Monday, February 19, 2007

The Hidden Cost of Big Box Retailers

In the form of an anecdote, of course.

Today, I headed to the local major electronics store (not Best Buy) to get a few miscellaneous things, one of which was compressed air. I don't normally need it--I go through so little that I might be better off letting my money make interest in the bank than buying three cans--so I just wanted a single can. Most were in packs of three, but some where singles. I found one, and it seemed to match the $4.xx price tag below it.

After picking up something else (and deciding to just order the other stuff online to save money), I started waiting in an extraordinarily long line, a line Disneyland would be proud of (the store was even themed like Disneyland). After the wait, they scanned in my stuff. The problem was that the individual can didn't show up and probably came form a three pack.

And now dear reader, where we started: the clerk wouldn't just sell me the can. I was polite, I didn't push him to do it, or anything, but I could purchase the single can I found with other single cans.

Every small business owner would have said "oh, well, if the three were $10, is $4 fine for the single?" The clerk didn't. In his world of SKUs and barcodes, this simply wasn't an option. For me, going back and waiting in line again for something so small wasn't an option. I purchased the other item and left.

In big box retailers, clerks lack, the power and the appreciation for the customer, and appreciation of the business to make a simple gesture like that. When people lose concern for others, the world becomes a very anesthetized place. Uniform, big box retailers encourage this general lack of concern among people.

I'm going to try to surrender an extra few dollars in exchange for a retailer that recognizes the value of my time and loyalty. We all know the tradeoffs of mom and pop vs. big box, but it had more personal meaning when 30 minutes stood between me and what I already stood in line to buy.

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