The Thanks You Get

Lamenting the demise of handwritten correspondence is one of those trends—like knitting and wearing giant, sparkly brooches—that tend to be adopted by those yearning to project their image into a sweetly superior, more mannered era. But a woman bemoaning the lost art of letter-writing at a dinner party is only sabotaging her own fashion credentials. That’s because anyone who regularly flashes plastic at swanky department stores or certain boutiques receives plenty of proper thank-you notes in the mail. Granted, they’re from commission-hungry salespeople who probably wouldn’t recognize the personally thanked customer unless she came back to return everything. But at a time when text-messaging is easier than talking, and Evites abound, they count.

Or do they? Sure, the salesperson thank-you is one of the last vestiges of ink-on-paper postal communication. But it’s also a commercial ploy and a blatant insult, like a friend inviting you over for coffee and trying to sell you vitamins. It appeals to the sucker in me and irritates the cynic, often at the same instant: when I’m eagerly ripping open the envelope.

These post-spree greetings, required by employers at some stores and strongly suggested at others, typically come on company note cards and include warm wishes for you and your new suit, handbag, or entire fall wardrobe. The better ones include a specific detail to make you feel extra-special, such as the card I received from a saleswoman at Malia Mills, wishing me a lovely honeymoon in St. Lucia and Anguilla. I actually thought, in an odd, grandmotherly way, This girl may have rumpled hair and a tattoo, but she has great manners!

A colleague who received more Christmas cards from Prada, Miu Miu, and Barneys salespeople than from actual friends last year is completely desensitized. “The second I am touched, I think, Oh, my God. I’m a loser,” she says. In her vast experience, retail thank-yous follow a rigid structure: “First, they thank you for spending thousands of dollars, and then they always tell you about the sale that’s happening, as if you couldn’t figure out that this isn’t a friendship.”

I prefer the softer sell of a restrained “Hope to see you soon,” and such distinctions can make or break future deals. A prompt, well-written, error-free note earns my repeat business. I still remember a salesman at Jeffrey who devoted over an hour, on a Saturday during a frenzied January sale, to showing me every shoe in size 4 1⁄2 (many of which were stashed in the back) to consider for my mom, who lives in Virginia. He shipped them to her in plush shoe bags, and to me he sent a note complimenting (in a sincere, not sucking-up way) my daughterly efforts. Since then, I’ve associated the store with excellent service and cool handwriting.

But the gimmick can also backfire terribly. A friend recently received a note from a downtown department store featuring bubbly, oversize script, two scratched-out spelling mistakes, one glaring omission (“I hope to see in the store more often”), and a smiley face next to the saleswoman’s signature. In this case, she shouldn’t have sent a note at all. Her employer would certainly be grateful.

Then again, I marveled at that epistolary train wreck and described it to several friends. For better or for worse, the store had worked its way into my consciousness. I’d fallen victim to old-fashioned marketing at its finest.

The Thanks You Get