a miniscule contribution to the economy. When I shop at a small business, however, I help someone’s livelihood. I help keep their world and their dream alive. I help the community and make a difference.

But I’m going to be completely honest here. I absolutely loathe it. I avoid it like the plague. I am one of those people who will deliberately drive out of the way, past anything small, local, or privately owned, to get to a corporate big box store and buy something that was available at a small business right down the street from my home.

Many people would find this behavior enigmatic, but as an introvert, I have a simple explanation: It is merely one of the many defensive strategies I employ every time I go out in public. I am just trying to avoid a well-worn drama that plays out almost every time I visit a local shop.

It goes like this. I come in and a friendly salesperson greets me and asks how they can help. I thank them and tell them, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” But the friendly person is perplexed with my answer and not satisfied. They want to know specifically what I’m looking for. They want to know why I’m looking for it. They follow me around, and if I pick up anything, they insist on telling me about it.

Then come the questions. What do I want it for? Whom do I want it for? And my absolute favorite — do I live in the local area?

At this point, I feel like I’m being attacked by a swarm of hornets. I can’t think, relax, or make a decision with them hovering around me. Their personal questions feel like stings. Anger flares inside me, and I’m determined to get out of there before I tell them to back off and where they can shove their nosy questions.

Refusing to reply, I shrug and retreat down the nearest aisle towards the exit. But the friendly person is after me like a hornet to honey, desperately trying to “connect” with me before I can make it outside to safety. Ignoring the pained expression on my face, they persist.

So there I am, in the hell that too many introverts are familiar with. Some “friendly” person is demanding to pry me open with a jack-hammer. If I don’t let them do it, they will be hurt and offended, and I will be branded an antisocial snob.

Nevertheless, I refuse. More than once I have burst out the door empty handed, flashing a disgusted glance in their general direction on my way out. Yes, I will be one of those weird, stuck up, angry customers they tell horror stories about to their friends and coworkers.

And to think, all I wanted to do was pick up a few things.

In Big Box Stores, There’s No Pressure to Explain Myself

By contrast, when I go to a major corporate supermarket, big box store, or department store, people rarely bother me. It’s true that the crowds and atmosphere can be overstimulating, but at least I’m safe from hovering and interrogation. Staff members may ask if they can help, but when I say no, they usually get that I mean it and back off.

And if I do have to ask for help, that’s all I get – help with my purchase. There’s no pressure to bond, make small talk, or explain myself. Instead of having to fight off an intrusive stranger, I get to browse comfortably through their stock and focus on my own thoughts.

Diversity and inclusion are becoming more prominent values in our communities. But our spirit of inclusion seems to stop abruptly at the doorstep of personality type “i.” We emphasize “community” as an alternative to the corporatization of society, and it is.

But why does “community” have to be defined exclusively according to the extrovert model? I don’t want to chat and bond with everyone I encounter. I don’t want to be required to explain myself to a stranger for my every action or purchase. I don’t think this should be a problem, but unfortunately, it is.

Community based venues are certainly not the only places where introverts can experience this familiar conflict. But I’ve learned through experience that the smaller the venue, the more likely I am to be ambushed with “friendliness” and “helpfulness.”

So I am attracted to the public spaces where I am the safest from attack. I like big anonymous stores where you have to track somebody down if you need help, impersonal hotels where nobody is interested in who you are or why you’ve come to town, and the most welcoming introvert oasis in the history of commerce itself – Amazon. Just let me get lost in that beautiful quiet jungle.

Small Businesses, Here’s How to Get Introverts in Your Stores

So to the small business owners and local merchants: What would it take to get introverts like me into your store as regular customers? Here’s a plan:

  1. Acknowledge our existence. Stop treating all your customers with the one-size-fits-all extrovert model.
  2. Call off the hornets. Let “no thank you” mean “NO.”
  3. Let us know it’s safe to come in with a sign or advertising designating it as a “Quiet Friendly” establishment: one that doesn’t make chatting and bonding mandatory.

Otherwise, I will judge your store by its size and fear walking into another ambush. I will go on by and take my chances instead with corporate commerce.

I’m not a business expert, but I have to wonder about all the small local businesses out there suffering and struggling to stay afloat. What difference would it make if they stopped chasing introverts like me out of their establishments? Could some of those “angry,” “rude,” or “stuck up” customers actually turn out to be their salvation?

Will we ever get to find out?

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Read this: Introverts Don’t Hate People, They Hate Shallow Socializing  retina_favicon1

Image credit: @alexandrovphil via Twenty20


    • Randee Brant says:

      I LOVE this! You perfectly describe the conflict and guilt I feel for not shopping locally, but for the exact same reasons. I avoid small, locally owned shops and boutiques at all costs. Between feeling pressured to engage in conversation when I just want to be in my shopping headspace and the amount of times I have felt pressured to buy something I wasn’t even sure I wanted, it has become unbearable to me. I completely agree that I might give it a try again if I knew I would truly be left alone to browse without questions, forced small talk, or judgement about what I’m buying or not buying. Thanks for sharing this idea!

    • Lori says:

      This is exactly how I feel on most small stores as well. Having to explain myself when making any purchase is like an attack. I get flustered and embarrassed and I will often leave the store. Thank goodness for internet shopping!

    • Christy Kalbach says:

      Yes, yes, yes! The “personal” touch of small businesses makes me avoid them more than I like as well. Shopping is supposed to be enjoyable, not stressful.

    • njguy54 says:

      I hear ya! But often, salespeople do this not to be friendly, but to suss out people who are serious shoppers rather than those who are “just browsing” (or even potential shoplifters). And heaven help the introvert who stumbles into a store where the salespeople work on commission! Fortunately for introverts, this is a slowly dying business model.

      • IBikeNYC says:

        I expect to be acknowledged in a positive way when I go into a store, and I don’t mind the offer of assistance.

        If I say no, though, and you’re up my butt in spite of that, where I come from that means you think I am gonna shoplift.

        See ya.

    • In Australia our customer service is less intrusive than it appears to be in the US. Which as an introvert Is a good thing, I do think it annoys tourists who think we are being rude. I know the sales person is there if i need them, but I am usually allowed to shop in peace.

    • Stefan Pertz says:

      There is a new place in Kuala Lumpur. A “Beer ATM”. Basically a fully automated bar. Should be the perfect place for introverts then, yes? No barternder asking you anything… I give that place 3 months.

      • njguy54 says:

        In Japan (because of course) they’re experimenting with convenience stores that are not only fully automated, but are basically driverless vehicles that can come to you when summoned. So you don’t have to deal with sales clerks AND you barely need to leave the house.

      • Carson Hall says:

        Maybe it’s just me, but the bars I have been too are always too crowded for a bartender to be talking to me. Of course, if it isn’t too busy, you can always sit away from the bartender

    • fiend_138 says:

      Do what I do, put on some headphones and don’t make eye contact.

    • Chelsea Welch says:

      Have you tried directly communicating your needs to them? Saying something like “I actually like to shop without to many distractions. Could you give me a moment to look through your stock by myself, and I’ll come to you if I need anything?” I absolutely understand that this is significantly more difficult than it sounds, as I’m facing a similar situation at work and more often than not I use the “run away fast and get angry” method too But I fear that by asking these stores to change their behavior, you’re denying yourself an amazing growth opportunity to learn to be assertive and stand up for your needs.

    • Reason says:

      I’ve found that just by not making eye contact offends them so much that they don’t want to help me!

    • Linda B says:

      Oh yes, this is the same thing that I go through! So now I walk in, extend my arm out with my hand up, head down and say “No thank you, just here to browse”, and briskly walk past them. If they persist, in a big enough store I will try to ditch them. In a small store, I will leave.

    • Wendy says:

      Hi, perfect timing, I just made it to the library after trying to shop. I was looking for some new clothes, but became to stressed to continue. Thanks Beverly, now I do not feel so much like a freak, this shopping thing has always been difficult, more so now that I am older. I am getting a little worried that I may never get the clothes I need. I will keep trying.

      • Beverly says:

        Thanks, Wendy, glad I could help. There’s no need to feel guilty or freakish. We aren’t the ones in the wrong here.

    • Adrienne says:

      My INFJ problem I grasp with is the music level in every store, everywhere. What happened to background music? Why do I have to hear Katy Perry wail when I’m trying to read a label at the grocery store or make a transaction at the bank?

    • Zeldacat says:

      During the time I worked retail (arrrrrrgh) this is exactly why my approach was, “Hi, I’m here, if you need help let me know.” I’m more than happy to step in but I really don’t want to if I’m not wanted.

    • Adrienne says:

      It’a like the senses are being accosted.

    • Joanna Morefield says:

      This is a good start on clearing up a misunderstanding–information! I am an introvert who has (finally) figured out how to do this, and it works MOST of the time. This is what I do.

      First, know that I am a social introvert, so this first part works for me. When I enter that small shop, I pause and breathe deeply near the door(don’t laugh yet, you would be amazed at how much information that provides, both you AND your shop keeper). If no one waylays me, I go find them. Yes, I do, and ask them where such-n-such might be found.

      They take me there (even if I knew where to look). Then I turn to them and ask their name, in case I need them, and thank them for the help. It is a brilliant way of letting them help, acknowleding that help, and DISMISSING them!!

      They feel they have done their job, and your minute of engagement with them ensures a trouble-free shopping experience.

      As a retail worker, I know that introverts often look like they are trying to hide something, and THAT looks suspicious.

      Try it; it just might work for you too!

      • IBikeNYC says:

        Gosh. What a great idea!

        I already sort of do this kind of thing in other circumstances: It’s very effective when dealing with micro-managing bosses and other individuals with control issues.

    • Dennis Teel says:

      I’m an introvert and for that reason,i go shopping at 2 or 3 a.m. at my small city,it’s never packed wall to wall as in larger cities and after 10pm it’s dead all night..i’m sometimes the only customer in there at that time and other times maybe three or four other i’s problem is that i get the same kind of sales person or people mentioned in the article..apparently walmart doesn’t like customers browsing in the wee hours..they get suspicious and i guess want people to come in get what they want and leave.But that’s when i love browsing..when the place is relatively empty..especially during the Christmas season..I’m overwhelmed by there being so much stuff in that place and having so much time to spend looking at it all..i go in just about every night but always find that i’ve not seen everything..when the staff inquires if they can help me “find something” i merely say no thanks and continue to browse..of course i get followed around the store by staff and at first it made me quite angry,but now i play the game of losing them by walking fast around aisles and ditch them pretty easily,then intentionally show up in front of them several minutes later or as i’m leaving to check out..i’m 63 years old and retired and am definitely an introvert and absolutely cannot stand loud,aggressive,show off types,especially in restaurants..which is why i go so late at night when they ahve few to zero customers for hours at a time..i find id hard to meet anyone with my laid back simple interests..i’m passionate about 80’s and 90’s music videos and music in general , not how somebody extended their porch deck or added an extra wall to their kid’s play room,etc

    • Emerald_lady89 says:

      I’m an introvert, but I don’t assume that my personality is beyond reproach and that therefore everyone should automatically understand me and change to fit my preferences. Just as we don’t understand the behavior of outgoing people at times, they don’t always understand us or what can deeply hurt or annoy us. That’s why we need to be willing to give each other slack. I’ve noticed that many of the pieces on this site seem to be from people who believe everyone should accommodate their “specialness” and accept them no questions asked, but I don’t think that’s fair.

    • Josiah says:

      I’m an introvert who works in retail (yes, I’m really an introvert). I think for a lot of retail workers though, it can be hard to imagine why someone doesn’t want to chat and make small talk. In our training we are told to be endlessly friendly and helpful, look customers in the eye, anticipate their needs, and even call them by name if we can. We’re told anecdotes about people who really appreciate the freindly attention even when they first appeared unfriendly or unreceptive.
      I try to respect people’s boundaries. I subject everyone to a “Hi, how’s your day going”, and a “Did you find everything you were looking for”. Some people light up like a Christmas tree and seem eager to chat. But if people don’t seem in the mood, I assume they’re introverts or simply tired and leave them in peace.
      I only know to do this because I’m a fairly self aware introvert myself. No one taught me to do this and I don’t get recognition for it.
      So, introverts who like to write, maybe write your salesperson a comment card for being not only friendly and helpful but also for respecting your space!

    • VODi says:

      Love it!!!! Totally agree.

    • IBikeNYC says:

      Oh, do I “hear” you about this (ha ha), ESPECIALLY that eyeball-bleeding, constipated-sounding me-lis-ma-a-a-a-a-a-a-a.

      Even the library is no longer a bastion of (virtually-) absolute silence.


    • S. Malyk says:

      And when did it become acceptable for wait staff to quiz us about what we are doing with the rest of our evening after our dinner in their restaurant? “None of your business” is what I really want to say. This is a meaningless interaction for me as I will probably never see you again.
      It’s OK for them to stand quietly while I take care of the machine processing my payment.
      S. Malyk