Your numerous comments about Macy’s on this very blog have been read by higher-ups at Macy’s. I had a very frank conversation with the pr director, who was aware that I typically wrap up the year with a column on retail resolutions – things I think retailers need to do better in the coming year to keep our business. This year, Macy’s wanted to be more proactive and agreed to share its own goals for ‘08. Read all about it in my Savvy Shopper column the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sunday, Dec. 30. And on Saturday, Dec. 29, tune in to "Shop Girls" on FM107.1. Macy’s pr director Natalie Bushaw will join us at 10:30 a.m. to talk about our complaints and what the department store is doing to address them. Feel free to chime in – our number is 651-641-1071. Or as always, comment here – it makes a difference!

Also, a couple of blog readers have commented on the little stickers Macy’s now puts on items at point of purchase. Those stickers do indeed replace the need for a gift receipt. Bring back an item with a sticker on it, and the salesperson will have all the info needed to make a return (same way they do it at Nordstrom). It’s a good idea, but as usual, there’s a disconnect. Macy’s sales associates are not necessarily explaining the stickers or the fact that you don’t need a gift receipt if the item has one. Sigh.

My patience has been rewarded. I’ve been shopping for twin beds for my (uninterested) 3-year-old and finally picked one out a few weeks ago at Room & Board. At $499, plus another $300 for the trundle, it was actually cheaper – and more attractive – than the ones we saw at Pottery Barn Kids and Hom. But, knowing that the annual Room & Board clearance sale starts the day after Christmas, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it in advance. So, I went online first thing this morning to see if my bed had been marked down, and discovered it was gone. Not part of the new 2008 collection; not in the clearance section. Instead, there was a very similar looking new bed with a different name and a higher price. Foiled? Not quite. Called the store and learned that the floor model was still there. Got the bed and trundle for $525 – a really good deal. Feeling very accomplished, indeed. Now, if we can just get the kid to sleep in it.

People (well, people who like to shop) tend to think I have a dream job. Even those who don’t like to shop are usually intrigued by visions of me running through malls all day grabbing whatever I want. Yes, I am one of the few who can say to her boss "I’ll be at the mall" and have that not be a bad thing. And I do spend more time than most at stores, but never as much as I spend at a desk. People are considerably less likely to want to steal my gig when they find out that I can’t accept free stuff. I get better swag than anyone at the paper and regularly have stores offering me gift cards and discounts, but I have to turn it all down to avoid conflicts that would make it seem there’s some personal agenda behind what I write.
Still, as I drove around town last week with a trunk full of expensive presents borrowed from local shops, I was struck by the oddness of what I do. I literally walk into stores, say, "this is cool!" and they let me take it, often without even leaving a business card. It’s an odd power. I do it to show gifts, trends, hot items on TV or in the paper. And heck, it’s a lot more fun than pushing paper. But what it really amounts to: a whole lot of schlepping.

It’s been six months since Macy’s virtually eliminated paper shopping bags – you know, the ones sturdy enough to hold several purchases and tall enough to contain a gift box. That’s right, welcome to the holidays at Macy’s, where you have to carry your box separately because it doesn’t fit into the flimsy plastic bag – that is, if you can get a gift box. Half the time, they don’t seem to have boxes behind the register (did the holiday just sneak up on them?) and I’ve yet to encounter a sales associate who offered to locate one for me. I went out of my way to the customer service desk to get a box – only to discover when I got home that they had given me one too small.

And why do Macy’s employees seem surprised that shoppers want gift receipts? Most associates don’t seem ask, and when you tell them you need one, they get all hot and bothered and have to void the transaction and start over. 1. Why not set up the registers to automatically spit out a gift receipt, like they do at Target, or at least make it possible to add one at the end of the transaction. 2. If that really is not possible, why not train associates to ask before ringing if the customer wants a gift receipt.

After all, we’re trying to follow the rules.

Which is worse: no sales associate behind the register, or an associate who stands there, doing nothing, even when the customer asks for help? Not once, but twice in the past week I have directly asked about sizes I couldn’t find on the rack, only to receive a shrug from the staff. The first time, it happened at J.Crew. I was filing through stacks of shirts, unable to turn up a large. I told the employee who was folding at the table next to me and she said "Yeah, those are popular." Not "I’m sorry, we’re all out of that size" or "Here, let me check for you." Eventually, I found one on my own. And when they asked at the register if anyone had been helping me, I promptly replied "No."

It happened again in the men’s department at Macy’s where I was initially delighted to find an employee behind the register, only to discover he had no interest in coming out to help me find a jacket for my dad. They "probably" didn’t have it, he told me. I moved on.

I realize it’s not terribly original to complain about bad service at this time of year, but honestly, retailers should know what’s happening on the front lines.

Corporate retailers are quick to pull the plug on new concepts, and such is to be the fate of cool Mall of America footwear and accessories shop One Thousand Steps, which apparently wasn’t performing as well as the suits from parent company Pac Sun had hoped. Too bad, because I rather liked having this edgier option at the mall, featuring some lesser known brands and a slick assortment of handbags priced at less than $100. On the bright side: everything is currently 40 percent off.