Here's a story from a conscientious insider:
I spot a potential customer. She walks by, not seeing my well-concealed hunger for a hefty sale from her. I draw the blinds on the windows to my soul with as sincere a smile as I can muster. As my hands raise my tea tray to her eye level, my amicable mask annunciates the words, “Come try some tea!” Will she take the bait? The five seconds of suspense bring my heart beating up to my throat.
She finally responds with a hesitant, “Sure…” My heart races as she reaches for the sample cup that lures her in my direction. Her eyes are on the tea, not on my hungry eyes. Thank heaven for the lure that disguises this evildoer’s true intentions.
“Let me get you a fresh sample,” I say as I quickly snatch the tray out of her grasp and set it on the sample cart. This move is like playing with a fish. Make the bait look alive. Bring her in with some conversation. As I pour her a “fresh” sample that has actually been sitting stagnant in the FetCo all day, I tell her about the unfounded health benefits of white tea: antioxidants, good for skin and complexion, promotes hydration and detoxification. She only slightly reacts to these trigger words that society and media have conditioned her to respond to.
No, she is focusing on the sensory appeal of the tea. She does not care about the health benefits of the bait. She justs want something that smells good and tastes good. She interrupts my sales pitches with the usual remarks, “it smells amazing,” “wow, this tastes wonderful,” to which I hide my annoyance and nod my head with a twitch of the mouth.
During my sales pitch, my conscience sometimes kicks in. Does she know that the sugar in the tea has ten more calories per teaspoon than regular sugar? I am misleading her to think that it is only this tea promotes these benefits, when I know full well that most, if not all, teas can do the same thing. I also know that the “white tea” that we are claiming is low in caffeine and high in antioxidants is not the same white tea that studies have shown to be high in antioxidants. Furthermore, I know that white tea is not necessarily low in caffeine like we are led to believe. My heart begins to ache at the illusion that I am beginning to paint in this customer’s mind. “Not now,” the salesperson in my head tells me. “Save it for the other teas, like corporate tells you to do. It’ll make you sell better.” This puts my conscience to rest, and I am able to focus on the big, fat sale that I will make on the other end of the counter as I lead her to try the next sample.
“Do you like chai?” I ask the customer as she hands me her sample cup. I don’t even wait for her enthusiastic “YES!” before I start to fill the cup with the chai blend. Again, I remind her of the unfounded health benefits that we claim for white tea, and I also tell her about the benefits of mate. I notice her desirous reaction to the words “appetite suppression” and I make a mental note to emphasize this quality as I lead her to the rare tea sample.
Again, my conscience kicks in. Should I tell her that studies have shown that mate may cause cancer? After all, she deserves to hear the pros and cons together, so that she can make a truly educated decision. But no, my hunger for that big ticket leads me closer to the sale.
“We’re sampling a really rare oolong tea just inside if you want to try it…”
The customer perks up at the words “really rare,” and before she knows any better, she follows me into the store. My excitement heightens. I know that the further I get her into this labyrinth of half-truths and illusions, the more lost she will become, and the more willing she will be to hand over a larger and larger sum of dough.
“So, this is one of the best teas we offer.” I am choosing my words more carefully, since my conscience is getting to me. I could have said that this the rarest tea in the world, just like my coworkers. But my experience knows better. I have done the math. I know full well that a tea that fills 500 jars with a capacity for about six pounds of this tea throughout the nation hardly constitutes it as rare.
I confirm her taste buds and tell her about the heavy body and floral notes. I do not tell her that the quality is mediocre at best, especially compared to other monkey picked oolongs that are available at more than half the price. No, the salesperson in me conceals this truth and leads the customer into the mystique that the company creates for her. I especially do not tell her what I taste: the blood and sweat of the producer of this tea, subtle yet present, the effort that was not compensated for, causing the starvation of her and her children, the injustice of it all.
But no, the salesperson in me tells me not to think on this. It is fun to play with the catch before making the sale. A bit more fun? Why yes, there is a cast iron pot sitting right there, why don’t I tell her about it?
“The best way to brew tea, of course, is in the cast iron. It’s just like with cooking, it distributes heat throughout the pot, extracting the best flavor and the most health benefits. They’re easy to use with their built-in strainer, and they don’t break!” As I gesture to show her our three elaborate cast iron displays, my mind is torn. The salesperson-demon in me watches her every expression, trying to figure out if she is interested in purchasing the crowned jewel of all sales at this store. The angel-conscience in me wants to tell her the cons of cast iron brewing: the enamel chips of with the gentlest ding, they rust easily if they are not properly cared for (I am driven to show her the rust on our display pot), and they require a ridiculous amount of tea leaves to make a pot of tea, considering their size. I also want to tell her that they are touched by seventeen people when they are made. Seventeen?! Are you kidding me? That’s enough to make an assembly line out of what we are supposed to call a “work of art.” Talk about dehumanizing a process to make something beautiful. Before I can decide what to do, the salesperson in me realizes that this customer is not interested in, nor can she afford, this jewel. I quickly move her on to another option.
“Have you ever seen a blooming tea before?” I ask my customer. “No, well have a taste, and let me show you how it works.” I pour her a sample of this peach concoction, show her how the hand-tied seed unravels into an elegant blossom of tea and petals when it is introduced to hot water. The salesperson in me thrives on her expression of awe, looking inwardly at the big price that this tea will add to the ticket if she decides to buy it. My conscience sees a whole different picture: jars and jars of these seeds, how did they come to be? Were they hand tied by a factory worker in China? What do her hands look like? Are they blistered and chapped from touching that dry, sharp string all day? Is she being compensated, or is her time being robbed from her, going home every night with not even enough to provide food and shelter for her family? I cannot see any way that these seeds could be produced in a just way, at such high quantities. However, I cannot share these musings with her because the salesperson in me is getting more and more excited about making the sale. At this point, I decide to skip showing her other brewing options, because she is more excited about the tea itself. I lead her farther into this illusion of tea, this labyrinth in which the ultimate end is a greedy corporation. Next destination: FetCo 3.
We are getting closer to the tea counter. I am more and more excited about this customer, it seems like she’ll make a big purchase. Good for me! I take the sample cup from the customer and put a little bit of this sample into it. As I hand it to her, I tell her about the supposed health benefits: EGCG complex (which I cannot tell her about, since we are forbidden to talk about cancer), can maintain healthy blood sugar levels (of course I don’t tell her that white tea and greener oolongs can also do this), and it’s good for the immune system (again, I do not tell her that all teas can be good for different aspects of immunity, according to studies. After all, this could possibly lower the size of the ticket!). My conscience begins to feel sorry for this customer. I should just tell her to find a tea shop that sells tea that is of a truly high quality and that is justly produced. But no, the salesperson in me gets savvy and says, “this is your job, you do not want to lose it!” So I monitor her reaction to this tea. She loves it! Getting more and more excited, I quickly guide her through a tasting of the sixth and final sample, so we can get her to the tea counter.
I give her the sample, and I tell her it is more for the kids because it is heavily sweetened and caffeine free. I’m not supposed to tell her this, but this is the cheapest sample that we offer, and if she decides to buy it, it will drop the number on my sale from her. Lucky for me, she buys into it. I ask her what her favorite sample is, and she says that it is the Youthberry/Wild Orange blend. I tell her that I will meet her on the other side of the counter.
I move quickly here. Leaving a customer waiting is like leaving a fishing pole unattended. I grab the two tea bins and set them in front of the counter for her. I romanticize the heck out of them, making them seem even more enticing and worthy of her money. I do not tell her to look at the high fruit-to-tea ratio in the Youthberry, nor do I point out the prominent presence of cheap apple pieces in the Wild Orange Blossom tisane. I especially do not tell her that all of the dried fruits have been sucked dry of health benefits when they were dried. Dare I mention the fact that these teas do not smell anything like REAL oranges or berries? Should I confide in her that I suspect Teavana of using artificial flavors in their teas (the company only claims not to use artificial colors, and the ingredients list of 90% of the teas indicate the use of “flavoring,” not saying whether it is artificial or natural), and that all she smells is an illusion? No, the salesperson in me really really really wants to make a BIG sale at this point, so I am easily able to ignore my qualms. I talk about the POUND discount. She buys into it and buys a half pound of each. I’m not done here, though, the sale could be bigger. I mention one more thing to her, trying to squeeze every last penny out of her pocket…
“The samples that you tried were sweetened with our German Rock Sugar. It is an unrefined sugar, different from other sugars because it does not interfere with the tea’s flavor, it just brightens it up. It only has 25 calories per teaspoon…” Yadddah, yaddah, yaddah. At this point, my conscience is telling me to SHUT UP and tell her that this is ten more calories that table sugar! But the salesperson in me stops me from telling this precious customer that she can save money by using the generic beat sugar from the grocery store and get the same result. She buys a pound of sugar. I move to show her another tea, but before I can grab another bin, she asks, “but how do I brew it?” The salesperson in me does a celebration dance as I lead her back to the cast iron display. She buys a large cast iron pot, four matching cups and coasters, and a set of tea accessories! The ticket turns out to be in the hundreds. Be still my beating heart… Should I celebrate my success? Should I run after her and tell her that I just ripped her off, and give her reason to return the items that she purchased? Should I tell her that this company is toying with her senses? Or should I just let her go and enjoy her products, and continue to celebrate the large ticket with my coworkers?