Bargain Hunting?

When I was a kid, shopping with my mother was an adventure. You got dressed up in your “good” clothes, went downtown, had an adult salesperson who remembered your name help you, bought what you needed, charged it on a store charge account, and then had lunch in the store restaurant that had linen napkins! There were three department stores in town, my mother had a favorite, and we probably did 90% of our shopping there. I believe I just outed myself as old, old, old.

But today, especially in this economy, I feel like shopping isn’t so much an adventure, as a big game, and I’m constantly losing. Store loyalty? I don’t think so.

Last week, I had a series of doctors’ appointments. The only reason this is significant is because I was unable to go into a certain store with my daughter on Tuesday. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and she selected a significant amount of clothing that added up to $300. To me, that’s a lot of money. Maybe not as much as Tori Spelling drops on one outfit, but still a chunk of change that I would think any store would welcome.

We got to the checkout, and there sitting on the top of the register, was a sign that said, “10% off every Tuesday.” I thought for a moment and asked, very politely, if there weren’t some way to take advantage of the sale since I had been unable to come to the store the previous day. The two young saleswomen said “no.” I asked to speak to the manager. They looked at each other, then one nodded to the other as if she were the one in charge, and she again repeated that there was nothing to be done.

Now I’m sure an argument can rightly be made that rules are rules, and that I was only entitled to the 10% discount if I had arrived a day earlier — or were willing to wait another week. But it just seems stupid to me to sacrifice a hefty sale like that when I was in a national chain that has had plummeting profits for months. Nor does it make much sense to essentially tell me I was a chump for paying $30 more than I would have a day earlier. Or that for all practical purposes, the store was suggesting that you should only shop on Tuesdays, otherwise there were penalties to be paid. In short, I would suggest that if nothing else, they should have taken down the sign.

So I voted with my feet and walked out. I didn’t feel a bit triumphant. In fact, I apologized repeatedly to my daughter, who kept reassuring me that she completely supported my decision.

The final coda to this retail tale was found online. I ran a Google search and discovered that if I signed up for email alerts from this national chain, I would receive an immediate $15 credit plus free shipping. I found 5 of the 7 items and ordered them. The company still lost approximately $100 since they didn’t have two of the pieces my daughter had wanted.

But is this any way to run a business? I get that there are rules — but was it worth it to that local branch to lose a good sale? Had the help been clever, they would have at least suggested that my daughter open a store charge account in her name and get an immediate discount. But today, too often the personnel don’t care about the customer or about the company that employs them – and I suspect the company doesn’t show much concern about employees or customers.

Or maybe, as I began, I’m just old, old, old – and cranky.

What do you think?

Evelyn David

7 replies
  1. Dea, Kia, Jake
    Dea, Kia, Jake says:

    I watch morning shows that always have a "financial guru" type person who espouses asking for discounts, coupons, etc. I think you did the right thing. I went to a department store last year with my daughter to purchase a formal dress and before I could even get the dress to the counter, I was offered a 10% discount for opening a charge, another 15% discount as a day pass, and $5 off if I purchased two items (or something to that effect). I opened the charge and got the other discounts as well and felt like the store had taken good care of a new customer (this is not a place I shop often) who would return. I think you were right to ask and right to leave and yes, I think $300 worth of clothing at one shot is a lot of money, too. They should have been more accommodating.

    By the way, our favorite internet retailer–Boden–is having a sale right now, so don't forget to check that out. Maggie

  2. Vicky Polito
    Vicky Polito says:

    Having any kind of finesse in dealing with paying customers seems to be a rapidly shrinking skill. What if they had at least offered you half the discount, a compromise? Though, I do think that they should have just okayed the full discount. Building good will with customers is important and neither of these gals got that. Of course, I'm crankier than you and I would have looked at the woman who played the manager and said, hey, how about now I talk to YOUR manager?

    I vote by pulling back my wallet fairly often and I DO feel triumphant! People make fun of me, but I value our earnings and I feel at least some control and validation in how I redistribute the wealth (such as it is).

    And, there was one other point I wanted to make . . . but, my morning brain has lost it . . . for now. I'll post back if it comes back to me. Which will probably happen immediately after submitting this comment! You know how THAT goes.

  3. Vicky Polito
    Vicky Polito says:

    And, I was right (again): I was going to say that when I was little there was one nice clothing store near our home, not a franchise, called Lytton's that would allow you to take home, on spec, in a beautifully tissue and ribbon wrapped box, a party dress or sweater set without giving them ONE THIN DIME or account number as collateral! My mom could even call up, tell them about some item we'd seen the day or week before, and they would deliver to our house the same item under those same trusting conditions. If you didn't like it, you had it sent back or just brought it back! I recall that this was usually because buying the item was something that needed the approval of the "man of the house" (as so much did back then) so stores were understanding of that constraint.

    This store had something we kids loved: a glass enclosure toward the back center of the store with a couple of Capuchin monkeys that would jump around, eating cut up oranges, and squawk at us as we killed time while mom did boring old clothes shopping.

    I remember once being so happy to buy my mom, with my own money, a box of lovely linen hankies with floral embroidery from Lytton's for Mothers Day.

    It seems like a fiction, but I swear it's true. This would have been about 1965, give or take, and in Gary, Indiana. And, we were NOT at all well-off financially. We were if not lower-middle class, than damn close!

  4. The Stiletto Gang
    The Stiletto Gang says:

    Maggie and Vicky – thanks for making me feel like I wasn't just being cranky (although that's a perfectly valid emotion too!). I loved the story about the hankies for Mother's Day. There was something so sweet about giving that kind of gift to your mother. I have a huge collection of hankies from my mother-in-law, and when her first grandchild was born, I had a friend make a quilt with some of them.

  5. Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
    Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith says:

    My mom used to drag me to sales–usually downtown L.A. to the Broadway Department Store. We'd get there before it opened, along with what seemed like hundreds of women, the doors were open and a stampeded ensued.

    Mom liked to go to the Bargain Basement. Once she lost me, that was scary. All these women burrowing through piles of items, throwing things around, fighting over things.

    I hate sales at stores. I'm sure it was because of my experiences with my mom. For a sweet woman, she was totally aggressive when it came to sales. Not me. I don't mind a bargain, but can't stand to be around a bunch of snarling women looking for the best buy.

    And yes, I do shop online for bargains especially at Coldwater Creek.


  6. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    Hey, there's nothing wrong with being cranky and/or standing up for something. Too many people give in just to avoid a fuss. I was raised by a mom who believes in making a fuss when it's called for. Now I'm married to a man who would rather avoid a fuss at all costs. Oy! But my cranky side (yes, it's genetic) applauds you. I agree with Vicky that customer service has gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage, and it's too bad. Maybe that will start to change when stores realize they need to do more than sell things to stay in business.


  7. Rachel Brady
    Rachel Brady says:

    Seems like, with the bigger chain stores, employees have no authority to make choices like these. I'd think the managers would, and that they'd exercise it, but it doesn't sound like that was the case. It comes down to how invested an employee is in the outcome of the situation. You leave your $300 in merchandise on the counter and walk out. They get the same hourly wage.

    I think it's a shame when this happens anywhere. I'm sorry you didn't get all the items you wanted, but I'm glad you made your point and also that you were able to find most of them on-line.

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