What has the world of retail come to?  I recently learned of a business that charges customers a non-refundable $25 fee for its “knowledgeable” salespeople to show customers the features of carseats and strollers. Sure, these salespeople could very well be people like the CarseatBlog writers (or Trudy or Julie, who work at BRU) and could talk carseats in their sleep (and, uh, do—just ask their spouses). Or these salespeople could very well be people like the CarseatBlog writers who could not talk strollers in their sleep, lol. I know when I talk Mac, it’s quite a bit different than when a stroller guru talks Mac ;).

And to be fair, this baby store does apply this fee to the purchase price of a carseat or stroller and the customer does have 6 months to make the purchase. The store also price matches within the city and online, so they are trying to make it easy. But still—charging for something that should be free. It rubs me the wrong way, especially when I know the information I’m being given by the salesperson may be wrong. Then again, in a city where I expect to see a tip jar even in the McDonald’s down the street—perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me. I do hope that as a private business they are hiring and training their sales staff appropriately, more appropriately than BRU does (and haven’t we all heard the horror stories from there?!). So, as a representative for you, I had to check it out and became a secret shopper.

There was a slight problem. Like I always tell my kids, “You are who you hang with.” Make sure you run with the right crowd because that’s how you’ll be known, KWIM? Well, I was spotted by the owner of this store with my friends at the spring ABC Show a few weeks ago. No big deal, right? Who am I kidding, I’m not that famous that *I* would be noticed. *I* don’t have an entourage (but I should <giggle>). No, the problem is that my friends were this guy’s competition AND I was his instructor for his tech class years ago. So it had me thinking of various disguises and whatnot to get into the store to be the secret shopper to test out this policy. I was sweating it out for weeks, but a dream the night before convinced me that the next day was the day to do it. The stress was simply too much.

I went to the store shortly after opening and made my way back to the carseat section. There was a simple sign saying to ask for help with any carseat. I nosed my way around the carseats a bit before a salesperson came back to help. She was very helpful and nice. I asked her for advice for her favorite convertible and she politely showed me several different models. We discussed the features of each, pulled each off the shelf, talked about basics, and adjusted each seat. Her knowledge of carseats seemed just fair—she didn’t know what a tether was for, but knew that a 19 month old most definitely should NOT be in a booster.

I gave her plenty of chances to ask for the $25, but she never did and I would have been happy to pay it since it was the stated policy on the website and I knew that going in. I definitely would have been upset to be an actual customer and have been asked to pay the money before being shown the carseats per the policy if there was nothing posted (and again, I didn’t see anything posted). There was another couple there looking at high-end strollers that didn’t seem to be asked to pay a fee for looking at the strollers either. I wonder if they’ve suspended the service fee or let it slide that morning.

Regardless, the fee is in writing on their website. I’m sure they’re not the only store in the country that has this policy. Frankly it sucks for the customer because it says that we don’t trust you to give us your business, but a part of me does get it. “Customers” are using brick and mortars as try-on shops and going home to order online because they can get a better deal. It’s part of the reason why my friends’ store went out of business.

Is this a new business trend? Should we be expecting more of this? This is obviously the first time I’ve seen or heard of it. Is it common in big cities? Share your experiences. While I love Amazon (and Amazon surely loves me, sigh), I wonder if consumers have collectively shot themselves in the foot here.