Gringo in Guadalajara: Real Life in Mexico

Can I Help You?

The salesman in the United States has changed a great deal in the past half century.  Watch a few old movies and you often see a glimpse into the old salesman of year's past --- an overdressed, slick-haired, hyper friendly and smarmy gentleman ready to pull out all the stops to get you to buy his vacuum cleaner or toolset.  He was pushy, a master of smalltalk and a major-league nuisance.  In those days, salesmen (and occasionally saleswomen) even came right to your door.  During the 1970s and 80s, such individuals were largely put out of service in the United States.  The salesman and his routine still survive on the used car lots of autorows and perhaps in a few men's apparel stores, but generally when you enter a store in the U.S. these days, you are largely left in peace.

Of course, the flip side of this change is that you are now on your own when wandering through the empty chasms of modern stores like the Home Depot or Walmart.  Good luck finding a salesperson to point you to the section for plumbing supplies or home decoratating.  And with many employees working at a high turnover rate and at minimum wage without health benefits, they are not likely to give you the kind of personalized service of yesteryear.

But shopping in Mexico is a bit like a timewarp when it comes to customer service .  Many stores seem to "overhire" to the degree that there are more employees than customers.   For instance, if you visit a Guadalajara mall and enter a typical shoe store, clothing store or sporting goods store, you will likely find three or four employees waiting in expectation of the next customer.  Upon entering, you will be greeted by one of the employees and clearly "assigned" to that person.  The notion of entering a store and browsing on your own is more or less non-existent.  Of course, this does have its benefits.  The employee is usually ready to do anything under the sun to make your shoe apparel or clothing assessory dreams come true.  They are beyond helpful.

The reason companies are able to hire such a surplus of employees relates to the inexpensive cost of hiring workers at a minimum wage of just over 50 pesos (about 4 bucks) per day.  In larger stores like Walmart or Home Depot (American behemoths that entered Mexico post-NAFTA), there is, of course, a less personal feel.  However, an abundance of workers still exist in such stores.  For instance, at supermarkets there are always nearly a dozen employees parading through the aisles with samples of mini-hot dogs, cheese with crackers and other assorted goodies.  At big box stores like Walmart, many employees hang out at the ends of each aisle ready to help you at a moment's notice.  In the pharmacy section, employees are there to help you find the exact toothbrush you are looking for or the perfectly flavored mouthwash.

It remains to be seen if customer service changes as Mexico continues into this new era of American franchises moving south of the border.  But for now, the old style service of the helpful salesperson remains alive and well.