Wednesday, April 19, 2006

When Retailers Give Up

Twice lately I've gone shopping for basic household items. My default retailer is a local hardware store here in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I always try to support the small guys. The results are sometimes discouraging.

First, I wanted an over-the-door towel rack from my bathroom. The plastic one I bought at this store snapped within five minutes. I took it back for a refund. Then I tried Home Depot. After circling the store and consulting a half-dozen orange-aproned associates, somebody told me to go to Wal-Mart. And this was Home Depot! Sure enough, I found a cheap plastic over-the-door at Wal-Mart. Which also broke. Finally, I found exactly what I wanted at Bed Bath & Beyond.

This week I needed a water bottle to take to a cave exploring trip with Shmoikel. Again I returned to my local store. Again, it stocked nothing I wanted. "Oh, the Rubbermaid company is having a lot of problems," a sales associate told me. "Try Wal-mart."

I don't want to try Wal-Mart! At least consult your catalogue and see if you can order the bottle for me. Is it that difficult to satisfy a motivated customer? At what point did retailers give up and send customers chasing to Wal-Mart? I wonder how many sales Wal-mart gets simply because other retailers can't be bothered to stock or order products that they don't always carry?

I didn't go to Wal-mart for the elusive water bottle. Supermarkets didn't have it, and outdoor-goods stores in New York had wildly expensive $10-$12 designer bottles that were outlandish in their costly pretentiousness. Finally, a CVS drug store had exactly what I wanted, a 34 oz. bottle for $1.99.

It took visits to five stores to find that?

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