Recently I went to Best Buy to purchase a laptop. That's the sort of product I would normally research and buy online, but I had planned poorly and needed the laptop for a trip the next day. A cheerful Best Buy employee helped me narrow my choice to what was clearly the best laptop they carry. It was light, fast, and had a quick boot time. I asked many questions and made my decision. This awesome marvel of modern technology was the machine for me. I liked it so much that the second-best choice sitting sadly next to this triumph of engineering looked like yesterday's bloated trash. I was feeling good about my decision.

A few minutes later the Best Buy employee emerged from the back room to tell me the model I chose wasn't  in stock, and none of the nearby stores had one either. My only choice was the piece of crap laptop that I had mentally relegated to a distant and pathetic second place. I couldn't do it. I left the store.

I drove straight to Office Depot to repeat the process. I asked the cranky Office Depot employee who worked in the computer area which model best fit the criteria I laid out. He pointed to a display model and explained with a confidence bordering on arrogance that this was the machine for me. The price list next to it showed three different models with different features and prices. I asked which price applied. He waived his hand at the sign and mumbled something ambiguous. I had to ask five more times to get him to actually place his finger upon the correct price and clearly state that this was the right one. That's when things turned ugly.

I looked at the model on the price he pointed to and asked where on the actual laptop I could verify that model number. The arrogant sales guy explained that he had worked in this department every day for the past eight months. He explained that if he tells me the laptop is a certain model, it is. End of story.

"But where does it say that on the laptop?" I asked several more times. One of his coworkers came by to ask him a question and he told her that I don't trust him. The situation was starting to get tense so I tried to lighten the mood by saying to his coworker in a jocular tone "We just met." My witticism was met with a scowl.

The cranky Office Depot sales guy booted the laptop and went into the Windows menus to show me the model number and get me off his back. At this point he was clearly annoyed. "There it is," he said bruskly, pointing to the screen with the model number.

"Where's that model number on the price list?" I asked.

The sales guy started talking in a slightly slower than normal way as if explaining something to a moron. He pointed to the model number on the screen and waved his hand at the price list. "It's the middle one, like I said."

Except it wasn't. The laptop model displayed in Windows didn't match any of the models on the price sheet. It wasn't even close. I had to describe the discrepancy to him several times before he was willing to look closely enough to verify it. Awkward. In the end, he admitted he didn't know which laptop he had vigorously recommended to me and didn't even have a way to know how much it would cost. "How long did you say you've worked here?" I asked. That didn't help. I left without a computer.

I had one local computer outlet left. I went to Office Max and was greeted by a bearded geek who actually knew what he was talking about. He listened to my criteria and took me directly to the best choice for me. That model was out of stock, of course, but he warned me of that in advance, so I was okay with it. He was willing to sell me the demo unit for a discount if I didn't mind that the battery life had probably degraded after a few months on display. So I bought his semi-defective laptop because three retail stores into my journey I didn't have a better option for a same-day purchase.

Later that day I went to my local mall to look for some t-shirts. If you haven't been to a retail clothing store recently, let me tell you what you will find. First, you have your hideous clothing choices that no one will ever buy. That's 75% of every store. Then you have the 25% that look good and won't make you look like a sandwich board advertisement for the brand. Within that subset of shirts you will find sizes small and XXL. Nothing else. And we're done.

I don't have much better luck shopping online. At least half of my online purchase attempts are met with an out-of-stock message, defective online store technology that freezes, endless bother about entering codes and passwords, and a nagging feeling in my gut that the positive online reviews are bogus.

All of this makes me wonder how much more I would be willing to shop, and thereby stimulate the economy, if the process weren't so frustrating and painful. My guess is 20% more.

How about you? Do you buy less because the process of shopping is annoying, or do you end up buying the same amount but it takes longer and you're less happy doing it?

[Note: Yes, I know I would have had a better retail experience at the Apple store. But I've owned several Apple computers over the years and every one was an overpriced crash-lemon. Apple can only fool me six or seven times in a row. Now I just buy their stock.]
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+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 16, 2012
Wow - that's a first. Someone who has owned an Apple admitting it's rubbish! I was beginning to think there was hypnotism software built into Apples that brainwashed users. Yes, they are very pretty, but their OS is a toy, and their inventor was a psychopath.
Aug 14, 2012
It's just the total lack of thought that gets me. I went to a PC store the other day to buy a PC for my daughter, and a replacement PC for mine (about 10 years old and on last legs). Despite telling the salesman this was her FIRST PC, and that I wanted a complete replacement, at no point did he think to say "you know these don't come with monitors and you have to choose them seperately?" - and, this being something I buy once every several years, I did not have the background to know. So I bought 2 PCs, took them home - ready for her birthday the next day, I might add - and found I needed to go all the way back to buy something that the thing was useless without but which the dozy berk didn't think worth mentioning.
Aug 10, 2012
If I had a broker (or any money invested in Apple) I'd be calling them now - sell, sell, sell. That's surely the kiss of death for Apple, if you have money invested in them Scott, no?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 10, 2012
We've come a long way from "Give the lady what she wants."
Aug 10, 2012
I used to work for PC World (part of the Dixons group in the UK) sales people come in three types for these stores. Type 1 know about compouters are honest and will try and sell you the pc/laptop that best suits your requirements - they get fired for not meeting sales targets. Type 2 know just enough to convince people who don't that they are a computing genius and trick them into buying what ever is on offer at the time even if it doesn't meet their needs, they tend to stay in sales. Type 3 don't know a computer from thier own backside and just read off the display in front of them, they will always try and sell whatever is on their target list for the day and eventually get promoted to manager.
Aug 10, 2012
Just last week I wrote a similar blog entry about my quest for a shaver and the frustrations of retail (http://www.facebook.com/notes/matthew-vienneau/quest-for-a-shaver/10151090374801865) so I wanted to Thumbs Up your post very hard. I also enjoyed "Overpriced crash-lemon".
Aug 10, 2012
I just shop on Amazon. I do _occasionally_ shop at physicals stores when I absolutely have to (aka food) - but I ALWAYS go to Amazon first. That's mainly because they're so easy. I impulse buy something off Amazon at least once a week.

Basically, I agree with you - if I had to hunt around online to find what I wanted to buy, instead of having a single site to go to, I wouldn't shop anywhere near as much!
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 9, 2012
I so agree with the comments and question at the end of the post, you wouldn't believe. So far (15 years of online buying so I have a comparison between clicks and bricks) I have ONE retailer which I would recommend: Headsets.com

You pay a little more, but you get a LOT more in terms of service and all the other things which make a retailer good (or bad).

The rest range from terrible to almost acceptable.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 9, 2012
Scott, I recall Office Depot was one of your corporate customers. We used Dilbert on a number of advertising spots and marketing materials. Oh, how we bite the hand once the hand is no longer feeding you. Your probably right about your observations though.
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 9, 2012
Panel 1: Dilbert and Dogbert.
Dilbert: I need a new computer. A decade ago I used Pear computers when they were crashy.

Panel 2
Dilbert: Today, the buying experience and usage of Pear computers are best-of-breed.

Panel 3
Dogbert: Buy a crashy Windows PC. You should stick with what you know.
Aug 9, 2012
Heh, Scott is complaining about customer service and someone tells him to go to Fry's. I assume that would be for purposes of comparison, to make him feel better about his experience.
Aug 9, 2012
Office Depot sucks!!
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 9, 2012
This is the fallout, unfortunately, of the early 2000's... Anyone who could spell HTML is now a web developer.

I am amused at how the price tag for a web developer went from $100 / hour down to about $18 per hour as the skill set went from "unix administrator database expert programmer networking expert designer" to "a person who knows 15 html tags can use a gui tool".

... which is also why web stores don't work. The guy who should be answering questions on the floor at Best Buy is now programming Best Buy's website. And the guy who should be moving boxes at Best Buy is answering customer questions.
Aug 9, 2012
Getting your fingers on a keyboard and looking at a display are as important as test driving a car before purchase. In California you could have tried Fry's Electronics or Notebookshop for computers. I've purchased from each of them as well as Best Buy.
-16 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 9, 2012
You all seem to be really excited discussing your latest purchasing activites. The wonders of capitalism, eh? Well no, not really. If you still had 486 processors you'd be just as excited, only you'd be discussing something else. There's no evidence that technologically advanced hobbies tend to be more satisfying. Personally, I got more enjoyment out of computers ten or fifteen years ago. Down with capitalism.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 9, 2012
" the price of new color and b/w ink for my current printer is almost as much as a new printer, so I figure I'll just get updated technology every 6 months instead of ink."

Hah! They've got you there, the cartridges in the box with the printer are "starter" cartridges and don't last as long.

PS: Not very ecological to keep tossing printers in the trash.
Aug 9, 2012
We've had so many comments like this in the UK too. Particularly about our 'Dixons group' who seem to hire staff based on their surliness, stupidity and lack of any kind of technical knowledge. Their whole sales attitude was based on 'You need what we've got so go somewhere else if you don't like us'. Well that policy is now biting them back as they are in serious financial trouble. The only bad point is that their CEO was recently hired by Apple so you can now look forward to Apple going down the pan as well.
Aug 9, 2012
Forget the Apple store -- you would have a better experience at a Microsoft store, as well. I don't know exactly where you live, but there are seven of them in California, so presumably one would be within driving distance.
Aug 9, 2012
I also recently bought a notebook computer. In Thailand. Nobody speaks English, so I just motor my way around the displays, picking up anything remotely interesting and throwing it on the glass table where I can take a closer look. They're horrified when I ask for "BATTALEEE". Battery for some power so I can see what the hell I'm getting. They start to argue... I walk straight back to where the administrators sit - and say - BATTALEEE, JAM BPEN BATTALEEE....

This gets them all worked up, but it gets me battaleee for every computer I put on the table. These people should know me by now, I've purchased 4 computers from them in 3 years. The owner knows me, but he wasn't "in".

I cruise the computers, checking out display and typing experience. The ONLY two things that matter to a writer - well, wait - 3. If the thing overheats - I cannot use it. I need cool palm rests.

The sales girl stands around looking dumb. Not only can she not speak a word of English, but, she couldn't tell you a computer from a commuter and she could care even less about the difference.

I quickly eliminate all but one. I check the battery - it's 6 cell. I say, I want this. They ring it up, add the 4GB of extra RAM I wanted for $25. Turn it on for me. I see the battery is down to 2:50. That's odd because it was at 4:50 a minute ago. I yank the battery. It's a different one. It's actually the one that GOES with this computer, whereby the previous one must have been a mistake. I ask where is the GOOD battery at? They say, in the GOOD computer. I buy that one instead. I leave with a feint smile, having navigated another shopping experience in Thailand where nothing makes a damn bit of sense... and take comfort in the fact that I can give it to my wife - who loves my hand-me-down electronics.

In the near term I'll go shopping for a Galaxy Note II, Honda CBR 150r, and a bunch of stuff I sell on a website. None of these experiences will go well, and surely not NEAR as well as yours did at 3 places where they do speak English.

Be happy with what you've got Scott.


Aug 8, 2012
This is unfortunately 100% my experience.
I have given up completely trying to shop for anything locally.
IF i know what i want, buying it online is much easier, saving the trip to a physical store.
If i DO NOT know what i want, sales staff is typically completely useless and I end up doing my research on a smartphone in the store, or ask other customers.

Over the last year I have remodeled a house, and even for the home remodel, i have shopped most of the items online.
(Yes, this includes bathroom fixtures and a full size porcelain toilet, shipped to my doorstep)
Probably the weirdest item was a palette full or interior doors shipped by courier.

I have given up entirely on local stores. For exactly the reasons Scott mentions.
Sometimes it's even worse - Like, when i need a automotive part from my local car-parts shop.
I can either go there and try and explain what I want, and actually get the wrong part which
i will have to go back to the store and return.
Or i can order online, where I chose the correct item and get it delivered.
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