Lessons from Brazil – Being a Customer


This post was inspired by recent outings of mine. I’m going to focus on high-traffic areas where there’s a fair amount of retail shops. In such a situation, how a customer is treated depends on the number of other customers in the store. If there are many customers when you walk in, it’s likely the place will be a madhouse. There, you’ll have the rule followers (who actually wait where they are supposed to) and two types of rule breakers.

The first type of rule breaker just floats around the store and you’re never really sure what they are doing, when they came in and who is helping them. It’s possible they will get on their cell phone at some point, pacing around, and it’s also possible they’ll watch the store’s TV for several minutes. The second type is the cutter. They walk in, ignore the line and go straight to the counter or an employee. The place is such a madhouse that neither the customer nor the employee knows what’s really going on.

If you find yourself in the store at the busy time, you need to be really firm and hold your ground. Speak up if someone cuts or if your turn was skipped. Brazil is a land of action and if you lack it, you’ll be left behind.

In the case of a slow period in the day (in a usually high traffic area), you might walk in and be helped within a few minutes or you may be followed around the store (like you’re a known thief). During slow periods, managers don’t cut staff. They actually just keep them on, meaning you can walk into a store, for example, and see 20 employees just standing around. Actually the many-employees-per-one-customer thing is quite normal to see in Brazil. But hey, millions of Brazilians need to put food on their plate and pay the bills.

All that being said, you won’t find all of these things at every place. I’ve taken a mixture of experiences at different kinds of shops (bookstores, copy stores, sporting goods stores). To finish, I’d like to give special mention to Lojas Americanas which employs the single serpentine line, thereby enforcing fairness and a “first come, first serve” attitude.


I’ll keep it short and sweet. Sure, craziness can ensue in US retail but it’s an orderly kind of crazy. Lines are generally respected, both by employees and customers. Worst situation? A clothing store before Christmas…good luck being helped in a reasonable amount of time.


One thought on “Lessons from Brazil – Being a Customer

  1. For those not familiar with Brazilian labor laws, the reason that no staff is ever cut during the slow time is that there is absolutely no incentive for doing so, unless someone is about to hit overtime. Salaries are monthly and standard work weeks are 44 hours (40 for white collar), so the boss will be paying you for being there or for being home, so you can bet on being there.

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