Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Age Discrimination in Retail and Services

This is something frustrating I encounter very often. I look young for my age (mid-20s), so people who don't know me often assume that I'm a college student. That's fine and all, if it just means that I get carded more often. Turns out, somewhat logically, people also assume that because I look young, I also have less buying power. Because of this, I find myself receiving less help in retail stores or get talked down to when I do receive services.

The examples that stand out the most for me are at financial institutions. I often get representatives who talk to me condescendingly or assume that I don't have much to save/invest. I had even been skipped over in line at Bank of America so the rep can help the old couple who came in after me while I sat there and waited for another 20 minutes.

When age discrimination is talked about, it usually refers to unequal employment opportunities for seniors, which is prohibited by labor laws. As far as I know, consumer age discrimination is not illegal. What makes it frustrating to me is when the sales representative doesn't know your actual age, but makes assumptions. A lot of times I get straight up ignored after wandering around the same area of the store for 10 min. Then, I see the sales reps immediately offer help to someone who looks much older. One could argue that they're statistically increasing their odds of making a sale by choosing those whom they perceive to have more buying power.

But here's the thing, I live in the SF Bay Area, a region that hosts countless high earning people who look like they're barely out of college. Heck, it's the home of successful young moguls like Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook), Sergey Brin (Google), Aaron Patzer (, just to name a few. The nouveau riche wander around town in T-shirts and jeans but have buying power that people cannot even dream of. To me, the dumbest thing to do around here is to assume. To ignore or act condescendingly means potential loss of a big sale/commission. I'm not saying that I'm rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I deserve the same treatment as anybody else.

Is it just me? Can you think of other examples? Or maybe you've experienced these kinds of discrimination yourself. Are there some types of proven sales strategy that play into this? I'm curious.


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