Recently I went to Best Buy to purchase a laptop. That's the sort of product I would normally research and buy online, but I had planned poorly and needed the laptop for a trip the next day. A cheerful Best Buy employee helped me narrow my choice to what was clearly the best laptop they carry. It was light, fast, and had a quick boot time. I asked many questions and made my decision. This awesome marvel of modern technology was the machine for me. I liked it so much that the second-best choice sitting sadly next to this triumph of engineering looked like yesterday's bloated trash. I was feeling good about my decision.

A few minutes later the Best Buy employee emerged from the back room to tell me the model I chose wasn't  in stock, and none of the nearby stores had one either. My only choice was the piece of crap laptop that I had mentally relegated to a distant and pathetic second place. I couldn't do it. I left the store.

I drove straight to Office Depot to repeat the process. I asked the cranky Office Depot employee who worked in the computer area which model best fit the criteria I laid out. He pointed to a display model and explained with a confidence bordering on arrogance that this was the machine for me. The price list next to it showed three different models with different features and prices. I asked which price applied. He waived his hand at the sign and mumbled something ambiguous. I had to ask five more times to get him to actually place his finger upon the correct price and clearly state that this was the right one. That's when things turned ugly.

I looked at the model on the price he pointed to and asked where on the actual laptop I could verify that model number. The arrogant sales guy explained that he had worked in this department every day for the past eight months. He explained that if he tells me the laptop is a certain model, it is. End of story.

"But where does it say that on the laptop?" I asked several more times. One of his coworkers came by to ask him a question and he told her that I don't trust him. The situation was starting to get tense so I tried to lighten the mood by saying to his coworker in a jocular tone "We just met." My witticism was met with a scowl.

The cranky Office Depot sales guy booted the laptop and went into the Windows menus to show me the model number and get me off his back. At this point he was clearly annoyed. "There it is," he said bruskly, pointing to the screen with the model number.

"Where's that model number on the price list?" I asked.

The sales guy started talking in a slightly slower than normal way as if explaining something to a moron. He pointed to the model number on the screen and waved his hand at the price list. "It's the middle one, like I said."

Except it wasn't. The laptop model displayed in Windows didn't match any of the models on the price sheet. It wasn't even close. I had to describe the discrepancy to him several times before he was willing to look closely enough to verify it. Awkward. In the end, he admitted he didn't know which laptop he had vigorously recommended to me and didn't even have a way to know how much it would cost. "How long did you say you've worked here?" I asked. That didn't help. I left without a computer.

I had one local computer outlet left. I went to Office Max and was greeted by a bearded geek who actually knew what he was talking about. He listened to my criteria and took me directly to the best choice for me. That model was out of stock, of course, but he warned me of that in advance, so I was okay with it. He was willing to sell me the demo unit for a discount if I didn't mind that the battery life had probably degraded after a few months on display. So I bought his semi-defective laptop because three retail stores into my journey I didn't have a better option for a same-day purchase.

Later that day I went to my local mall to look for some t-shirts. If you haven't been to a retail clothing store recently, let me tell you what you will find. First, you have your hideous clothing choices that no one will ever buy. That's 75% of every store. Then you have the 25% that look good and won't make you look like a sandwich board advertisement for the brand. Within that subset of shirts you will find sizes small and XXL. Nothing else. And we're done.

I don't have much better luck shopping online. At least half of my online purchase attempts are met with an out-of-stock message, defective online store technology that freezes, endless bother about entering codes and passwords, and a nagging feeling in my gut that the positive online reviews are bogus.

All of this makes me wonder how much more I would be willing to shop, and thereby stimulate the economy, if the process weren't so frustrating and painful. My guess is 20% more.

How about you? Do you buy less because the process of shopping is annoying, or do you end up buying the same amount but it takes longer and you're less happy doing it?

[Note: Yes, I know I would have had a better retail experience at the Apple store. But I've owned several Apple computers over the years and every one was an overpriced crash-lemon. Apple can only fool me six or seven times in a row. Now I just buy their stock.]
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +106
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Aug 8, 2012
My Staples story:

I went into Staples to buy a new printer. I was buying a new printer because the price of new color and b/w ink for my current printer is almost as much as a new printer, so I figure I'll just get updated technology every 6 months instead of ink.

While there I saw a nice "all-in-one" PC, with good specs and a decent price. Staples also had a deal where I could get the printer for $50 if I buy a new PC.

So i decide to get the PC, the guy checks the stock, and says they have it. I go to the cash register, wait for a few minutes, with the printer. The guy comes back, he's got a big cardboard box and starts to ring it all up. I notice while he's ringing it up that he's charging me full price for the printer (not $50), but the price for the PC got scanned in for $100 less. At this point I'm deciding whether to point out the error or just keep quiet and get a better price.

Then I look a bit more closely at the cardboard box the PC is in. The box is sealed, but it's the same brand. But it has a picture of a tower PC on the side. I look closely at the specs printed on the side. It's a completely different model. Not the "all-in-one" PC I had picked out.

I point out to the guy that the PC is the wrong one and the price is wrong. And the printer should be $50 as part of the deal. He seems upset that I've interrupted him. But he looks at the box and says "No, it's correct, and I don't get the printer deal with this model."

I point out it's a tower PC and not the all-in-one, and he seems to think that it's just a generic picture of a computer that's the same on every box. After making him double-check the bar-code SKU, he realizes he's got the wrong box from the back. He seems very upset now that he has to go back and get another PC and start over. But I wait, and eventually he brings out another box, which I check.

This time it's the right PC -- it scans with the right price, and the printer gets automatically charged at $50 because the computer in the cash register is smarter than the guy working in the store. So I get what I wanted and leave.

But someone else could have simply bought the first PC he brought out, got overcharged for a printer, got home and then opened the box and wondered where the monitor for the "all-in-one" PC was. Then probably drive all the way back to the store, angry, and waste a lot of time screaming at someone to try and return the PC and maybe keep the printer. And the opened PC would have to be either returned to the manufacturer or sold as an "open box" at a discount.

I wonder how much our economy is "stimulated" by incompetent store personnel.
Aug 8, 2012
Good to know I'm not alone here. Ever since I was a child, the item that I liked in the color that I liked or size that I fit in was never EVER available for me to enjoy the day I went shopping for one. What makes matters worse is that I get terribly excited about getting anything new, even if it's a new computer table.

This has haunted me my entire life. Even right now, I want a particular sleeve for my first apple product, the macbook air- http://www.acmemade.com/product/The-Skinny-Sleeve-MacBook-Air,51,24.htm I want the gray/orange one. Guess what, it's out of stock and has been for a month now.

The shirt that I find nice is like you've observed either in S or XXL :| The thing that I like about shopping in brick and mortar stores is that there is the 'potential' of taking something new home, TODAY! Shopping online is easier, you have a lot of options, but you have to wait until it's shipped and hope that it's just like in the picture. I didn't purchase a galaxy nexus for months because I couldn't go through the wait while it shipped. Same thing with the macbook air. The models available in store don't have 8 gigs of ram. Order online, wait 20 days while it's shipped form china. What makes it worse is my community's rental office closes at 5, which is before I get home everyday, so if I miss a package, it sits there until the next day. If the next day is a weekend...
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2012
What rankles me about retail clothes shopping is that the stores have relegated the displays to the vendors to reduce the store's cost to maintain the stocking. This means that if you are interested in golf shirts that you have to visit each brand's area looking for golf shirts. Perhaps the store thinks that this makes me walk through their ENTIRE stock and that I'll buy more. It works in the reverse on me. I just stomp out and go back to the Internet and order the golf shirt at a fraction of the price delivered directly to my door.

Retail is dead.
Aug 8, 2012
@hockeybrad-Scott's blog had an opinion in it about Macs. If it didn't I would agree with you, but as it is, since I own both Macs and PCs, I consider myself as having the right to chime in about the relative merits of the two.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2012
The majority of Americans are now XXL, hence the selection available.
Aug 8, 2012
I don't like shopping at all, but I find I buy a lot of stuff (necessary and not so much) through Amazon. For something like a laptop, I'll do most of my research on Consumer Reports, select the model I want, and have Amazon ship it to me. I know that doesn't solve your same day problem, but it makes getting things so easy, that there is tons of stuff I would never remember or bother to get if Amazon wasn't so easy. And they make returning easy as well. Bottome line: www.consumerreports.org & www.amazon.com make life and shopping a breeze - and no obnoxious sales people.
Aug 8, 2012
I don't shop much but for me it's more about not having the time to use the stuff I already have so there's just no point in buying more... when I do there are certain stores I prefer specifically for the service/experience in addition to quality of goods: Nordstrom (dress/work clothes), Apple (though crowds/wait can be annoying), Fresh Market, etc.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2012
Other than for food I don't go into retail shops often. Even my clothing I buy mostly online.

Without Amazon and a couple of online outdoor shops I'd buy a lot less.

Regarding your new computer, I can sympathize with you. Fortunately I work at a PC company, can ask colleagues about what to buy and then buy it at our factory outlet at a discount. Nevertheless, I owned my last computer for ten years before replacing it this spring.

(Bloody windows "the finger" 8 will probably prevent my current notebook from being usable that long.)
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2012
Scott, why didn't you go to Costco? Limited selection, limited help, but it's in stock. And I know you are a member, Cover Boy.
Aug 8, 2012
First, this is not a computer debate so commenters please save your biased opinions. This is about shopping. It could be cameras, computer peripherals, smart phones, office supplies, anything.

The only way I can go into one of those stores you mentioned is if I don't talk to anyone who works there. Then, I have to look away at the register because the stupidity of the lengthy check-out process is so frustrating I can't watch it anymore.

I'd say 20-25% is right for me too. If I got the same pleasure out of shopping for awesome gadgets that my wife does out of finding "4 great new tops!" at Macy's (that just happened), I'd do it much more often.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2012
I'm military (please note, my comments do not reflect the views of military members or any armed service), and so I have access to the military stores. They have good service but limited selection-whatever the central manager thinks the store should have. The frustration of being at a military store that serves a military college and not being able to find school supplies...sigh. That said, every time I have to go to a non-military store I cringe.
I think the service part of it is ironically because of the bad economy. You would think that with more folks competing for fewer jobs, only the best would be hired. But instead, only the best qualified are hired, and they are hired for jobs they are overqualified for, and are therefore bitter and not interested in paying attention to their jobs, instead they hang out on monster.com or something (grin).
Meanwhile the folks working at the military stores are mostly wives of military members, so they take good care of us in hopes that their loved ones will get similar service.
Aug 8, 2012

Scott has a well-documented near-field technology disruption aura. The Apples only crashed because Scott heaped healthy doses of Scott-lovin' on 'em, caressing its secret places for hours on end. The valiant Apple computers soaked it all up and tried to give back as good as they got, but prolonged and repeated exposure to Scott's aura was too much for them to bear.

Scott doesn't have nearly as much trouble with PC's because he doesn't love them as much, but he remains bitter that his affections for Apple were not returned so discredits Apple while buying stock to placate his unrequited love. If he can't own an Apple, at least he can own a piece of one.
Aug 8, 2012
I'm surprised you didn't try to order it online and have it shipped to whatever hotel you'd be staying at.

Anyways, shopping is pretty bad. But when you consider it has more phyiscal limitations than the internet, it's partly understandable. Partly. There's still places like fastfood resturants that can't seem to hire people who can remember to put cheese on my cheeseburger. In fact I was at a steak in shake the other day and the person administring the safety quiz told everyone the answer and told them to mark their quizzes 100.

I think I do most of my non-food, non-clothing shopping on amazon right now. Do they have the occasional problem? Sure. It's still better than trying to deal with best buy or having to go to all 3 walmarts and 2 targets in the area to find the one thing I want because none of them carry the same stock.
Aug 8, 2012
And to answer your question, Scott, either things are better here on the east coast, you had a bad day or Im oblivious. Ive occasionally been so exasperated with a salesperson that I didn't buy anything but I can't say thats happened to me two times out of three. And I don't shop much with an eye towards buying anyway. So I can't say that I would buy that much more if the experience was better.
Aug 8, 2012
The closest store to us is a Staples. I don't particularly like shopping there, but my wife needs the closest place that will do copies, and she uses it (business card) and gets those cash back 'rewards' or whatever. So....armed with some coupons and some knowledge, I went in to search for a better wireless router and a spray bottle white board cleaner. Hi AND low tech. As usual there were no sales assoc. on the floor. I searched every aisle - in the back - for the cleaner but no luck, went out to the routers and they're obviously an outlet for 2 'mid-major' brands. I had some idea of what I wanted, but I wasn't impressed by the selection or price, I discovered the coupons ran out a week ago, and I couldn't have used them anyway because they're non-transferrable and my wife wasn't with me. I left the store. I like Office Depot better because they seem to have slightly better prices. OfficeMax looks like it will be empty any day now as most major stores have left their pathetic strip mall location. Best Buy is the farthest away, with the few sales people I've talked to seeming to be at least a little enthusiastic, but their prices are the worst. If you read the online reviews for routers (under $100), you probably won't buy any of them online, because they will most likely have to be returned within days. Time to pull a 'Centronics' and get into Ecko ware and just forget the hi-tech arena. Answer to your questions? Both, depending on needs and time available.
Aug 8, 2012
I'm continually amazed that stores with such poor practices continue to be successful, but I see it everywhere. It's not just tech or clothing stores. Idiocy permeates the entire retail business landscape.

My wife does most of the shopping. I can't tolerate it.
Aug 8, 2012
overpriced crash lemon. Really. I won't argue with overpriced, but Ive owned a lot of macs over the years and would describe none of them as a crash lemon. Ive also owned a lot of PCs. One of them was an overpriced crash lemon and maybe three others just plain died on me. Ive had two macs die on me and one of them was really my own fault. You might say the other one was my fault too (I found out after that Apple had recalled the HD on it). You might call a Mac a lemon if you're disappointed in its software selection, but not a crash lemon. And I tend to like the software that is on my mac better than their Windows counterparts.

May I ask which macs you had trouble with, Scott?
Aug 8, 2012
One of the advantages of being older is that I've been living with my body for a while and have learned what designers and stores offer clothes I like that fit, and I now find shopping much more enjoyable. I've also been fairly lucky ordering online when using review comments.

I'm buying more today because the web offers choices that I never would have had visability to before. I grew up in a small town in Michigan with local choices limited to K-Mart and a couple small shops that catered to moms in polyester. Today, no matter where I live, I can order anything I can possibly want. Recently a friend mentioned liking jewelry with a stone called Larimar that I'd never heard of. A quick web search and I'd bought a necklace and bracelet. I love it!
+23 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2012
"...overpriced crash lemon".

And you thought pissing off feminists or right-wing gun nuts was bad. You might need an asbestos suit with that laptop...
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 8, 2012
Related story:

On the west coast, retail stores are suing states like California to force Amazon and other online stores to collect sales tax. In theory, when you buy something online, you need to declare that on your taxes, but online stores are not forced to collect the tax when an item is purchased the same way brick and mortar stores are. This would seem to take away one of Amazon's key advantages: lower pricing (since no one claims the sales tax). However, Amazon is turning this into a positive. Since they'll have to collect sales tax anyway, there is nothing stopping them from opening brick and mortar stores, which they are starting to do on the West coast. What this means for you is that, with more distribution locations (with more stores opening up), you can soon be able to buy something online in the morning and have it delivered to you that afternoon.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog