Some people love to shop. It makes them feel good; it gets their juices going. They don’t think of it as work.
There was a survey taken a few years ago in Japan that asked people, “What is your favorite hobby?” And 85 percent of the respondents answered “shopping.” Was it a scientific poll? No – if memory serves, they asked random people on the street. Well, what are most people doing on the street? Playing gin rummy?
Still, even for those people who don’t list shopping as their favorite hobby, if you do the math ... as my dad used to say, “You can tell a lot about a person by how they spend their time and how they spend their money.”
Me? I usually know what I want to buy, and I go get it. I’m not looking around the store to see what’s new. It’s not a chore, but it does get complicated on occasion.
Last week, a clerk at Refrigerator Warehouse wanted to know if I had bought my fridge online or at the store. I had looked at refrigerators in the store, but wait – did I come home and buy it online? Where did I put the receipt? Then again, if I bought it online, I wouldn’t have a receipt, I’d have a confirmation email or some such thing. But still, the Refrigerator Warehouse’s computer should be able to find it.
Wait, now she’s got to answer a phone call. There are three people working in the exchanges and returns department. They’re all taking care of people, and lines are starting to form behind those being helped. But every 10 seconds a phone rings, and the employees drop what they’re doing to answer it.
The store seems chronically understaffed. Every minute, there’s an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Jason to the loading dock. Jason, please report to the loading dock.” Paging Jason interrupted the music being played on “Refrigerator Warehouse Radio” – baby boomer hits played in between commercials for, you guessed it, Refrigerator Warehouse. It’s the No. 1 station in this building.
While I’m waiting for my problem to be resolved, I’m thinking how much easier this would have been if I’d just ordered a refrigerator from Amazon.
They’d have a picture of every one I had looked at, along with everything else I had ever bought or searched for. Yes, it’s annoying and a huge invasion of my privacy, and it’s putting retailers out of business left and right, but all I’m wondering is how long it would have taken them to deliver it – one day or two? Refrigerator Warehouse said they were going to deliver mine in a month. That was two months ago. Of course, at the store, in person, the clerk can’t find my order at all.
I bought a treadmill from another brick-and-mortar retailer, who said they could deliver it in a month. After a month, they said next week. Last week, they called to say it would be another week. But to their credit, they robocalled me twice a day – at 4:30 a.m. and 4:45 a.m. – to tell me the delivery would be delayed and to call another number to reschedule.
Refrigerator Warehouse does have a “huge, huge inventory,” as it boasts on its frequent late-night TV commercials, and it conveniently is located in the world’s oldest and emptiest strip mall. And by never actually delivering the appliance I paid for, it is able to beat every competitors’ prices.
It’s amazing that Amazon still is in business with big-box competitors such as Refrigerator Warehouse on its tail. But it occurs to me that Amazon still is in business because it must be where the executives of places such as Refrigerator Warehouse and their families shop. The CEOs of big-box companies can’t waste their time waiting for things to be delivered, or for things that aren’t in stock, even though they were featured in this week’s circular.
On my way out, I passed a guy wearing a nametag that said “Jason.” He was on his cellphone, looking for jobs online.
• Jim Mullen is a syndicated columnist. Email him at email@example.com.