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A Bluelight Moment in a High-Life Store

At the risk of sounding like my fellow grinch, Keith Hammonds, I haven't begun to think about holiday gifts yet. I can't. I'm mired in my annual internal "There's way too much commercialism around this whole thing" debate that I have to sort through before I finally get over it, panic, and spend way too much on everyone. So last weekend, trying to get inspired, I dropped into one of my favorite New York stores, Kate's Paperie. Filled with heavy-card stock thank-you notes and thick buttery leather photo albums, Kate's is the sort of classy-chic place you expect to spot Sarah Jessica Parker chatting in her Manolos around every rack of tastefully girlie gifts. In a world where handwritten cards — from friends, not flacks — are a gift in themselves, it's a guilty pleasure of a shopping experience.

But just as I was starting to enjoy the Christmas carols overhead, they lurched to a sudden stop. "Attention Kates shoppers" — boomed the speakers — "we've got a printing demonstration going on at the front of the store." The perky promotional voice went on, destroying the upscale vibe of the store. I went from feeling like an extra in an episode of "Sex and the City" to a bargain hunter in the aisles of Kmart. And so I stopped, put down the outrageously overpriced box of letterpress Christmas cards I was about to buy, and walked out.

You'd think retailers would understand this by now. But my moment at Kate's is the perfect example of an incomplete customer experience. A retailer might have the best designed environment, or the friendliest service, but commit the slightest off-brand glitch, and she'll turn on her heels and head for the door.