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.

This is why I always end up returning to that store, the one they now call Macy’s:

Yesterday at Nordstrom, I dismissed a pair of DKNY tights…$18 just seemed a little pricey, especially at this point in the season. Tonight, at Macy’s (which was delightfully dead — Monday night might be my favorite new time to shop. Still made it home in plenty of time for "What About Brian?") I picked up the exact same pair, on sale for $12.60.

And I only had to walk three departments over to pay.