“Why Don’t You Want My Money?” or “Sorry, Artificial Scarcity Doesn’t Make Me Think It’s More Valuable and Worth Waiting For”

Posted on February 15, 2014 by Gene

In the last six months, I have had nothing but disappointment when trying to purchase goods and services. Some of these things have price tags in the thousands, but… I have money budgeted, I have cash on hand, but no one seems to be interested in completing that transaction — retailers especially have made it more and more difficult to actually walk into a store and buy anything. Here are some examples from the recent past, there are many, many more frustrations like this.

We Don’t Need Your Money
My kitchen floor dates back to the 90s and it is ripe for a new look. I visit various local flooring companies to peruse the options, and settle on a classic black and white checkerboard vinyl. Of three flooring retailers, only one shows up for measurement and they never bother to send me their estimate. Outcome: I still have the old floor.

These Are Built By Hand By Master Amish Craftsmen
My refrigerator, which seems to have perennial problems with its fan circuits, starts to fail again. Tired of pouring repair money into it, I decide to buy a new one. I find a nice counter-depth, side-by-side at Sears and purchase it – although, as you’d certainly have guessed, it must be ordered. After the 3-week-later delivery date passes with no delivery, I’m told that it will take yet another month to arrive. Order cancelled. Give me my money back. Outcome: old fridge still in place.

I Didn’t Start This Business To Do Work
I find a contractor to do some foundation work on a utility shed at the back of my house. He is personable and thorough and assessed the work required, giving me a very fair estimate and indicating that it isn’t as serious as I’d thought and will take them only a very short time to fix. This was last September, and I am still waiting for them to have a free moment to schedule me in. Outcome: my utility shed is leaning farther and farther.

Serve Yourself
I see a table I like at my local World Market. But, as you’d expect, they have none in stock. I can order it online, of course. With a $30 delivery fee and a special $80 handling fee because it’s heavy. Basically, they save money by not having it in stock, then make more money by charging special fees for ordering online. Or, I can get my neighbor to go with me to a store farther west and buy it there instead. Outcome: purchased at a farther-out location for about $120 less than they would have charged for ordering and delivering.

And Your Fifth Tire Is Free
My local Safeway has the low inventory issue in spades. Here’s an example of how that plays out in a ridiculous way: they had a buy-2-get-2-free offer on 12-packs of Schweppes flavored sparkling water. Great! Love that stuff. Unfortunately, my Safeway only stocks – get this – TWO 12 packs at any given time. Period. Now, you do the math on whether that is some kind of passive aggressive anti-consumer shit, there. Outcome: the manager noted that the soft drink distributor was at the store with his truck, and fetched two more boxes off the truck. I was astonished at my luck.

You Obviously Have Too Many Windows
Just today, I go to my local Lowe’s to buy some Roman shades — a quick weekend project in my continuing quest to do something, anything, with my kitchen. After picking through the options, I find a shade that’s the right color and size. I have four windows in my kitchen dining area. They have 3 shades. A search of all the stores within 20 miles shows that there are none available. There are only 3 of those shades in the largest city in Northern California or either side of the San Francisco Bay. I can order one online, of course, and get it next week. Forget it. Once again, walk out of a store having spent no money and my weekend project dies a quick death. (I then went to Home Depot to see what they had, but they were even worse — no roman blinds at all, nothing other than generic, cheap mini-blinds were in stock, anything else was a special order. This is a WAREHOUSE store, people. You could fit several football fields into it.) Outcome: I am back at home with no weekend project and writing this pissed-off missive.

There is an aversion these days to maintaining inventory in a brick-and-mortar store. It seems that it’s cheaper to maintain that big box as a showroom and then have customers order it for later delivery. The problem is, if I take the time to get into my car and drive to your store, that means I want to spend money. I want to buy a thing – today – and take it home. And if you have what I want, since I am there, I am likely to buy other things that catch my eye as well. Instead, I am disappointed and more than a little pissed off that in this huge store the things I want have to be ordered, and I walk out in a bad mood, abandon that shopping cart, and spend nothing.

And if I have to order it online, dear retailer, that means I’m going to be able to buy it from anyone, anywhere in the world. You’ve not only lost a customer at your local store, you’ve likely lost him in a hyper-competitive virtual space that’s as big as the entire planet.

And for this, we put small, independent retailers out of business. Well done.