When it comes to consumerism, my wife and I are outliers. What’s a consumer outlier? Someone who would rather leave an old bunk bed out lying by the curb labelled “TAKE ME” than try to make a couple of bucks selling it.
Or say I’m at a store and there’s a sale on shorts. I’ll say to myself, “But I already own a pair of shorts.” Later, I’ll come across a photo and realize I was wearing those same shorts 10 years ago, and I’ll think to myself, “Classic!”
When I do buy things, I never haggle. I waggle, straggle, finagle and gargle; at breakfast I bagel, but I rarely haggle. Whatever’s on the sticker, I pay or walk away. Pay or walk away, that’s my motto. Actually, my motto is “I Used To Be Fun,” but the other thing works too.
I know people who can negotiate bargains like they’re in a diplomatic corps specializing in cheap hotel rooms. There are people who live to make retailers sweat, who capitalize on human error and who will work the system until it begs for mercy. Deb and I, on the other hand, walk into a car dealership, point and say, “We’ll take that one.”
But we’re not pushovers. We won’t be taken advantage of, and if there’s an error, we’ll mention it. “Excuse me,” my wife said to a waitress recently. “You forgot to charge us for the small pizza.” Most people, if they saw an error in their favour, would say, “RUN!”
What it comes down to is a general distaste for the buyer-seller relationship. It’s a realization that the retailer and its representatives – the clerks and cashiers – don’t really like you. The reason it’s called “customer service” instead of simply “service” is because it’s a qualified kind of good will, something they’re obliged to offer you in exchange for getting you to part with your cash. My preference is to limit this awkward inter-impersonal transaction so that I can do us both a favour and get out of their lives as quickly as possible.
Which brings me to birthday shopping. Last weekend, I bought an apple tree for my wife. I went to the nearest garden centre, pointed and said, “I’ll take that one.”
But you can’t wrap a tree, so I decided to pick up a few small items to put in a gift bag, and the simplest way to do this was to go to Walmart. Walmart: I don’t want to talk about it. It’s too depressing. Instead, let’s talk about the aisle display of travel-size toiletries, because nothing says “Happy Birthday” like hand-sanitizer. And, of course, an apple tree.
The display announced that everything was $2.00. I grabbed a bottle of hand lotion so my wife’s hands will be nice and soft for those luxurious back rubs she’ll surely give me someday.
After I paid, though, I looked at my receipt to discover that the cashier had charged me $4.28 instead of $2.00.
I stood there in Walmart limbo. I could go back to the cashier and point out her mistake. Some people would revel in the blood sport of making a cashier cry. But I’d have to get back in line, and the young woman had given me a friendly smile – and at my age, retail smiles from young women are the only ones I can count on.
The other option was the Customer Service counter. It was right in front of me. Two women were manning the station. One was dealing with a customer, grudgingly it seemed. The other was channelling her aggressions through a stapler and refusing to make eye contact.
That was when I asked myself: is it worth it? As much as I could use $2.28 to buy other things – a travel rain poncho, for instance – is it worth it to explain to a frazzled employee who has probably been yelled at by three out of five customers, and who (you’ll recall) doesn’t even like me, that I was overcharged? The sighing, the transacting, the violent stapling… when instead I could be out of this horrible, soul-sucking store in less than 15 seconds and driving away – just me and my apple tree.
Besides, surely my wife deserves $4.28 hand cream.
“Fraggle it,” I muttered under my breath, or words to that effect, and left, having spent $2.28 too much.
And that’s why I’ll never be rich.