June 26

The Retail Rant
A tale of woe, with practical tips for dealing with computer salesmen

by David Nagel
Executive Producer

Working for an online company and being a shareholder, I am, course, a billionaire. This works out well, since I like to shop a lot—especially 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.

Last weekend, 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 to spend."

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 Macintosh—including 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 readers—just 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 little adventure.

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. MacWarehouse 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 also MacZone, 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; Mac Connection; 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.)

Here endeth Dave's retail adventures.

Dave’s Helpful Wisdom

Seven Tips for Retail Shopping

There 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.

1. 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."

2. Carry proof that the item you wish to purchase exists. The store's weekly newspaper ad will help.

3. 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 day.

4. 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 pocket.

5. 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.

6. As soon as you walk in, go straight to customer service and ask for the manager. This will save time and embarrassment later.

7. 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.

Post a message in the Creative Mac World Wide User Group.

Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac; host of the Creative Mac, Adobe InDesign and Synthetik Studio Artist WWUGs; and executive producer of Creative Mac, DCC Designer, DCC Workstation, Digital DTP, Digital Pro Sound, Digital Webcast, Hollywood Industry, Presentation Master, ProAudio.net and Video Systems sites. All are part of the Digital Media Net family of online industry hubs.

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