Sale by (de)fault and lessons learned

This week, I encountered 2 scenarios where the store's fault (or something close to fault) resulted in a discount.

1) I went out to dinner with a couple of friends the other night. When we first got our menus, we noticed something funky. Two of us had menus that looked the same, but the third had a menu where the pages were reversed. On my menu, there's a dish that didn't have a price, but the price was listed on that third "weird" menu. Other than the seemingly minor discrepancies, we didn't think much more of it. We ate, had a merry time...and then the bill came.

The friend with the "weird" menu was charged a dollar more. We asked to have a look at the menu again, but we got one of the "normal" menus with the higher price listed. The lawyer in me screamed "misrepresentation," but since I didn't see the "weird" menu, I couldn't be sure of the price. We asked for the waitress again and explained that our friend was under the impression that the dish wasn't quite so expensive. The waitress explained that some of the menus haven't been changed, and the "best they can do" is to give us a 10% discount. Wow, even better than we thought.

It's really dumb of the management to knowingly keep inconsistent menus. First, it's really deceptive, and it's going to hurt self-doubting customers who don't speak up. Second, if they've been put on notice of a problem and still not change it, they deserve to lose money. If they're too cheap to reprint menus, just white it out and write in the new price. It's really not that hard to do.

Bottom line: speak up when there's a problem! You might end up getting a better deal. If they refuse to own up to their ineptitude, take it out of the tip.

2) My printer is out of toner, but I've been too cheap to shell out the requisite $90 for a replacement cartridge; at that price I may as well spend another $20 and get myself a new laser printer. Hence, I went to school to get my printing done. One of the perks of being on a student publication is that I get to print as much as I want without worrying about running out of money on my account (the down side, of course, is sleep deprivation). $90 vs. free (plus de minimus gas price)...hmmm...

Unfortunately, I couldn't get free mailing labels. I needed my print job to look really professional, and its simply not possible to print onto a huge manila envelop. Off to Staples I went. The trip also gave me an opportunity to pick up other stationary items that I needed.

What I thought would be a short trip turned out to be a 30-minute nightmare.

I spent some time comparing prices and gathering what I needed. Sometimes I wish I'm not such a cheapskate, since I took way too long to figure out what's a better value. It really shouldn't be an epic battle. First, I was ensnared in the price-per-unit vs. overall price conundrum. Should I get 250 2" X 4" Avery labels for $12 or 1000 Staples labels for $20? After much debate, I decided that I would never use all 1000 labels, so the overall price side wins. When I was about to head out to the checkout counter, I saw that the same Avery labels in a different display were only $10. I picked it up and saw that it was made for ink jet printers. Wait a minute...does it really make a difference? I thought about putting it down and heading back for the Staples "for laser or inkjet printers" mega-pack until my senses kicked in. The "special" technobauble that makes it inkjet-worthy only makes the ink dry faster...it doesn't seem to do much else. A label is a label is a label, it's not going pull a Wicked Witch of the East inside the printer or cause anything to explode. This is just like the "makes your hair grow faster" gimmick on shampoo bottles. Hence, I stuck with the Avery "inkjet" labels.

When I went to pay for my stuff, things were looking good: the two types of labels I bought were both cheaper than marked. But the good times stopped rolling as soon I swiped my credit card. It didn't work. Apparently the customer right in front of me had the same problem, but that time they fixed it. When it was my turn, the whole system just went kaput. I felt like a Typhoid Mary who's holding everyone else up, but it wasn't my fault. It wasn't really Staple's fault, either, but it's more like vicarious liability since they operated the store. We tried other registers, and none of them worked. They rebooted the registers, rinsed and repeat, and still nothing. This went on for some time. I would have paid cash and put an end to this madness, but unfortuntely I only had $22 and the items I wanted were quite a few dollars more.

Finally, I said I was going to purchase one less item (envelops) so that I can afford to pay for the rest. I really needed all the other stuff, including the pens that a hard-at-work classmate had asked me to buy. I would have barely scraped by with all my loose change. Fortunately, after hearing how little money I had, the manager profusely apologized and said that he'll give me a discount so that I can afford to pay for everything I set out to purchase. I ended up leaving the store with a dollar and change in my wallet. The guy in line behind me was trying to buy a notebook on his company's credit card, but the machines still weren't working. I don't know if he was smart and played dumb on purpose, but he said he didn't have any cash other than the employer's credit card. The store manager just handed it to him and said "have a nice day." I was quite incredulous. The notebook seemed pretty cheap so making it free didn't seem like a big deal, but I wonder where the manager would have drawn the line?

If they knocked down the prices for the other customers standing in line, that Staples would have lost quite a few dollars, but at least it's better than having their goodwill take a huge hit. They staunched the flow of losses with the customers coming in later. While I was still sorting out the mess, some employees were standing at the door to tell incoming customers about the problem and asked if they had cash.

Despite the frustration, I thought the store handled it very well. The manager and employees were courteous, and I felt that I was fairly compensated for the troubles. Better yet, I saved money for my colleague. Now I have $2 plus change in my wallet.

Take home lessons from scenario 2:
-you might get a better price-per-unit if you buy in bulk, but you'll end up losing money if you know you won't use it. Like my friend said, you'll have a lifetime supply of yellowing stationary.
-Contemplate whether the bells and whistles of a product really make a difference. If they make a product cost more, is the price increase justified? Will you actually use the bells and whistles?
-I can't stress enough the importance of being a patient customer. Yelling and screaming and complaining isn't going to get you anywhere when you know the store really isn't in a position to fix a problem. If you're nice, they'll be nice to you. Even if a discount isn't offered, don't blow your top. Try asking "I've been a pretty good customer. Don't I deserve a break for this?" or words to that effect. If they say yes, that's great, but if not, you can just laugh it off (in other words, you won't look stupid).
-While it's tempting to score free merchandise by saying you have no money, it's probably not a good idea, especially if you're a repeat customer. You'll save a couple bucks, but is it worth steeply depreciating your reputation? In law school, the profs keep telling us it's important to maintain a good reputation, because the legal community is fairly tight-knit and you never know who you'll be dealing with in the future (have you heard about the notorious Diana Abdala yet?). Even if you're not in a small community, you never know who you'll run into again, and it takes only one person who knows you to learn about your dishonesty and cause a lot of problems.


Marcy said...

Excellent post. =)

The tips at the bottom are great. I've always believed that being nice and patient are much better ways to deal with things than getting mad. Especially in situations like the ones you described, if you get all mad you end up yelling at someone who likely had nothing todo with the problem to begin with, and all you succeed in doing is making yourself look like an a-hole (and if you go to that store often, your face WILL be remembered).

Sales Rack Raider said...


Being nice is especially important when it comes to restaurant visits, if only to avoid "extra ingredients" in your entree.