Multiple guess question: my dear wife does not take me shopping with her to Ikea, because: 1) I spend most of my time criticizing the way they herd you past all their merchandise, 2) I spend the rest of my time pointing out how I never before appreciated most grocery and department stores for letting you quickly access what you want and get out, without herding you like cattle, 3) she doesn’t want to hear it, 4) she doesn’t want to sit with me at the end, either, as I say ‘what the hell is taking them so long to get our box?’ or 5) all of the above.
Get that multiple choice question wrong, and you have the patience to shop in the consumer paradise of 21st century America. My hat is off to you.
Okay, so I’m not a natural shopper. There are worse things to be bad at, I figure. So per yesterday’s story, I bought a TV, but had the wrong vehicle to move it. We can fix that.
I drove home. From Emeryville onto I 880 in Oakland and then under the estuary through the Tube into Alameda and home; I envisioned returning to the store with my wife and asking her to wait in the parking lot with the truck running so as not to risk the starter problem our truck had. But my mother-in-law was there, and offered her Honda CRV instead (voila!), so off we went, back to Emeryville and they waited in the Honda while I went in to the store, receipt in hand, ready to close the deal.
I waited in the queue at customer service. It’s all okay. I gave the young lady the slip of paper and she tapped away at her computer, then called in support. A supervisor arrived and took over, sending a fellow to the back to get the TV, jovially confiding she had some bit of employee gossip for him as he left.
I waited, she tapped at her computer screen, and then she went off to the supervisor’s room. And I waited as the initial clerk helped others. And the fellow returned, telling me my TV was ready and waiting for me up front. So I waited another ten minutes, people-watching, consumer-watching, employee-shuffing-around-and-chatting watching. By walking to the aisle I can look out and see my mother-in-law and wife sitting out in the parking lot, waiting for me.
Just a minor setback, still doing fine with my patience, here, thanks.
Meanwhile, I thought about how in the past you could just walk into a store and pick out what you wanted and pay for it, without having to share a chunk of your life with their clever database and their inventory system. As I waited. And finally, after ten or 15 minutes since the employee was dispatched, I started talking. “Excuse me. What’s the delay?”
“Paperwork. Your paperwork will be right out, sir.”
“Could someone please go get my paperwork, so I can go home?”
Someone went back to the manager’s office where the hot gossip was being dispensed. “She’ll be right out, sir. The paperwork wasn’t completed by the sales department.”
How could that be? They had given me the box an hour ago; we had this transaction down to transport. See, I’m not really convinced patience isn’t overrated sometimes.
Finally she came out, laughing over her shoulder to someone else—I was free to go, about half an hour after I returned.
Except front door security wouldn’t let me leave either. I waved to my wife to pull ‘er up, then had to wait for the certified TV mover guy to come and wield the dolly with my TV box on it. I went to the dolly and leaned it back to see how difficult this was – piece of cake. I turned the dolly toward the door. “Sir, you have to wait, sir.”
Enough of patience. That was plan A. It was time for plan B. “Wait for what? I’ve waited for half an hour. I can do this. You could do this. This is nothing, what the hell do I have to wait any longer for?”
“It’s a store liability issue, sir. You have to wait,” he came and took the dolly away from me.
It ain’t worth relating the rest of our chat, but let’s just say I kept my bantering, laughing, exasperated incredulity going with security boy, until the certified dolly pusher showed up and we pushed the thing 10 feet out the door to the CRV, where we wrestled with getting the corners of the oversized box inside.
And it took some wrestling. I was close to getting out a tire iron and taking it to the styrofoam-stuffed corners, but we didn’t have to go there.
Out of deference to my wife and mother-in-law I did not holler out the window at security boy as we drove off, “Whatever happened to ‘the customer is always right’?!”
It’s home now, and plugged in. It sits on an old dresser I got 25 years ago when I was new to SF, bought from a guy who was moving and sold it to me for $30. The cable screwed right in. I don’t need a top secret decoder box. I don’t need the $99 cable Best Buy told me I needed. In fact, much of my time at Best Buy was spent listening to one of their sales screws try to screw me out of money I didn’t need to pony up to simply get what I wanted.
For decades now I’ve been listening to Republicans telling me how the free market insures quality because “the invisible hand” of consumers will force sellers to cater to our needs.
It’s even maybe a third to half true. But the Romans gave us a better phrase: caveat emptor, long before Adam Smith came along with that over-deified “invisible hand” the laissez-faire crowd wets themselves worshipping, and the Romans got that right: let the buyer be ware.
And let the consumer who goes into Best Buy be especially wary. However invisible the free market hand, the sales screws have only one target in mind, your wallet, and the screws they hope to apply to your person may not be the screwing you want.
And now? Play ball!