an online company and being a shareholder, I am, course, a billionaire.
This works out well, since I like to shop a lotespecially
for Mac stuff. Retail, catalogs, online: It's all good. Just me
and my Visa Check Card out on the road looking for ways to turn
my desktop supercomputer into a Heinlein-style fair dinkum thinkum.
I convinced my wife that it would be a great idea to tap into our
billions and buy a digital camcorder and a SmartMedia reader for
our digital still camera. What a grand adventure this would be:
I'd walk into the store, snap my fingers and state: "Serve
me, you retailer, for I have a pocket full of bank, and I'm ready
What I got instead
was a journey to the underworld resulting in despair and, ultimately,
death. Well, O.K., not death.
My adventure was launched
from the quiet California hamlet of Irvine, the home town of numerous electronics
manufacturers and software developers, including my favorite game developer, Blizzard,
but that's beside the point. I was heading into Fathers Day weekend with two goals
in mind: Buy a SanDisk SmartMedia reader and score a Canon ZR10.
It began at
Microcenter, a local computer retailer with a penchant for hiring
Mac salespeople with no knowledge of the actual Macintosh or things
to buy for the Macintoshincluding things they claim they don't
carry but that are actually sitting right in front of them in the
glass display case. At any rate, I had purchased a SanDisk SmartMedia
reader from them for work and fell so in love with it that I wanted
one for home. No big deal, right? Wrong. They were out of stock,
and two out of three salespeople were denying the existence of such
a device. (At Microcenter, half the time the salespeople claim they
can't use their terminals to check for product availability, so
I didn't argue.)
Next stop: Fry's.
As many of you are aware, you don't buy anything at Fry's unless,
A, it's not available elsewhere and, B, there is less than a 1 percent
chance that you will need to return it. This is because, A, Fry's
doesn't deserve your money and, B, you have to stand in two lines
to return things. So, anyway, I went to Fry's because it was closer
than my third option, CompUSA, and I needed to get back quickly
in order to serve you, my dear readers, with the latest Macintosh
information. So the first thing I do is go to the aisle where the
SmartMedia reader would most likely reside. None there, though when
I asked salespeople, they were all too happy to keep directing me
to the exact same place. One helpful salesperson even looked in
her computer database to confirm the fact that there's no such thing
as a company called SanDisk. So then I thought, "I'll go to
the camera department. They probably know about these things."
What I found were two salespeople with two different opinions about
their SmartMedia reader inventory. One claimed that there were no
such things as these; the other said yes, they carry SmartMedia
readers, but not SanDisk. So I left them, took three steps up the
aisle and found the SanDisk media reader section on my own. But
no SmartMedia readersjust CompactFlash. They were out of stock,
though, it should be pointed out, there was a hanger with pricing
information on the SmartMedia reader, which means it should have
been in their computer.
Next stop: CompUSA.
Now, CompUSA's approach is different from other computer retailers.
Rather than denying the existence of the thing you're looking for,
the salespeople simply apologize for not working in the department
responsible for the item and point you to the proper person, regardless
of how busy the proper person may be at the time. So I finally do
get to the "right" guy, who points me in the very wrong
direction. I come back to him and tell him that he has no SmartMedia
readers in the glass case beneath the digital camcorders. He informs
me: "Well, we just don't carry them then." Fortunately,
there was somebody who apparently knew what he was doing who suddenly
appeared and asked what I was looking for. I told him, and he disappeared
for a few seconds and reappeared with a SanDisk box so closely resembling
the SanDisk SmartMedia reader box that I bought it, only to discover
later that he had handed me a SanDisk MultiMedia reader. I'd have
to go exchange it tomorrow.
I slept well
that night, not knowing the depths into which I would be plunged
the next day as I set out to exchange the reader and buy a digital
camcorder. My first stop: CompUSA. There was the same kinda dumb
"right" guy behind the counter. Apparently yesterday's
conversation hadn't registered, and, when I asked for the SmartMedia
reader, he again pointed me to the glass case beneath the digital
camcorders. I tried to recount the previous day's events and convince
him that he does carry SanDisk, and, if he could just show me where
that stuff was, I could search through it myself for the SmartMedia
reader. Denial. They just don't carry the stuff. So I went to other
salespeople, pleading with them to show me where I could find the
SanDisk media readers, but none apparently wanted to step on the
toes of the "right" guy, so I got nowhere and just got
my money back, hoping to find the SmartMedia reader elsewhere at
a later date. (Incidentally, the fact that I had a SanDisk box with
a receipt from their store didn't convince the salespeople that
they actually carried SanDisk products, although it didn't seem
to bother customer service that I was returning something their
salespeople claimed they didn't carry.)
So now it was
off to find a digital camcorder. Since I was in CompUSA, I looked
in their section (right above the glass case that is the only possible
location in the store where SmartMedia readers would be located).
Now, since most retailers are actually aware of the fact that they
carry digital camcorders, I had less trouble finding them. At CompUSA,
however, they didn't have the model I wanted, and they couldn't
answer any of my questions about other cameras beyond service plans
available. And the salespeople kept referring me back to "the
right guy" to get the information I wanted. So I left, wallet
literally in hand, and headed back to Best Buy.
One thing about
Best Buy is that they usually do have the best prices on consumer
electronics. Unfortunately, their salespeople don't have ay knowledge
beyond what's printed on the box. And after a half hour of looking,
I was finally informed that even the information on the box would
be impossible to review, as there were none in stock, this being
Fathers Day weekend, the busiest time of the year for buying camcorders.
But the Best Buy 30 miles away has one in stock, according to the
computer.... Almost needless to say, they didn't actually have one
in stock, although the salesperson was happy to advise me about
service plans before revealing this.
Off to Microcenter
again. They don't carry digital camcorders though. However, by lucky
coincidence, they did suddenly have stock of SanDisk SmartMedia
readers. Apparently they get their deliveries on Saturday, which
is why they couldn't sell me one the day before, or so I surmise.
Actually they had told me there would be "a shipment"
coming in next Wednesday that might have SmartMedia readers in it.
Regardless, I now had my SmartMedia reader in hand and was ready
to pay. Unfortunately, there was a guy in line in front of me with
a G4 and a cart full of peripherals and a mind full of questions
that required the cashier to leave his post. Although other cashiers
passed by in the interim, none thought to actually help me. So I
called back, and the customer service center sent out a new cashier
who gave me a discount on my SmartMedia reader for my inconvenience.
She is the sole reason I give Microcenter my highest rating in this
But now it was
back to my hunt for my digital camcorder. By this time, I had set
my heart on the Canon ZR10, which not every electronics store carries.
At length and after numerous phone calls, I wound up at Circuit
City. They had just gotten a shipment in, so they were well stocked.
After a little confusion between two salespeople as to which one
would be getting the commission on my purchase, I put it on my new
Circuit City card and left the store. It was glorious. I hooked
it up to my Mac via FireWire and saw some great images, even though
by this time it was evening, and my office isn't well lit. I brought
it to work with me the next day to show off, popped in a tape and
realized that I was getting a dual-channel, 16-bit stereo hum recording
off the video head. So I went back to Circuit City to exchange it
and discovered that the store had actually charged somebody else's
credit card for my purchase, so I had to cancel my card and return
the device so that David Wong wouldn't be forced to pay for something
Dave Nagel purchased.
Then I remembered
that I'm a journalist, and journalists shouldn't have to pay for
things. So I called up Canon and requested my review unit, which
is now on the way, pending review by a technician to make sure it's
"up to spec" and doesn't record that hum. I pray it doesn't.
At any rate,
I think there's a lesson in all of this: Don't shop retail. Get
it on the Web. There are lots of great Web merchants out there who
are more than happy to pick up the slack of their retail counterparts.
is one of my favorites because of their amazing customer service.
That's where I buy my computers and monitors because, if there's
a problem, they pay for shipping both ways. Once they even refunded
me the difference on a monitor that had gone down in price from
the time I bought it 16 months before I ran into a problem. There's
which I've never had a problem with; Club
Mac, which once reamed me on a computer purchase when I tried
to do an exchange five days after I bought my Power Mac but is otherwise
a decent place; OWC,
which has decent prices good RAM but terrible hours of operation;
and a whole host of other merchants infinitely more courteous and
competent than these jokers in the bricks and linoleum business.
(I should point out that we have our own shopping service, Digital
Media Shopper, which, for conflict of interest reasons, I probably
shouldn't rank here.)
Dave's retail adventures.
Tips for Retail Shopping
are times when you need immediate Mac gratification, so, rather than doing the
smart thing and shopping online, you need to go to a brick and linoleum store.
Thus I've decided to offer you some practical tips for dealing with retail salespeople.
I've dug deep into my reservoir of experience to bring you these seven tips.
Avoid articles in speech. Words like "the" and "a" just add
unnecessary data to the salesperson's narrow bandwidth, which can lead to bottleneck.
Instead of saying, "I'd like to purchase a digital camera," say something
like, "Buy camera, please."
Carry proof that the item you wish to purchase exists. The store's weekly newspaper
ad will help.
Don't bring up the anything you saw on the company's Web site. That's a separate
division. And don't forget that special orders from the store take four to six
weeks for delivery, even if the company's Web site can get it to you the next
If you need assistance, don't just stand there patiently waiting for the salesperson
to recognize you. Put a suspicious look on your face, and stick something in your
Another good tip for getting the salesperson's attention is to behave like a mark.
Wear a pastel sweater, and, if you can bring a friend, point to something and
loudly call it a "thingy." And don't use the word "Macintosh."
Use "iMac" instead. For the salesperson, this has "commission"
written all over it.
As soon as you walk in, go straight to customer service and ask for the manager.
This will save time and embarrassment later.
Never go into the Macintosh section for hardware. All Mac sections are understocked.
Buy everything from the PC section and look for Mac drivers later.