For Riley's birthday we wanted to fix up his desktop computer, so I grabbed a reluctant Abby and drove to Best Buy to look for a monitor.  Prior to our outing, I checked their web site for prices, and found what I wanted, also noting that they had them in stock at our Downingtown location.  Knowing that Riley's birthday was the following day and shipping would likely not work, we set out to fetch a monitor.

Abby and I looked for the monitor shelf and found the display model of the monitor we were looking for, but we could not find the monitor in a box on the shelf.  Usually I am accosted by 50 blue-shirts while I peruse Best Buy, but for some reason I was not this time.  So without any associates to help me, I simply used my phone to order and pay for the monitor online, and schedule it for in-store pickup at the store I was standing in.  Abby and I continued looking around the store, playing games, checking out movies and cameras and TVs, and finally after about 45 minutes of goofing around, we headed for the customer service desk to pick up the monitor that I had ordered. 

When we arrived at the counter, I explained that I had ordered an item online and that I was there to pick it up.  I showed the clerk the receipt on my phone.  He typed some things into his register, and told me that they hadn't yet picked my item off the floor, but he'd be happy to go grab a monitor for me.  Great!  He walked off and we waited.

After a minute or two, he returned with the monitor I ordered and set it on the counter.  He poked at the register a little more, then started talking to one of his associates.  They chatted for a bit - about what, I didn't realize at the time - then went to get a manager.  The manager they returned with was a tall, thin man with short gray hair, and affable, as is a requirement for managers in these types of stores.  He asked me if I had received an email telling me that my item was ready for pick-up. 

"No," I told him.  "When I placed my order, the online receipt said nothing about waiting for an email before going to pick it up.  Also, it's been 45 minutes since I placed the order, as you can see here on the receipt in my phone."

"Well," he said, "I apologize, but your order is not in our system, so I can't give you this monitor."  The monitor sitting on the counter for which I had already paid.

"Huh," I said.  "But I'm standing right here, surely there's something customer service can do for me."  The only option he offered was for me to provide my credit card, essentially, to pay for a second monitor.  This was not acceptable to me.  The whole time he kept saying, "I apologize, I apologize," like some broken electronic parrot.

"Ok, then," I said.  And I took Abby out to the car, leaving the monitor behind.  As we crossed the street to where I parked the car, my phone alerted me to an incoming email.  The pickup notice!  I told Abby to wait in the car and went back inside.  The manager was coming toward the doors as I entered.

"Oh, great, you're back.  We just got the order in our system,"  he said.  Great.  We walked over to the customer service counter.

"Here's what I want to do," I said.  "I want to pick up the order, but I want to immediately return it.  I do not want to do business with your company."  I received the typical looks; the ones implying how I'm one of "those people".

"I apologize," he said, again, "but I can't do that.  You placed the order online, and we can't return online orders."  This was a bit perplexing.  Isn't it possible to get an order shipped to you from Best Buy and then, finding it defective or incorrect, return it to a local store to save everyone the shipping?  This seemed unreasonable.

"You can't return this," I repeated, half statement, half question.  He apologized again.  I told him to stop apologizing if he wasn't really sorry, since his ingrained management techniques were just pissing me off more.  "Ok, I guess I am done here."  And I walked out.

In the car, with Abby in the back seat, I called Best Buy's customer service hotline.  I told the woman I spoke to that I ordered something online that I had not yet picked up, and I wanted to cancel the order.  She didn't give me any hassle about it, and when I asked, told me that I would receive an immediate charge-back to my debit card (which was important to me, since that cash was allocated for the new monitor, and I wouldn't be able to buy it elsewhere if the cash was held). 

The phone rep asked why I was canceling the order, and I told her about my experience with the people at the Downingtown Best Buy.  I told her, "This is not the first time this type of thing has happened with your company, and I will never do business with you again."  She apologized (this apology seemed genuine to me, though by this point I'd had it with people being apologetic but unwilling/unable to do anything about it), and offered me a $25 gift card for my trouble.


I told her, "No, you don't understand.  I will never do business with your company again.  What good will a $25 gift card for your store do for me?"  She did not know, but she still seemed incredulous that I would not accept the money.  I had to explain this whole situation again -- how, if this is how their company dealt with customer relations, and, if I was a frequent, somewhat technically-advanced customer, then I would likely encounter these issues constantly. I would simply rather deal with a company that didn't screw me around, even if that meant having to pay a bit more or plan ahead a bit better. 

She apologized again, and that was the end of my Best Buy experience.

With that suffered, and Abby listening to the whole phone conversation, we proceeded to Target, where I wanted to get some medicine for both Riley and me, since we were both feeling a little cough/congestion.

Abby and I spent a while digging through the myriad over-the-counter remedies, specifically ignoring the ones with pseudoephedrine since the pharmacy was closed and having to sign for a bottle of OTC pills is bothersome anyway.  We finally found a couple of products - one for each of us - that closely enough fit our symptoms and ages that I was satisfied, then proceeded to the checkout.

While we waited for the person ahead of us, I pulled a Coke out of the fridge at the end of the aisle, having become parched from talking with all of these customer service reps.  I placed my three items on the conveyor belt and awaited our turn.

The clerk was a pimply-faced kid, maybe 17.  He scanned the box of cough medicine I had selected for Riley and his register beeped.  "I need to see your ID," he said.

This was unusual.  I'm standing next to my 11-year-old daughter, being asked by a 17-year-old kid to see ID, for what?  To prove I'm old enough to by cough medicine?  Hmm.

I pulled out my driver's license, anxious just to get on with it, and held it up for him to see, still encased in my wallet.  Then he started to turn the scanning gun toward my ID.

"No, you can't scan my ID," I said.  He was clearly confused.

"I have to scan it or I can't sell it to you," he said.

"Then I guess I won't buy it," I replied, then put my ID away.  I saw how this was going to be. The lady in line behind us gave me that look like I was one of "those people".

He scanned the adult medicine, which did the same thing.  "Then I guess I'm not buying that, either," I said.  "As a matter of fact, forget the Coke, too."  And Abby and I left without another word exchanged.

In the car on the way home, I said to Abby, "You know, you've seen this tonight.  And I realize these are small things, almost unworthy of concern.  But at some point you're going to have to decide if this is the world you want to live in.  We adults are screwing it up.  We're killing the environment, and you know about that.  What you don't know is that we're taking away all of your freedoms, too.  And you won't realize it because you've never had them.  You've always had to take your shoes off before you board a plane.  You've always gone through metal detectors when you enter government buildings and museums.  You've always had DRM and FBI notices and DHCP.  You've been surveilled on video everywhere in public you've ever gone.

"Corporations think they can do what they want and you'll just take what you're given and do what you're told, and your only recourse is to not buy their goods.  Well if the corporations have their way, you will soon have no such option, because it's not in any corporation's interest financially to behave in a consumer-friendly way.  And the government will eventually be owned by their special interests instead of the people, as corporations with more money and power pay for legislation that suits them.  All the while, collecting personal information about you that they really have no need for and no right to, all allegedly in the name of better customer service, and probably selling that information to whoever else wants to sell you something.  And that's just the most mundane way they can use that information, nevermind what it could do to your ability to buy a house or practice your personal beliefs or any number of other freedoms you might like to keep.

"It doesn't need to be like this, and the problem is that even if you know that this isn't the way you want it, you won't - or at least you think you won't - have the power to do anything about it until you're older.  You need, as a generation, to decide to do something and do it now, because by the time you're an adult, you'll have waited too long, and a police state will be what's normal and familiar and your kids really won't know any better."

We drove the car up the street to Acme, where we again sifted through the myriad bottles of OTC remedies.  We paid for two bottles of cough syrup through the self-checkout, where not a soul spoke to us, and shared a chocolate bar in the car.


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