Brick and Mordor

by Brad Nelson2/21/17

You know what’s annoying? Waiting in line to pay for something while the guy ahead of me takes five minutes filling out some stupid “club card.”

That’s what happened to me at Staples the other day. There was one cashier and about five people waiting in line. And the guy the cashier was attending had one item to purchase. That should have been smooth sailing. But he and the cashier seemed to be making a party out of filling out the application form for his Staples card. This cashier chick is smiling and engaging in pleasant conversation as if the only point of her being behind the counter was to help people fill out club cards and have a grand and slow time doing it.

In the midst of all this, some chick in her late 50’s or early 60’s cuts in front of the bunch of us who are waiting in the designated rope-off area and plants herself right behind the guy who is painstakingly filling out his club card application. To her credit, the cashier instructs this pushy woman (I didn’t buy for a minute that she was just confused) that she needed to go to the back of the line and wait her turn.

Well, another cashier finally opens up a second register to deal with the backlog. This cut-in lady immediately then cuts in again (she had never actually returned to the line but remained hovering around the front counter). I finally break the ice and say in a loud and slightly annoyed voice, “Go ahead lady. It’s so slow here it will make no difference.”

That snapped the neck of one of the Staples employees who was behind the counter looking busy who then opened a third register and took care of me. In regards to this whole episode, this cut-in lady was just amusing icing on the cake. I don’t mind having to wait in line and wait my turn…but not so some Staples cashier can delay things for over five minutes roping someone into filling out their club card and turning it into an excuse for a nice chat in the middle of the business day.

No wonder the brick-and-mortar stores are dying. It’s not so much the convenience of online shopping of not having to drive to the store and etc., although that is convenient. But many stores have made it all but impossible to buy anything from them in a reasonable amount of time. Online is the way to get around that. Perhaps the insane $15.00/hr and above minimum wages will be the final death knell to retail time-wasting. I don’t mind at all dealing with self-checkouts and computers.

The subtext to this story is that the Staples store I was in had recently reduced its retail space by half. I’m not surprised. They make it difficult to actually hand them your money.

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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12 Responses to Brick and Mordor

  1. pst4usa says:

    Brad, the Brick and Mortar stores are a dying breed. But those Brick and Mordor store are tough to get rid of. Your’e going to need to find and destroy the ring of power. I am not so sure where to even find it these days. I thought 0bama had it, but no, he did not. Then I thought Hillary had it but, no. Oh, I know, it must be George Soros.

  2. pst4usa says:

    By the way Brad, Derick Kill-More will have a town hall tomorrow night just down the street from you. 5:30, you going to make it? I will be trying to get up there, if so you have any interest in Dinner after?

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I have a problem with ordering on-line: I don’t trust the security of my computer, having been hacked in the past and read about all sorts of business hacks. This is even more so while Elizabeth and I live in hotels. Perhaps when we finally get an apartment, we can see about ordering things on-line. Until then, we’ll have to rely on regular stores.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Not sure what the state-of-the-art is in stealing credit card numbers. But one of the books I read noted the point-of-sale machines are particularly vulnerable. Maybe that’s changed. But whatever the case may be, you take some risk either way.

  4. Rosalys says:

    Mail order shopping in the “old days” was so slow. Sometimes it would take so long to get my stuff, that I had forgotten I had ordered it. Not so with today’s online shopping. They still tell you it could take up to two weeks, but it never does. Two days is the usual, sometimes three, or if it is over a weekend, maybe four.

    I do sympathize with your being stuck behind a slow poke. You know what really gets my goat? When I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, and the driver in the car ahead of me is going the speed limit! 😉

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I enjoy reading old Little-House-on-the-Prairie stories about the centrality in the lives of people of the old Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue. What a marvelous thing. And it seems history repeats itself or comes back on itself in a circle, for what is a catalogue like that but an Amazon web page full of “stuff”? There likely was an index so it had a search function as well.

      Two things make buying sight-unseen online a viable alternative to brick-and-mordor:

      1) Reliable customer reviews
      2) A no-questions-asked return policy

      I have bought my share of duds on Amazon, in particular. But they make returns very easy, and I try hard not to abuse this policy. But sometimes you do run into a case where the reviews are glowing but it becomes apparent upon seeing the item that they were all crap-settlers with lower standards (or just easily amused). I bought an inexpensive electric vegetable slicer. The reviews were good but when I went to use it, all it could do is basically “gum” the carrots into pieces. The blades were dull and severely under-powered. I have since bought an inexpensive Hamilton Beach food processor. This very basic unit works okay. It’s my first, so I just wanted to get my feet wet. It does a reasonable job.

      So like most “modern” people, I’ve become quite accustomed to buying things online. And certainly an inducement is the generally poor customer service of many brick-and-mordor stores.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        “Brick-and-mordor”? I can’t imagine Sauron having any bookstores in his realm. Incidentally, for what it’s worth, The Ballad Cat Ballou” at one point references Sears & Roebuck in briefly describing the life of the people of Wolf City, Wyoming: “That brand-new firm Sears & Roebuck sent them their catalogue.” Whether it really was new at the time (the song gives the year as 1892), I don’t know.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          It would seem the Sears Roebuck catalog dates to 1894. The History of the Sears Catalog page states these interesting facts:

          The time was right for mail order merchandise. Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical.

          All this set the stage for the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. A master at slogans and catchy phrases, Richard Sears illustrated the cover of his 1894 catalog declaring it the “Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone,” and the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth,” claiming that “Our trade reaches around the World.” Sears also knew the importance of keeping customers, boldly stating that “We Can’t Afford to Lose a Customer.” He proudly included testimonials from satisfied customers and made every effort to assure the reader that Sears had the lowest prices and best values.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Sears was the largest retailer in the world when I was growing up. I even worked for them Sears my last year in high school and during vacations and during the summer in college.

            It was a well run operation. In 1970, they controlled their inventory by the details one entered into the cash register.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              They made some excellent machines. We have a Sears washing machine that’s so old I have no idea when it was bought, but I’m pretty sure it was several decades ago. Even now it works, sort of — though we stopped using it once we moved out to the various hotels we’ve been in.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a related story about the death of brick-and-mortar: The World’s hottest shopping city is becoming a ghost town.

    This quote is in complete synchrony with what I expressed in this blog post:

    Why? Shopping from home or on a smartphone is a lot easier than shopping in a store. The ease of buying sweaters and light bulbs online trumps the thrill of people-watching in stores where slow-moving sales clerks take 15 minutes to ring up a $25 tie on balky computers.

    I like shopping in retail stores. Yes, there is a convenience to online. But I think a factor that is influential out of all proportion to its size is the sheer difficulty of getting through the cash register line. Sears, for example, has turned it into an art with their marketing-based cashiers. JC Penny isn’t much better. If the cashier is not asking you ten questions directly, when you swipe your card on their machines the machines themselves are typically presenting four or more marketing questions that you must dismiss.

    And just when you think the sale is completed and you’ve answered all their marketing questions, you’re not quite done yet. You must wait for the cash register to print out a receipt that must be five feet long.

    So retailers have seemingly gone out of their way to make shopping in their stores a time-wasting and and unpleasant experience. I use Amazon more and more. And not out of any particular love for Amazon or online shopping, although there are inherent conveniences for doing so. It just happens to be the only alternative to the gauntlet they make you run through (crawl through) at the check-out lines of most retail stores.

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