Restoom Key No Way to Win Customers, Esp. Moms


restroom key request.jpgRemember the days when a long road trip required you to stop at little gas stations where you had to ask for a key to get into the restroom? And then they handed you some ridiculously large key-chain, such that you could never lose or misplace it in the  walk around the outside of the store to the restroom, which was usually cramped and not well maintained anyway? Then, just when you thought you could put the place behind you, you had to take the ginormous key ring back inside to the clerk like some sort of hall pass?

Convenience stores now take the opposite approach, offering clean restrooms and an abundance of food and sundries that tempt you during your walk to the restroom at the back of the store. If you’re taking children or changing diapers, there are plenty of things at eye level for your little ones to request or grab. Even if this set-up ultimately encourages us to buy more, this model is far superior for making sales and pleasing customers.

I can’t remember the last time my only choice on a trip was to stop at a junky little restroom on the exterior of a building, where controlled access made more sense for security reasons.

The other day I was in a large, respectable store in Birmingham and was amazed to be confronted with this sign telling me to ask for a key to the restroom (the key being at the service desk, currently unattended). Now, this is a store that sells beverages and refreshments and actually encourages patrons to linger and browse books, gifts, and stationery. It’s in a suburban strip mall that isn’t likely to have vagrants seeking shelter in its restrooms. But after a coffee and some of the desired lingering, a patron discovers this requirement at the restroom door and is asked to walk to the service desk (did I mention this was a LARGE store?) to track down and request a key.

This is a really bad policy for customers, especially moms. Young kids often cannot wait for you to fetch a key by the time they realize they need to go. (Ironically, the restroom is next to the children’s section in this store.) What are you going to do, drag them along as you race to the front of the store and risk an accident in the center aisle? Jostle them on your hip as you search desperately for a clerk? What if you have more than one child with you or are pushing a stroller?

Besides that, I am a grown woman and I refuse to go ask for a key to the restroom in a large store known to have public restrooms. I don’t need the aggravation of another errand (get the key, return the key) when I shop.  I expect this amenity when I go into a large store where I’m paying full retail. It’s humiliating to have to go find a clerk in an apron to loan you a key to the loo. And I really don’t like being treated like a thief.

If you have to require patrons to use a key as a security measure, you need to re-think your store configuration (restrooms toward the front? attended help desk nearby?) and your methods. There is nothing sold here that I can’t buy elsewhere. Besides, they have clean, welcoming facilities that don’t require a hall pass to enter.

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