The title of this book—What Your Local Department Store Doesn’t Want You to Know—portends a mystery and the promise of something intriguing or new. A few pages into Basheerah Simon’s book, however, and more baffling mysteries begin to surface: Who is the author, what was her purpose in writing this brief book, and what is she really trying to say?
With no mention of Simon’s background, and no clear definition of what this book is about, readers are left to guess. Is she a retail veteran with insider information, or someone who has heard others talk about the frustrations of the industry? Is this an attempt to shed light on shopping addictions? An exposé? Or designed to scold demanding customers?
Mostly, Simon writes about what we already know: that stores lure customers with sales, that there is often a huge markup on regularly priced items, and so on. She makes some fresh, valid points (for example, in the chapter “The Condition of the Merchandise and Furniture,” she details her belief that “new” goods are actually “used” because they’ve been tried on multiple times, used as displays, etc.), but such moments rare.
Riddled with errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar and sentence structure, the book offers no introduction or ending summary, and the message is often difficult to discern or oversimplified. The first few chapters are so short—“The Mall,” for example, is comprised of two sentences plus a photograph—that they hardly constitute chapters at all.
Clearly, Simon is sympathetic to sales associates caught between annoying, bargain-hunting customers and managers who coddle them. “A customer can say what they want to an associate, treat them like they are servants to be at their every beckon call [sic], right or wrong…” she writes. “If that isn’t modern day slavery done legally, then I don’t know what is.”
Simon teases us with an interesting concept, but problematic execution greatly limits the appeal of this offering.