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November 16th, 2008

Despair Shopping Experience

I was at a local Office Max the other day looking for a few household office supplies, when I noticed that the cordless phone set I bought with my credit card "bonus points", that sold for ninety bucks at Costco, was selling for one-hundred and forty there.  Wow.  And I hadn’t had to shell out anything to buy them.  Well…other then the fraction of a cent extra my credit card company is adding to every dollar of charge I put on the card to support the bonus point plan that is.

I’d come there looking for Dymo Label Maker tape…the old plastic stuff in various colors with an adhesive backing.  I actually have several rolls of the stuff here, that I’d bought cheap in the 1970s, that I was hoping to use for…I dunno…the rest of my life maybe.  But it turns out the adhesive degrades over time I guess, because the labels won’t stick to anything anymore.  So I went out to buy some new and discovered of course that my 1970s label technology is so…1970s.  Now it’s all some sort of electric imprinted tape stuff.  Bleh.  I like my colored plastic labels.  But Office Max wasn’t selling that stuff anymore.  I think I can order it online though.

I picked up some other things on my list and walked to the cashier and that was when I noticed how low budget things were getting in that store.  The sales isles were nicely stocked and well kept, but the front of the store by the registers looked desolate, and the employees manning them ragged and depressed.  Boxes of returned or damaged goods were scattered around, inventory was haphazardly tossed here and there.  There was only one person manning a checkout line that was pretty long, and the other employees you could see were all wandering around indifferently with other chores, completely ignoring the long line.  The store had maybe three-fourths the staff it should have had to keep things running smoothly and the ones that were there were all simply overworked and you could tell that beyond the breaking point was their normal day. When a person is depressed, you see it in their disheveled clothes and you see it in their disheveled faces.  I’ve seen this before in other retail stores that were on the verge of going belly up.

It’s a vicious circle that starts when management decides to treat its workers like they’re just another expense they can cut to the bone.  I’ve worked in retail and it’s hard work for low wages as it is.  Time was though, back when I was a kid and labor still had some clout in this country, that service workers could at least make a living wage.  Maybe not the greatest of one, but at least you could get by.  A small apartment, a cheap second hand car maybe.  A forty hour work week could get you a basic living, and if you wanted more you could take night courses.  At least you had enough free time to recover from your week before you had to get back to the grind.  Nowadays that’s nearly impossible on a service wage.  My mother raised me on the wages of a basic clerical job and what impresses me about that looking back was that was in a time when the glass ceiling ruled and women made only a fraction of what men did for the same work. 

But that was pre-Reagan America.  There is simply no way mom could have made a home for us doing that kind of work today.  Service workers are hurting bad, and the result is you walk into a store or office and the atmosphere reeks of despair.  How management expects to attract and hold on to customers in that kind of environment is beyond me, other then the obvious fact that they’re morons who should be the first ones out the door when layoffs…excuse me…Downsizing…happens. 

I do a lot of bulk shopping at Costco, and one thing you notice about them is their people are not just busy but Engaged with it.  I never feel like I’m walking through someone’s eviction pile when I shop there, unlike say the Office Max I was just at.  Costco isn’t Bloomingdale’s, its isles are sometimes cluttered and it does have long lines but that’s because they have lots of customers who buy tons of stuff.  It’s actually pleasant shopping there.  Costco tries hard to pay a living wage to its people.  And Wall Street is constantly bellyaching about it.  I read one jackass investment columnist who said that Costco treats its employees better then its investors.  But Costco makes money and that’s better then Wall Street can say about itself these days. 

One Response to “Despair Shopping Experience”

  1. Valorie Zimmerman Says:

    Amen. Costco believes in equal rights, too. Alltogether a different kettle of fish from Walmart.

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