Sunday, August 19, 2007


The customer was right once

While I'm on about retail sales (as with the entry about packaging), here's another story. A few years ago, a new store opened near where I live, a branch of a national housewares chain. They sent around a 20%-off-one-item coupon in the mail, and I went to check it out.

As it happens, I'd been looking for a certain type of cooking pan, and I found a Farberware pan that was just the thing: a 4-qt heavy stainless-steel casserole with a lid. “Free with $150 Farberware purchase, a $50 value!”, said the sign. That was the only cookware item I wanted, and it didn't appear to be for sale directly. But, I thought, the sign says “a $50 value”, $50 minus the 20%-off coupon is $40, and I think that's a fair price for it. Thinking that they could sort something out, I took it, along with a few other, unrelated items, to a register.

The young woman rang everything up, then looked at the tally, and, being sufficiently aware, saw that the pan had come up as 1 cent. “One cent?”, she exclaimed. I explained. She called a manager over, who said, without a moment's thought, that I “couldn't” buy the pan separately, only with the requisite $150 co-purchase. “But,” said I, “I only want that one pan. Isn't there some way you can arrange to have me buy it? Surely you sell enough Farberware products to cover the promotion requirements.” Nope... can't do it. “OK, then, I don't want anything, thanks. Bye.” “Bye,” they said. “Have a nice day,” they added, as I left, empty-handed.

Yeah, I was asking them to do something out of the ordinary, I know. In another day, the manager would have managed (ahem) to sell me the pan I wanted. No more; times have changed. The customer is no longer right; the customer now has to do things the store's way, the national chain's way. A small, privately owned store would probably still have found a way to sell me what I wanted, but there a very few of those around now.

And so I wound up buying the item on a web site, and the store has simply lost my business — not only didn't I buy the other items, but I won't likely hurry back to the store (indeed, I think I've been in that store but once more in these few years). And the saddest thing about what's happened to the retail business is that they don't care.

Because with local stores, the people who dealt with us had a stake in the business, and were directly affected when they lost a sale. Neither the cashier nor even the manager at this chain store really had a reason to care that I didn't buy what I was going to buy, that I left and won't come back. It's just another customer, one of many, and they don't see the bottom line in any useful way.

As it stands, though, the chain lost a $40 sale of that pan, the sale of $96 worth of other items that I was to have bought (six plates at $16 each), and my future business. I wrote a letter, at the time, to their “Guest Relations” department (guest; oh, please), saying much the same thing I've said above (I wrote this from my copy of the letter). It didn't surprise me that they never answered.

Is that really the way they want to be doing business?


Michelle said...

Kids today!

Martha Brockenbrough said...

I do a lot of online shopping, and in the last week had two crazy experiences:

1) A company I've ordered from before wrote to say they had a question about my billing address (stored in their system), and I needed to call their number (not toll free), or they'd assume I wanted to cancel the order. I was happy to let them assume that, and made my purchase elsewhere.

2) A company I haven't ordered from took my credit card number and info, and said I'd be billed when the order shipped. Then a salesman called me and left a message for me to call them. They did not state the reason. I did call, and the salesman was puzzled. I repeated my name, and said I'd made an order. He said, "Oh!" and handed me off to someone else. I once again said why I was calling, and she said they'd be faxing me an invoice that I could fax back. For an ONLINE order I'd already placed. I said I did not have a fax machine, so she said I could print, sign, scan and e-mail the document. I told her I'd just as soon cancel the $530 order.

Although there are excellent exceptions (including a clothing-label company that caught a typo in my $5 order and called to fix it -, customer service is dead.

Maggie said...

I find the feeling (or lack thereof) goes two ways. I don't like to return things to small stores, and shopping in a large chain is like a game that you try to win.