Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 30

July 25-31, 2002

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The Customer Is Always Lost
by Allen Delaney

Thank goodness Chesapeake Country still has a few small Mom & Pop stores scattered around its back roads. These are small businesses with good service and owners who know their merchandise — but are never too busy to talk about the weather or local politics, often for hours.

I needed a new county map since mine had originally been drawn by two guys named Lewis and Clark. Unfortunately the Mom & Pop General Store was sold out of local maps, so I had to go to the nearby Mega-Mart where I had bought a newspaper the previous Sunday. I remembered seeing maps displayed near the front door so I should have been in and out within five minutes.

A half hour later, I was still searching for a county map. Within four days, the entire store had been re-arranged. Several times, from the looks of it. The maps had been replaced by a pantyhose display, and the newspaper case was now occupied by bags of charcoal briquettes. I thought of asking one of the helpful Sales Associates, but they — along with all but one of the 78 cashiers — were busy re-arranging merchandise, changing displays racks, and razing two exterior walls.

Obviously someone from the corporate office, perched high upon Mount Cashmore, noticed that various items had not been moved in well over two hours. Urgent phone calls were made to the manager, noting that if the store was not immediately rearranged, customers might remember the location of an item from an earlier visit, meaning two and a half hours ago.

The manager then tells us, the consumers, that the constant disorder is to ultimately improve our shopping experience by making the products more accessible and the aisles roomier. We, the consumers, believe this the same way Enron executives believed that their ledgers balanced.

The real reason behind the constant shuffling, as learned on the first day of Business 101, is to increase the store’s profit through impulse buying. Let’s say a rational man enters the store to purchase socks. He walks directly to the socks department, chooses a pair of black dress socks, makes his purchase and leaves. The store makes a profit of four cents.

But after the store is rearranged, the man enters, walks directly to the sock department and finds himself in women’s lingerie. (The department, not the lingerie itself.) Confused, he wanders the store searching for socks and in his travels finds an irresistible sale on electric pickle strainers. With his dilemma solved as to what to buy his wife for their 20th anniversary, he continues searching for socks with the futility of a blind hunter trying to hit a deer on a pogo stick. Three hours later he finds himself in Sporting Goods with an impulse to buy a shotgun and then asks to see the store manager. This is why states created waiting periods for gun purchases.

Disgusted, he leaves the store with his pickle strainer knowing he’ll have to return the next day to continue his quest for socks. What he doesn’t know is that he’ll also be returning the pickle strainer for a much more expensive gift, thus substantially boosting the store’s profit and validating its need to rearrange the floor plan every two hours.

Ninety minutes had passed and I continued to wander the store, bumping into other confused shoppers, some of them mumbling, “I could have sworn the pharmacy was over there yesterday.”

I found myself in a secluded aisle standing next to a store employee stacking towels.

“Please,” I begged, “where are the county maps located at this very moment?”

She quickly looked around, then held a towel to the side of her face, blocking the view from the overhead security cameras. “In the automotive section,” she whispered. “But hurry. I heard rumors they’re going to be moved any minute.”

I nodded in appreciation and jogged toward automotive, hoping it would still be where I found it 15 minutes earlier.

On a stand, next to the oil filters, I found the maps. I felt like Jason grabbing the Golden Fleece.
Prize in hand, I proceeded to the only constant in the store, the checkout stands. As I left, I glanced over my shoulder in time to see two security guards escorting the helpful sales associate toward the back door.

I felt terrible as I realized my mistake. Through store cameras, security had watched me leave the Bed and Bath section, head straight toward the maps, then to the cashier, giving the store a four-cent profit. My straight path led them to my informant, who, for giving customers helpful information, had to be ‘let go.’

If you happen to be that sales associate, I know a small Mom & Pop looking for good help. You’d fit right in.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly