"[My relationships were] like I was in these movies where the script was only half-written. When I’d get to the end of this half-script, the other actors wanted me to ad lib. But I had never gotten the hang of that. That’s why these movies were always box-office failures. Six of them in the past twenty years. I always blew the lines." ~ from my horrible first novel "Learn How To Pretend." (unpublished)(obviously)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

[UPDATED] it's all crap

I came to a realization the other day. Nothing epiphanic, just one of those moments of “Oh. Yeah.  That’s it.”

For years I had this thing where, if I were going to return a product to a store, I’d play out the big argument with the store in my head.

I’d go there and say, “I’d like to return this, please.”
 And they’d say, “Why? What’s wrong with it?”
 “It doesn’t fit right,” I’d say. Or “It doesn’t work.” Or “It broke when I tried to install it.”
“Well, if you wore it,” they’d argue, “you can’t return it. It’s got your cooties.” Or “You broke it, you bought it.” Or “You’ll have to return it to the manufacturer.”
And I’d argue back and there’d be a big to-do with cops and sirens and beefy managers trying to escort me from the premises.

Of course that never happened. I never—as best as I recall—had a huge issue returning a product. In fact, in recent years, it’s become incredibly easy. Some stores take things back without a receipt even. Yeah. Easy. Too easy, maybe.

I’m sure Wal-Mart was the driving force behind this change. Once they got their vendors under their thumbs they said, “If your products don’t sell we’ll return them to you,” it was an easy next step to say “We’re sending back all of our damaged merchandise, and while we’re at it, all our customer returns.”

On the face of it, it makes sound business sense. Easy returns build goodwill in customers. And a happy customer in the store will likely buy something else while they are there. As well, vendors no longer have the payroll expense of employees to handle customer issues—not as many, anyway.

And, since it’s so simple to accept returns, the need is not as great for quality. If a customer won’t get a hassle when he returns an item that broke or was mislabeled or had parts missing, he’s not as likely to complain about the shoddy workmanship. Who cares? And certainly making cheaper parts makes it more cost-effective to deal with returns and make the customer happy.

I can’t count the number of times Danika and I have returned products to Home Depot. Not always because there was a fault in the product, but sometimes because we got the wrong item. In fact, we’ve even gotten to the point, at Home Depot, where if, say, we are unsure of the size of something we need, we’ll buy it in a range of sizes and return the ones we don’t want.

Not the point, though. The fact is that easy returns seem to make up for shoddy quality. “No-Hassle” guarantees are supposed to make us feel better about poor workmanship among the trades. And, seriously, if I buy something for two or three bucks and it doesn’t work, am I really going to return it? How likely is that?

We keep buying stuff, keep the economy moving, but to whose benefit? Wal-Mart buys a warehouse full of shitty little widgets that they paid a dime for but sell for $3. Half of them don’t work and they sit in our junk drawers or landfills because we don’t return them and so, in essence, we’re handing over money for nothing.
Not sure where I’m going with this, but I guess you get the point. I think maybe what I’m saying is that this is another place where our society is broken. Two-hundred years ago, if someone built something for you, they stood by it because they had to. They lived in your town. They saw you at church or the store or on the street. They’d hear about it otherwise. They wouldn’t get more business.

We consumers are as much to blame as anyone. We demand low cost above quality. We bitch about paying $2.39 a pound for “vine-grown” tomatoes that taste like shit. We want tomatoes that taste like we think we remember them. But we only want to pay prices like we remember. And you can only have one of those. And we go with the latter.

UPDATE: Today (the day after I wrote this) I got to thinking about this idea in relation to food. As with the above, we've traded  quality for convenience. It's convenient to be able to eat an apple year round. It tastes like mushy shit because it's been sitting in a warehouse for months, but you can have apples all year round. It's cheap to buy, but it wasted tons of diesel fuel to ship it from New Zealand or Chile, BUT you can have it all year round. Same thing for tomatoes or other fresh fruits and vegetables.

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