Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas story – Schmucks ‘R Us

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.
-- Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977)

Christmas shopping was much more interesting this year.

To instill some sense of responsibility in our children it is sometimes necessary to teach the young ones a lesson. Instead of using a toy for an hour and discarding it, this year we provided an interesting twist.

The racing car actually stopped working an hour after buying it at the toy store. There was no lack of interest in using it – it was just defective. So, instead of putting it in the closet and taking the loss, we drove to the store to replace it.
Granted, it was a week later before we managed to get there, but everyone was feeling proud that we were not just going to accept it and forget about it in the pile of other unused or broken toys. It was a remote-control car that was actually fun to play with. And, we were going to turn over a new leaf.

The fact that the sales receipt was missing, of course, made it much more interesting. But, hey, it’s almost Christmas! Surely, a famous chain of stores catering to children would be accommodating.

Dan, the manager who had no last name – since it’s Corporate Policy not to give out last names (giving you that warm, personal feeling) – looked at the remote control race car which was packed neatly in its original box and with a completely straight face asked for the receipt. There was none.
It was at that moment that we ceased to exist as humans.

Well, then, Dan explained, he could not help us. He walked away.
Expecting this, but not happy about it, we called out again to him and reasoned that the identification from the optical scan on the box, the identification of the exact date it was purchased, and the information about the amount that was paid – should be enough for him to at least be able to check his records and identify this sale. Was it not?

“Sorry” he said. “If you don’t have a receipt, I can’t help you.
“We have no records of cash sales. We only have records of credit card sales.” There is no record of cash. I was incredulous. This was now a learning experience.

“Do you mean that even though you charge sales tax and you collect cash, you have absolutely no record of this transaction? How is that possible?”
He looked directly at us, with an emotionless face that one could see he may have put on a thousand times.
Whoa, we thought. How many defective toys sold for cash could that generate income for? How many customers who pay cash have been down this road before?

This was really getting interesting. We have a batched out tape with – maybe, hopefully, some sales tax – that cannot be located or identified – for a toy that may or may not work – and no way to recover your money or get a replacement. There was no sign over the register that said, “We keep no record of cash transactions” or “Hold on to your receipt since cash transactions don’t exist.” Even better, “Sales Tax is reported only on credit card transactions.” And, I like the one that would say, “Please advise clerk if you’re going to pay cash. Her college fund is dwindling.”

“So, does that mean that we have to sue you to get money back or a replacement??” We thought, well even in Riverhead Small Claims court it would have to cost more than the toy just to get in front of a judge. But, he already had his answer: “You can do whatever you have to do,” said Dan and he walked away. He was well trained in “Corporate Policy.”

“Well, how do we speak to management about this,” we said – and he came back and pointed to two white phones (Khrushchev preferred red for hot lines. Hopefully, those had worked.)
One phone did not work and the other had a weird Verizon recording telling us that the number the manager had actually dialed for us, which was for “Corporate” was a non-working number. Apparently, “Corporate” phone lines were not often used.
Things were starting to get a little frustrating. Not unexpectedly, of course.
This was corporate America at its best.

“Riverhead Police” came the answer on the line.
The officer was actually helpful and said he would come right over – and then, he did. In less than 10 minutes. It was like we were on a movie set. People on the Customer Service line were starting to look at us like we were Alien Humbugs. Voices were raised, blood pressure was bubbling, faces got flushed, and there were uncomfortable stares. Some actually smiled sympathetically as if they had been there, done that, and had gotten the same results. What in the world were we doing, expecting to get satisfaction from minimum-wage workers who had been trained in “Corporate Policy.”

Except, that I was pissed. We had paid good money – in real U.S. Dollars – even if they are nearly worthless compared to the Euro now – and we had gotten bad merchandise. The value of those dollars had not depreciated THAT much in one week. The store probably had no idea that the toy was defective – but they DID know that the toy came from their store. They admitted that in front of the Riverhead Police Officer. I was eager to operate the racing car and show them how it stopped working. The battery was even charged, ready to demonstrate.

By the time the police arrived, everybody was staring at us and many were hoping that the offending ex-customers would be taken out of the store in cuffs for asserting their rights – or, at least the rights that one reads about in political novellas describing America’s freedoms.
It just wasn’t right. You pay cash, they know you bought something at their store and then they refused to acknowledge that they took your money.
And, they were condescending about it as well. Bet you that they would find a video of the transaction if I had lifted a $50 from the till, or tickled the clerk.

The “Store Manager” finally arrived and he told the police that the store had been threatened with a State Sales Tax audit for claiming that they had no record of transaction and that they had a “Corporate Policy.” After all, how did they know whether we really bought the truck?

At that point I was reminded of Jamie Lee Curtis in “A Fish Called Wanda.”
In her scene with Kevin Kline, Curtis is being attacked by Kline’s character – a second story man dressed in black – for calling him stupid – apparently a phrase he had heard before and was very sensitive about.
Curtis says to him: “Oh, I’m sorry. Calling you stupid would be an insult to stupid people.”

I thought, yes, this store manager is right. We could have been lying.
We could have tracked the purchase of people that bought that toy – followed them home and watched to see that it didn’t work and purloined the broken toy – all the while taking note of the day that it was purchased, or even better, stole the receipt for cash. Then, we waited a week and made a lot of noise about the fact that we paid cash, pointed out that the store could check the optical scanner information on the toy – and then called the Police over.
Or, we could have bought it Downtown on Canal Street from an Asian gang for $5 and had it completely re-packaged, and THEN drove to Riverhead to make $39.95 for our troubles. All the while planning to obtain the help of the Riverhead Police.
The possibilities were endless.

The absurdity of the situation was starting to dawn on Mr. Store Manager and he finally said, “Well if I had been asked nicely whether I would make an exception to ‘Corporate Policy’ I might have considered giving store credit.”

Without genuflecting, in my best supplicant’s voice, I repeated his words verbatim back to him. He was obviously thrilled by the lengths that I would go to in order to obtain satisfaction.
The Police Officer was satisfied and we were satisfied. Mr. Toy Store Manager was, well, resigned to making an adjustment to “Corporate Policy.”

Somehow, it seemed, it shouldn’t be so difficult to deal with a giant corporation whose real customers are just kids.

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