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Why Retailers Won't Let Us Just Buy in Peace

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- You'd think $1.98 worth of shoelaces at a Payless (PSS) shoe store would be too small a purchase to inspire a request for a phone number at the checkout.

Even though a customer at the adjacent line happily gave their digits we, unable to quickly recall a fake phone number from The Rejection Hotline, merely explained that we'd rather not.

No matter where you shop, retailers want to know more about you, with phone numbers and ZIP codes being the least of it. There are reasons they can't just sell you an item and say goodbye.

The moment felt far more awkward than it rationally should have. After all, no good can come from giving our home phone to a shoe store. "Hi, Joe, this is Payless ... look, we're moving next weekend and we were wondering if you could swing by to help? We'll have pizza and beer!"

Is it really too much these days for us to just be able to shop in peace? Why is it so hard to just pay for a purchase and go our merry way without being harangued for personal information that would be more in line with a mortgage application?

Buying a speaker cable at Radio Shack (RSH) -- the longtime trend setter in customer annoyance -- we had to repeatedly decline an extended warranty, credit card offer and request for home address. At a Borders bookstore, up until hours of that location being shuttered as part of the chain's bankruptcy measures, we were still asked to do ourselves a favor and pay $20 for a preferred customer discount card. Declining the offer elicited the sort of reaction one would get by admitting that they enjoy strangling puppies.

Think of the gauntlet one has to run at Best Buy (BBY). First a worker tries to upsell you. Then useless Geek Squad add-ons are dangled -- even if one has been computer literate since the fresh-faced teen in a blue vest was no more than a come-hither glint in his daddy's eye.

Then -- after beating back offers for "optimization" and refusing to believe there is nothing stock that hasn't been left unmolested in its box, unsullied by Geek hands -- you get the extended warranty pitch. Translation: "We sell crap and it is gonna break."

Off to the cash register, where there are yet more offers to extend the warranty. Then there is a request to sign up for a preferred customer card. There is also the opportunity to add 18% interest to our purchase by applying on the spot for a credit card. Finally, there comes the "good news" that we can "qualify" for a trial subscription to a variety of magazines.

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