These days, the customer is always wrong
I went over to the local pet supermarket the other day to replace a vital piece of dog-owner equipment—the rake part of a pooper scooper. The store is one of these big franchise places where the motto might as well be “Service with a frown … if at all.” It’s a business ethic that’s not limited to pet-supply stores, of course. You find it everywhere anymore.
When I located the pooper-scooper section, I discovered that all they had for sale was the whole set or the basket piece alone. No separate rake. Now, this makes no sense whatsoever—if something’s going to break or wear out on a pooper scooper, it’s not the basket piece, which just sits there. Rather, it’s the rake, which does the work, that’s likely to need replacing.
So I found a guy in a red jacket. “Could you give me some help over here?” I asked. He stopped what he was doing (nothing) and followed me to the pooper-scooper section.
“What can I do for you?” he asked.
“I’d like to buy the rake part of the pooper scooper,” I said, pointing to the shelf.
He looked at the pooper-scooper sets and then at the separate baskets. He glanced back and forth between the two groups of items a few times and then moved a bunch of stuff around on the shelf in a vain attempt to find a rake alone. “I guess we don’t have any separate rakes,” he concluded.
“Well, let’s take one of the sets apart,” I suggested.
“Whaddya mean?” he asked suspiciously.
“Take the rubber band off one of the sets, and I’ll buy the rake.”
He thought it over. “I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can,” I naively offered. “You just put the basket in with the other baskets.”
He deliberated. “Can’t do it.”
“I wouldn’t know what to charge you for it.”
I had him. “Well, that’s easy. You take the price of the whole set and subtract the price of the basket, and what’s left over is the price of the rake.”
He considered my suggestion. What was he chewing over here? This was not some obscure philosophical postulate, some enigmatic proposition from Wittgenstein. This was a simple sell-me-the-rake deal.
After an inordinately long time of weighing my proposal, he shook his head. “Sorry, but I can’t.”
“I’m not authorized to do that.”
Wow. “OK, who is authorized to do that?”
“Could I please talk to your supervisor?”
“She’s not here.”
I should’ve known. “When will she be back?”
She wasn’t. At least not when I got there. Nor was she there the next day or the one after that.
When I finally managed to find the supervisor at the store, I was back at square one. We went through the same script, with much of the same dialogue as I’d played out with the first guy. When we came to the “You take the price of the whole set and subtract the price of the basket, and what’s left over is the price of the rake” line, she paused for a second, as if deflated, but then she brightened.
“I can’t do that,” she said with the confidence of someone holding the last trump.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because the rake doesn’t have an inventory number,” she said victoriously. Heads I win; tails you lose. The customer is always wrong.
It was the triumph of the abstract over the actual, the absurd over the reasonable. The fact that the rake didn’t have a computer listing was more definitive than the reality of the rake itself, more valid than my need or the prospective sale.
There are many other corollaries to be drawn here, but I’d only become tiresomely moralistic and pedantic in delineating them. Instead, I’ll just pass along the supervisor’s parting shot to me as I was leaving the store:
“Have a nice day.”
Jay Feldman is a Davis-based writer and author of the new book Suitcase Sefton and the American Dream.