City Decree: Be Nice to Customers

Next time do not be shy to ask a salesclerk to slice your kolbasa. It's your legal right.

According to a new city decree designed to defend the rights of consumers, Moscow's salesclerks are obliged to comply with customer requests to slice their "gastronomic" purchases. The decree, issued this month by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, covers a range of regulations that must be followed by retail stores in the capital.

Beginning with purely bureaucratic stipulations, the decree ventures into the nitty-gritty of the Moscow shopping experience. Article I.9, for instance, states that stores are obliged to serve customers caught between the cashier and the sales counter at closing time. In other words, if the customer has paid for items but not yet received them, the store cannot close its doors before handing over the goods.

Retail stores also do not have the right to surprise customers by closing without warning for a sudden remont (repairs) or sanitarny den (cleaning day). Not only do they have to receive permission from municipal authorities, but the stores must display notice of any temporary closure at least five days in advance, and must advise their customers of the location of the nearest store selling similar goods.

"Of course, of course, we always do these things," said Tatyana Magalnik, a salesclerk at the Ogonyok produce store on Pervaya Tverskaya-Yamskaya Ulitsa.

Several store directors and salesclerks asked about the decree Friday said they saw nothing unusual about the city dictating such details to both state and private stores.

"The city has to defend the rights of consumers," said Sergei Yudintsev, deputy general director of RTM, the Russian-Swiss-Austrian joint venture that runs Shop No. 1 near Mayakovsky Square.

One regulation that Yudintsev questioned, however, was the section that said that "self service" stores, where customers take items from shelves themselves rather than selecting goods kept behind the counter, do not have the right to demand that customers leave their bags at the front of the store while they shop.

"It's not just to protect the store, but also to protect the consumer," said Yudintsev. "A lot of stores sell similar goods and a person could be accused of stealing things that he brought in from another store."Strict rules governing trade are not new in Moscow -- and neither are loose interpretations of them. The decree may state that salesclerks must be "polite, patient and attentive," but that does not mean they will be.

Inadvertently suggesting that good customer service cannot be legislated, a sales director at Jewelry Center No. 47 on Tverskaya Ulitsa curtly answered a customer who requested permission to ask a question.

"Yes, you may ask a question, but not at the moment," the sales director said, raising a finger in the air authoritatively before returning to a languorous perusal of the 12-page decree on consumer rights. "I'm busy."