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The Problem with Shopping - Scott Adams' Blog

The Problem with Shopping

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 ┬áin 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.]