Shopping -- 11/28/03

Friday Five

1. Do you like to shop? Why or why not?
No, mostly I don't like to shop. Shopping can be extremely frustrating: traffic jams, difficulty finding the items I want, ignorant clerks who know nothing about anything. I do get some enjoyment out of food shopping in certain stores. I sometimes enjoy going shopping with Nancy (this may date back a quarter century to a shopping trip we took to buy a bunch of new towels in anticipation of moving in together). In many cases, I'd much rather shop online. If a particular site does not have what I want, the click of a mouse can take me to another site. In the case of brick and mortar stores, that would mean that I've wasted a lot of time driving there, finding a place to park, finding where in the store they should have the item that they actually don't have in stock, and then I've got to drive further, struggle with traffic and parking and trying to figure out how this next store arranges merchandise. Online is so much easier.

A lot of this may go back to when I was a kid -- in a small (30k population) city in upstate New York -- where the retail attitude seemed to be "If we don't carry it, you're out of luck." Customer service? What's that? I'm not very forgiving of poor attitude and poor service.

2. What was the last thing you purchased?
Something physcical? -- Beer -- a six-pack of Newport Storm and a nine-pack of Magic Hat. (Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of having a lot of people at our house that evening.). Service? A haircut this afternoon (Sue at Guys & Gals on Main St. in Wakefield.)

3. Do you prefer shopping online or at an actual store? Why?
Online. (See question #1.)

4. Did you get an allowance as a child? How much was it?
Yes, starting somewhere around 2nd grade. It was a weekly allowance based on ten cents per year of age -- thus, at age ten it was a dollar per week. It was expected that my brother and I would perform various household chores; however, prompt attention (without requiring any reminders) and superior performance could lead to bonuses. For example, a heavy snowfall cleared away before Dad got home from work might earn a dollar bonus.

5. What was the last thing you regret purchasing?

This may sound strange, but I don't know. That isn't to say that I never regret a purchase; it's just that I can't think of what might be the most recent purchase that I regret. And I'm not going to sit here for half an hour trying to think of what it might be.

As I noted in answering the first of those questions, poor service or poor treatment can really tick me off. That might go back to resentment at the poor service you can get as a teenager. Whatever the root cause, I can bear grudges against companies.

For example, back when I was an undergraduate in college, I'd seen an ad for a men's suit (a denim suit which, for some odd reason, appealed to me then) made by a big name brand company. So I went to a large store in my town that made a big point of carrying a full line of clothing by that particular brand. My problem with them was not so much that they didn't have that suit, it was that the saleman insisted that they did not even make such a thing. I asked him if he could then explain why the manufacturer would pay a fairly steep price for a full page ad in a leading men's magazine for something they didn't make. I never shopped at that store again and was quite pleased when they went out of business a few years later.

When I first moved to Binghamton (NY) I needed to do a large grocery shopping, so I naturally went to the same brand of supermarket I had been using in Monticello -- the Great American chain. I loaded up my cart (trolley, I guess, to those in the U.K.) with groceries, more groceries than I had cash in my wallet, so I had to stop at the office to cash a check. I had a cart full of groceries, my son Adam (about a month and a half short of being two years old) sitting in the child seat on the cart, I'm in my late twenties, clean shaven (I started my beard a week or two later), presentable, wearing a sports jacket, I have my checkbook and drivers license in hand. I say to the assistant manager "I need to write a check." and his reply (with a very sarcastic tone) was "Are you going to buy any groceries here?" My cart full of groceries is plainly visible, but I don't think a civil question would have bothered me -- it was the extremely rude sarcasm that ticked me off. I picked Adam up and said "I had been planning on buying the groceries in this cart but not any longer." And I walked out -- leaving the cart full of groceries -- and went a mile down the road to a Grand Union market (which was actually closer to our apartment) and for the next two and a half years that Grand Union got most of my supermarket dollars instead of the Great American.

I used to really enjoy Chex cereals -- I almost never bought anything else -- Rice Chex, Wheat Chex, Corn Chex. One day -- when Adam was around five -- we were in a market that had a huge end of aisle display of a cereal called "Crispy Rice." Yes, it was an obvious imitation of Rice Crispies. Adam was interested because it had pictures of Hot Wheels cars on the front -- Free! Hot Wheels! Free! -- Looking at box more closely it was apparent that the car was not in the cereal box; this was a mail-in deal, send in two box-tops plus the form printed on the back of the box and get a Hot Wheels car in the mail. The side of the box showed that the cereal was made by the Quaker Oats company, the same company that made the Chex cereals. So I bought two boxes. When I went to fill out the form to mail in, I saw in the fine print on the form on the back of the box that the offer had already expired. There was still almost a year to go on the expiration date of the cereal (printed on the box top) but the Hot Wheels offer had expired. I found this very annoying and Adam was upset. So I a letter of complaint to the Quaker Oats company, a very calm letter, nicely typed, explaining how much I enjoyed Chex cereals, how we had purchased Crispy Rice because of the Hot Wheels offer, enclosing the form and the box-tops to prove we had purchased the requisite two boxes, and asking if there was something that they could do. Now I did not really expect them to have a spare Hot Wheels toy sitting around somewhere in corporate headquarters; I was mostly looking for a letter of apology. I never got one. They never replied. I stopped buying Chex cereal. I stopped buying anything from Quaker Oats. If I saw on a label that some product totally unrelated to cereal was actually owned by Quaker, I would stop buying it. I boycotted Quaker for twenty years! Finally, one day, I was shopping and I decided that twenty years was long enough, their lack of acknowledgement of my letter had cost them the sale of hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of cereal -- at least one thousand boxes, perhaps even twice as much as that, plus all of those other products. So I bought a box of Rice Chex. I tried it the next day for breakfast and discovered that I didn't especially care for it. Another ten years has gone by. I no longer bother to boycott all Quaker products (at some point the entire company was purchased by Pepsi) but their lack of response to my 1973 letter has cost them thirty years of cereal sales to my household.

Yes, I can bear a grudge.

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