Sunday, 8 July 2012

Details in the fabric

Generally good advice for Walmart trips
We went to Walmart yesterday (yes, really - we needed to), to combine a quick shop for essentials with a search for a few bits that wouldn't be available at Harris Teeter or Trader Joe's. We mainly needed a new cover for Bertie's crate, as she's been managing to pull the old one through the bars and so uncovering the "roof", and reducing the calming effect of having her own little den area.

We got the essentials part out of the way and decided that our best bet would be to go to the bedroom department and see if they had any cheap blankets that we could use to do the job. When we got there, we lucked out as there was a huge basket of end-of-line cut-offs, and the fleecy materials we found were perfect to give the crate that warm, cosy feeling that might stop B needing to pull the blankets out of the way to see through the crate up the stairs. The cut-offs were all wrapped around chunks of cardboard under a sign that said 'Price as Marked' and 'Priced by the Yard'. The two pieces we'd selected were marked $5.44 and $2 respectively - bargain!

We got to the check-out and the first bit of material went through fine at $5.44. The other one didn't have a working bar code though, so a manager had to be called over. The check-out assistant explained the issue and wanted to know what code to run the $2 price under. The manager was insistent that the material would be more than $2, and told us that this problem had happened earlier in the week, hence why they now had a sign up saying 'Priced by the Yard'. This resulted in the following rather tetchy and tense conversation:

Manager: It says 'priced by the yard' quite clearly above the fabrics.
Ben: It also says 'price as marked', and it's marked as $2.
Manager: The sign above the fabrics is clear: it is priced by the yard.
Ben: But the other fabric we bought went through as marked.
Manager: But they are priced by the yard.
Ben: They were both from the same place.
Manager: It says they are priced by the yard.
Ben: But the price is marked as $2.
Manager: But the fabrics are priced by the yard.
Ben: It says they are priced as marked.
Manager: Fabrics are all priced by the yard, that's why that large sign is there.

This continued, it seemed, for some time, while I watched, honestly quite surprised, by how irritable the manager was getting and how impatient Ben became.

I'm not sure whether it is the British or the American in me that did this, but I decided enough was enough: saying the same thing over and over again wasn't useful and, much as this manager was being a rather unhelpful cow, Ben's getting angry with her wasn't helping our situation either. So I interjected.

Me: Okay, so it's both priced by the yard and priced as marked. That's rather confusing. It might need measuring if the former is the case. Would you mind going back to the department for us and getting the correct price, so we can decide whether or not we actually do want to buy this piece?

Cue manager slightly huffily going off to find out the correct price for the item. I suspect that it was just an administrative glitch - that the bar code didn't work and it's normal for the fabrics to be priced by the yard - but I was still quite astounded by how obstinate and really rather rude the manager was. The source of confusion was, I thought, obvious: the fabrics are priced by the yard if you have to cut them yourself and then take them to the department desk to get the bar code for that length of fabric; the cut-off sales fabrics were already bound and priced - what would the point be of writing the price per yard on the sale fabrics and not including the length of each one too?! Maybe she just couldn't be bothered to sort it out, and thought that we would give in and just leave that piece if she made it difficult enough.

I've come to expect really rather exceptional customer service in America (polite and enthusiastic to your face, even if they hate you behind your back), and so I think a combination of my English "I know how to deal with this kind of grumpy mare" approach plus my new-found US expectations/balls meant that I wasn't going to take any crap. 

After the socially awkward few minutes of holding up the check-out queue, the manager returned and started keying various codes into the register. About a minute into this, she coldly remarks to the check-out assistant, "You should be writing this down, so you can do it next time." Ah, delightful. She then rings up the fabric which - ta-da! - comes up as $2.

As she left, she did give us one snide comment: "I've only done that this one time; fabrics are priced by the yard normally." 

My parting shot? "Thank you for all your help; it's very much appreciated." And everyone knows that in my particular choice of tone, that's British for, "Hahahahaha, suck it."

NB As it turns out, we didn't need the second piece of fabric after all (the first one was more than long and thick enough to wrap around the crate). Ben suggested that we might return it... 



  1. Made me so, so happy to read this

  2. Brits argue and complain about pretty much everything, until they are faced with bad customer service, and then the cultural reluctance to argue in public kicks in. I still struggle to argue and make demands from retailers and restaurants, I must admit, so I am impressed!

  3. Dad - I am glad you enjoyed it and it made you happy!

    Paul - You're quite right; we'll casually complain as though it's some kind of sport about everything and anything. It's basically the fundamental piece of our small-talk (other than our go-to topic of weather). I was quite uncomfortable witnessing the argument, I have to admit, but then my irritation with the unhelpful nature of it took over and - far from being rude, I thought/hoped - I simply asked for a practical course of action to be taken, rather than the pointless back-and-forth about what each sign said. I'd never argue unnecessarily, but I definitely feel confident in asking for something to be put right if it's inhibiting my ability to use the retailer/restaurant/service as it is intended to be used. Thanks for the comment!


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