other voices
Terry Lamphier

Back to: Columns
December 21, 2012
Follow Columns

Boxing with big boxes

I recognize that we have become a world where the paradigm is “live to shop” not “shop to live,” but am I the only one with Scroogitis?

While on a recent, hugely frustrating search for a small battery-operated alarm clock (one that replaces my failing but well designed “one-touch” light/alarm), I was brought face to face with the pathetic state of what passes for “choice” these days. A plethora of goods all apparently designed to last at least until the receipt ink is dry.

I visited seven of our local general merchandise chain stores, all for naught. Clocks, yes. Well designed and constructed, no (I learned — at 2 a.m. — that one I bought had to be picked up and rotated to read the dial). So, yeah, I’m a little Grinchy around the edges.

My experience reminded me of my recent search for a new computer. My budget required searching chain stores. Having done some research beforehand, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted and it was not the newest iteration of Macrohard’s operating system. A local store told me I could have what I wanted if I bought the software elsewhere (though they featured it on one or two computers) for $200 or so and paid them another $200 to uninstall theirs and replace it with my purchase, which, oh yeah, voided the warranty.

So down the hill to various big boxes. First stop, Auburn. Online research for their store showed just what I wanted and “in stock.” At the store, one hour later, they had no record of it in their system, “but hey, look at these other fine computers” — with fewer features for more money.

No, thanks. I had another store farther away that had an even better deal but I was trying to stay local, and frankly, I hate driving on 80. Oh well, my computer was gasping for breath, and it was a forced play, so on I went to the next big box.

“Oh, we don’t have that special you saw on the Internet” (seven “available” on the Internet at their store two hours earlier); “maybe it was our other store.” Would you check please? “Our computer shows three at the other store”. Would you call them please? “OK. Uh, they are all sold out.”

So what’s the best deal for the specs I wanted? Sales clerk points to an aisle pallet of computers “on sale” with half the features and 20 percent more in price and, oh yeah, the new operating system, “but we sell the earlier operating system for $200, and we can install it for another $200 under our service plan.” Can I pay for just the install? “No, you have to buy the service plan.”

Me: “Will you show me what you have in stock with the operating system I want?”

“Sure, but let me take this call, then I’ll be right with you.”

So I start to wander the aisles and almost immediately spot a sign for a computer that was just what I wanted at nearly the best price I had seen. Grabbing the first available clerk, I said, “Do you have this in stock?”

“Yes.”

Fearing it would disappear, I asked if he could get me one and a few minutes later it showed up as advertised (Note: Many thoughts of “bait and switch” had been running through my head given my morning’s experience, so I pounced on this computer and guarded it heavily).

Now you would think this would be the end of a challenging but ultimately successful experience. Well … online advertising had led me to believe I would need the fancier version of software that came with my new computer to run my $1,000 worth of old software, so I bought the “Pro” version for … $200.

After setting up the computer at home, I thought, before I open and install the upgrade, I’ll just try installing some of the old stuff, some of it going back to the late ’90s. Lo and behold, almost all of it worked (a couple are a little buggy but work fine). So, another trek down the hill (hey, $200 refund offsets $30 gas).

Customer “serviced.”

Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.

(M)y computer was gasping for breath, and it was a forced play, so on I went to the next big box.


Explore Related Articles

The Union Updated Dec 22, 2012 04:00AM Published Dec 21, 2012 07:14PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.