I’d sooner not be a consumer

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.

Happy birthday tree. (Cat not included.)

Happy birthday tree. (Cat not included.)

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.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
This entry was posted in Family - whadya gonna do?, It Really Did Happen! and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to I’d sooner not be a consumer

  1. vsvevg says:

    With you on this one, Ross

  2. James says:

    I’d have sacrificed the $2.28 too. I always try to minimise the interactions when I’m in a shop. I hate it when I’m just browsing and someone seeks me out to see ‘if I need any help’. I know how to browse without any help and they’re only offering because it’s policy or something. So there’s an uncomfortable exchange during which I politely decline the help and then I sort of stand awkwardly pretending to continue browsing for a moment or two and then I shuffle out of the shop trying hard not to make eye contact with anyone…

  3. ksbeth says:

    and i am very much the same, fraggle it should be a t-shirt. the violent stapling response just isn’t worth it sometimes.

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    “Retail smiles from young women are the only ones I can count on.”—Ha, that made me laugh out loud. 🙂

    I hear you on this. My approach to buying is much like yours. No haggling, no indecision, just get what I came for and leave. I’m not sure what I’d have done with the lotion–probably the same as you. But it would’ve eaten at me all day. It’s the principle of the thing, you know?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Given yesterday’s Twitter debacle, I feel I’m walking on thin ice re anything remotely sexual… So, whew!
      Things that eat away at you = blogging opportunities! The hand-cream tube half full.

  5. Charles says:

    I used to be very much like this. Today, however, you couldn’t get me to pay market price for an apple. The glory of bulk buying at Costco!

  6. Paul says:

    Ummm, I can certainly empathize Ross. I often feel the same way but then I find an employee or a small company where they are dedicated to helping me fill my need even if it means no money for them – i.e. referring me to another store for a better deal or suggesting a solution that uses what I already have rather than new purchase. When I first started looking for a tractor-trailer to purchase, I was very young – just 20 years old – and none of the dealers would take me seriously and would not even let me take a truck for a test drive. Then I found the sales manager at Apex Kenworth in Moncton, who had complete faith that I was buying a truck. I couldn’t believe it – he handed me a fistful of ignition keys and a dealer plate and told me to take them all for a test drive. These were $50,000 – $90,000 tractors and he had never even seen me drive. I talked to him about financing and he suggested that I purchase my first truck as a used unit in a private deal – and do a seller mortgage. That is exactly what I did and 2 years later when I was looking for a second truck and could afford new, I returned only to him at that dealer and bought an $86,000 new truck – based primarily on how he had treated me two years before.

    I try very hard to seek out those retailers whose philosophy is to help me fill a need – with the faith that in the long run there will be a mutual benefit to our relationship. And I work to honor that relationship – even when it means paying a bit more for the privilege. It isn’t as easy now that I am on disability and the disposable income is very low. But I still try to build those relationships – often with individuals within a business and sometimes with the business itself. There is a guy at Home Depot that I trust and he will often suggest solutions to my small problems that involve other retailers. Maybe I’m a fool to work this way but it is my little bit to make the world a better place.

    This whole business of reducing everything to money and only money is abhorrent to me, even though I have had formal training in how to do it. For instance we were taught that as soon as you have a job you start looking for the next better job. Not me. I dedicate myself to my employer until I feel that I can no longer comfortably do that for whatever reason, then I resign and look for a new job. Not as safe a behaviour but a more honest way to work. I like sleeping well at night.

  7. pinklightsabre says:

    If that’s what it takes to be rich, all those paper-cut transactions with aggressive stapling, I’m with you, in the gutter. Like that you’re including more photos of your family (not to sound stalker-like). I’ve imagined posts like this from my times at Costco. I hate the consumer in me. It’s like a talking tape worm that knows my PIN.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It really is engrained in our socio-cultural training, not to get to psychobabble or nothin’. It probably helps that my parents were frugal — Depression-era childhoods. I can’t explain Deb, though. She grew up not rich but somewhat bourgeois-privileged. Maybe as a middle child she was well placed to observe its impact on those around her.
      Whew! I have to sit down now.

    • Teri says:

      “… talking tape worm that knows my PIN.” an unlikely combination of words and so descriptive.

  8. All I know is that I can never set foot in a Walmart again. The last time I did, the entire place had been done up as an homage to “Duck Dynasty” and I realized I had entered an alternate universe in which everything I believed to be true and right wasn’t real at all. Everyone was dressed in camo but me.

    By the way, I’m wearing 10-year-old shorts today too. My 5-year-old shorts passed away last week.

  9. freebutfun says:

    Great apple tree though 🙂

  10. Karen says:

    I don’t know. I’m always looking for ways to stick it to the big corporations, so I’d wait all day (and the next night) to get my $2 back from Walmart, if that’s what it took. Plus, I’m stubborn and I also enjoy confrontation. One of the greatest moments of my life was my wedding day the birth of my children when the Red Sox won the World Series the time I walked out of a car dealership after the salesman told me there was no way in hell he was going to take my offer and then called me an hour later to tell me to come back in, the car was mine. I was twenty-two and I felt like I ruled the world. 😉

    Years later, I tried the same technique on my next car, but the dealer just swore at me, and never called me back, so my reign was only temporary, it appears 🙂

  11. I am one of those “It depends” people. It depends whether I think the fight is worth it. Do I have the time? Do I have the energy? How much money is at stake? For $2.28 at Walmart? I am in your camp. Why bother? Time is too precious to deal with Hostile Stapler Woman.

    For the bigger purchases, I just let my husband, The Boffin, go at it. He is the one, with full English firmness, who goes into car dealerships with research and spreadsheets and leaves managers whimpering. I always want to record the transactions and slap the video onto YouTube. He negotiated contracts for his previous position, so he can do this in his sleep, so why should I take on the aggravation?

    And why he won’t wear a suit and bowler and carry an umbrella for these moments like I ask is beyond me.

  12. goldfish says:

    I am the world’s worst haggler. I am a fan of price tags and getting charged the price that is on them, but I probably would have left without fighting over the $2.28, too. Lazy.

  13. mollytopia says:

    Omg this is one more reason I adore you. Time is our greatest asset, not money – I would have abandoned that 2.28 also. And I hope you get that back rub : ) Hey now that you mention it, I bet everyone has a threshold of how much cash they’re willing to walk away from to save time, avoid the hassle, or whatever. Mine is $10. Your blog is full of self-discovery for your readers – yay!

  14. That’s EXACTLY what I would have done. It takes an awful lot for me to engage in any kind of confrontation and saving two bucks ain’t gonna do it. Plus, I’m with you. The poor cashier doesn’t need my nonsense. Why contribute to the ruination of her day.

    I wonder what the pricing threshold would be for me to make a fuss? Where’s the tipping point?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I don’t know if you read Mollytopia’s comment but she asks that very question.
      On Facebook, someone mentioned that this happens at Walmart all the time. So that really should be the takeaway: don’t go to Walmart. Of course, we all know that, and yet, like junk food and electing zealots, we continue to perpetuate this horror show.

  15. Trent Lewin says:

    I’m with Mark, I would have totally left too. If it were five times that overage, I’d have left (especially Walmart). Life’s too short, and being rich – also too short. Please save some apples for me, there’s a moose down at the end of the road that seems to like them.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I think my threshold would be $5. It’s practically the cost of lunch at that point.
      Re apples: our tree has to get busy with the neighbour’s tree, so probably not until next fall.

  16. gavinkeenan says:

    Right on Ross! What’s the cost of money anyway?

  17. I worked in retail hell for a decade, so I am the most efficient/most awesome consumer anyone has ever seen. Get in, get out…and don’t be a jerk. That’s my motto!

  18. Pingback: Weekly Reader 16: Tear Edition | Tangerine Wallpaper

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