Michael O’Hare seems to know:
The big stores that sell me stuff cheap have even figured out a way to imitate the unrehearsed social intercourse of family-scaled retail. At the local Safeway, and Fry’s, and Best Buy, staff who are complete strangers greet me walking down an aisle with “Hi! How are you doing?” in a creditable imitation of the way people who know each other enough to care about the answer interact. At the Safeway checkout, the clerk always asks “did you find everything you wanted?” [though they never seem the least bit interested if I tell them about something they’re out of] and then offers “help out to your car?” This one puzzled me as I do not look especially frail, have just pushed the same load of groceries around the store in a wheeled cart by myself, and there are no steps between the counter and my car; I asked about it and was told the clerks are instructed to ask everyone, and indeed they ask my very fit students too. Of course the effect of this robotic pseudo-friendliness is exactly the opposite of Mr. Fabrizio’s bending the comic book rule. The “hi’s” and eye contact at Best Buy are actually uglier; this distasteful little fakery is put on because it has been shown that people are less prone to shoplift if someone has made eye contact with them and uttered some sort of greeting. I have started reassuring these folks “don’t worry, I’m not planning to steal anything!” but they don’t seem pleased to hear it; indeed some give me an unmistakable fish eye. Odd.
I often feel guilty for blowing off these people. I know they’re just trying to keep their terrible jobs, but I also know that feeling bad about shunning them is a natural reaction that does nothing to purify their motives. The exception to all that is the local Best Buy, where they’re so smarmy and so aggressive that it destroys any illusion that they’re only trying to be friendly or helpful.