Archive for the 'shopping' Category

Not available

April 20, 2014

My local supermarket often runs out of things they advertize as being on sale, and email ads I get from clothing vendors often do the same.  In some cases there are rainchecks or backorders, but sometimes there is just nothing helpful.  It colors the way a consumer thinks about ads and vendors, I think — it’s all about them, the vendors, not about the impact on the consumer;  for example, if the item on sale is something the consumer needed to buy anyway, and was perfectly willing to pay full-price for, and which would have been in stock but for the sale, while the world as we know it doesn’t come to an end over such a failure to transact, it may mean that I have to find another store that does have unsalted stick butter in stock.

Accessories

January 15, 2014

I found myself in Belmont Center yesterday.  I apparently hadn’t been there for years, because every time I asked shopkeepers about changes, they told me “about three years ago.”  Without Bildner’s (a grocery store) and Filene’s (a department store; the Macy’s replacement just wasn’t the same, and now the location is empty) and Charlesbank Books, it ceased to be a particularly beckoning destination for us.

I saw a gorgeous scarf.  It’s more of a shawl, it’s wool, cream colored with pinkish paisley, and it’s, tastefully, beaded.  It was not cheap, but nor was it unreasonably priced.  I braced myself and got out my cash.

The salesperson rang it up with sales tax, so what she asked me for was noticeably higher than the tag price.  I said, “But it’s clothing” [and so shouldn’t be subject to sales tax], and she and her colleague said, “It’s an accessory” [and hence taxable].  I inferred that my choices were to pay what they were charging or to put it back, and I went with Option A.

When I got home and had eaten lunch, I went to my computer and googled “scarves sales tax ma,” or something to that effect, and sure enough, it’s exempt from tax, according to a state government document I found right away.  Right there grouped with neckwear and ties.

I called the store, they were very nice, told me if I came back with the receipt, they would give me back the tax.  Which I did.  We had a lovely conversation, quite friendly.  I recalled I had actually been through this at least once before, with shawls sold by an antique store that used to be in Brattle Square in Arlington.  I think shops that don’t sell primarily clothing are more apt to make this mistake.  (This shop in Belmont told me, “That’s the way it comes up in ‘the system.'”  I won’t get started on my technology issues here.)

Why I bring this up is that I don’t think I could have gotten any further at the time of purchase than I got.  There was no willingness to entertain the issue at that point.  They, not surprisingly, had a computer, but I don’t think it would have been effective to have asked them to go online and check.  I ended up expending the extra time and gas to go back, but c’est la vie, it didn’t take long and it’s not that far.

This resonated for me with other encounters, including formal meetings with bureaucratic officials, I’ve had, where afterwards, I wonder why I didn’t press my case further.  The scarf situation didn’t have much emotional overlay to it, paying the extra money was not fraught with anything in particular — it was just money, enough that I noticed, not so much as to be upsetting — so I could see more easily that there really wasn’t an opening to pursue the issue further at the moment.  It made me feel better about similar experiences in past situations, reassuring that I probably really hadn’t missed real opportunities.

Hurts

September 15, 2013

My son told me on the way home from grocery shopping that the cashier had called me a swear word under her breath.  I had asked about an item on sale in two different ways, and how to qualify for the second discount.  When I learned I could qualify for it, I ran off to get the item while the rest of our order was being scanned and bagged.  I estimated how much time I had, and would have aborted my attempt if I had thought it was taking too long.  One of the requirements for the second discount was having an order of at least $25.00, so I couldn’t finish my first order and get the item as a separate order and get the second discount — and with both discounts, it was $9.00 off an $18.99 item, so I thought it was worth a try.

I admit that running off to get the item could be annoying to a cashier.  Sometimes they’ve actually encouraged me to do it, though (“Honey, don’t you realize there’s a ‘buy one, get one free’ special going on?  Go get yourself another one.”), or the item has gotten damaged, maybe even during the check-out process, and I’ve had to get another one (like a leaking milk container).

The item the other day was near the check-out counters, and yes, I got back in time — our order was still being processed, there was no loss in time.

So I was surprised by what Jordan told me.  I didn’t think someone would curse me out for doing what I did.

It’s kind of like the opposite of paranoia — I had no idea that the person thought that ill of me.

I’ve had this before, sometimes on behalf of my children, especially when they were quite young and they had done nothing that could be reacted to negatively.  I had no idea someone thought so ill of them, but I discover that the person does.  I’ve also experienced it when I’ve tried to follow through with someone who was quite friendly to me from a distance, for example, online.  I meet them, and I encounter behavior that seems to communicate, “I don’t really like you, I am only willing to interact with you enough to derive a benefit to me from a distance.”  And I’ve experienced a third variety of this, when I’ve heard gossip repeated back to me that was hurtful, or intended to be hurtful, even if it was inaccurate, in the context of a community I am a part of.

I feel hurt when this kind of stuff happens, hurt in a bewildered kind of way.  I can find a way to look at the situation with some detachment, and move on.  It’s harder when circumstances are such that I have to continue to interact with the person.  I suspect politicians are good at this, but it’s a skill I don’t have.  I usually try to deal with the situation by seeing the other person as someone who is damaged themselves doing the best they can.  But it usually alters the way I interact with them.  And if I think they actually can do better than they are, I have to look at that, too, as a product of their damage.

In some ways, I would rather not know.  I would also prefer the person not to think ill of me or of my children if, in turn, their doing so causes us harm, harm beyond hurt feelings.  But I’ve learned that there’s not much I can do about changing what other people think and do, that people can be impervious and deflect feedback.   All I can do is to try to keep them in focus and to see them as they are — which may include their being a person who judges me ill.

I can’t think of a word specific to the phenomenon of thinking people aren’t feeling negatively about one when they are.

“Mystic Pizza”

September 2, 2012

Jordan had this at a friend’s house and liked it enough to ask me to look for it at Trader Joe’s next time I went.  It wasn’t there, but he brought home two from Roche Bros. this morning, after visiting the same friend again.

Interesting that there was a Roche Bros. market at that shopping plaza we stopped at to look for a reading pillow the other day, the one I felt prompted to notice at the traffic light.

I guess you never know when you’re actually in the right place but looking for the wrong thing, near what you want but don’t realize it — my experience is that things come into focus through repeated iterations of a pattern.

Unfortunately Jordan doesn’t want to heat the pizza yet — I’m a little hungry and impatient to taste it.

Shopping with “the Force”

August 31, 2012

My younger son tends to roll his eyes when I even look as if I might say some thing of a spiritual nature.

He’s a dedicated fan of Star Wars, though, and says things in jest like, “I sense a disturbance in the Force” when he hears someone coming.

So today we go out in the car, shopping for one of those reading pillows for him, and the first two stores we went to were sold out of them.  I suggested a route home along which we might pass other stores that might carry such an item, but I didn’t really want to go chasing particular stores if we were likely to encounter spent inventory — I figured we’d order one on line when we got home.

He agreed, and I asked him to keep a look-out for plausible stores.  At one point we were pulling up to a traffic light and I felt prompted to turn to look at what was the occasion for a traffic signal.  I saw a store in the distance tucked away in a mall there and said, “Oh, there’s a store.”

Jordan asked, “How did you know to look there?”

And I said, “I felt prompted by the Force.”

This time he didn’t roll his eyes.  Of course, that store was sold out, too.

Processes

August 19, 2012

I’m not sure whether Amazon.com is employing new software or whether it’s just that the way I’ve used the site has recently triggered something that’s always been there, but I don’t like it.  I consider buying something, and then either they raise the price of the item I’m considering before I decide to buy it or they start sending me emails about even more expensive, related items for sale.  It’s enough to make me change my use of the site.

Similarly with the processes of posting comments to pieces on newspaper, and such, websites.  I long abandoned posting comments on the website of The Boston Globe.   It had turned into a “conversation,” and the results were not, in my opinion, for the better, in terms of quality or interest.  At the time, I didn’t much mind, because I was enjoying posting comments on the NYTimes website.  That was back in the days of the previous commenting format, in which the comments were numbered, for example, and everything was, I think, on a first-come, first-served basis.  And Marie Burns took top prizes.

I think Marie Burns can be found elsewhere on the web.  But there are other aspects to the old process I miss (such as the greater formality of most of the entries), and I am thinking I am detecting the degenerating of the whole enterprise into more casual interactions among commenters — better for the social networking, worse for the content, which I think benefits from focus on ideas, not on their reception.

I’m not against interaction per se, I just think it needs to be structured in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the primary enterprise.  I should probably also note that under the current regime at the NYTimes, I personally am able to post my comments without going through moderation — on the Globe website, there is only moderation after the fact, and for everyone, of course, I think.  But I am much less content with the dynamic now at the NYTimes as a whole than I used to be.

I also comment on the PBS NewsHour website, where many fewer comments are posted and I can’t quite figure out the moderation practices.  There the dynamic seems to vary, with some very interesting interactive threads and some seemingly random and oddly-inspired comments.

But, to get back to my original point:  just as I don’t enjoy the apparent Amazon.com algorithm I’m encountering, I find my interest in commenting on the NYTimes changing for the worse — I find myself feeling put off by the dynamic.

My reference to the dynamic on the NewsHour site makes me want to say that I really don’t know what makes an interactive experience satisfying and what doesn’t for me — I suspect for me it’s about openness and a focus on ideas and not personalities.  I wonder whether for others, it’s more enjoyable when it’s quite the opposite and has a greater component of reacting to one another.

I don’t know what the NYTimes’ objective is for their commenting feature.  With Amazon I’m going to suspect it’s pure profit.  So I really don’t know whether to expect that there will be other changes in the future to the commenting feature to try to maintain quality and not just traffic, for example.

I have been contemplating other changes in my life of late, and I’m not sure how this issue fits into that.  I’ll be going away later this week and into the next, so maybe time away will help me determine what I’ll do about all this.  Maybe it will seem to me that the universe is nudging me to go in a different direction from what I’ve been doing and turn to something else.  Things in this world are always changing in some way.  Or maybe I’ll just come back with a different attitude towards the same activities.

Deli flags

April 29, 2012

I was passing by a crosswalk across Mass. Ave. in Lexington this afternoon and I noticed a canister affixed to a light pole, I think, that was labeled something like “crosswalk flags.”  I read the instructions, and it seems that a pedestrian can use the flags (they looked white when I peered into the canister) to get the attention of motorists before venturing out into the crosswalk.  (I think there’s a state law requiring motorists to stop for anyone in a crosswalk, but as a practical matter, this rule is of little comfort if the motorist hasn’t spotted you.)

I don’t think I had ever heard of crosswalk flags before.  I think they might be confusing to a driver who had never heard of them — they might think they were being asked to pull over to offer some kind of assistance, perhaps.  But I can see their usefulness, especially at night.

I can also see an application for them in supermarkets.  At the deli counter, even when they use numbers and tickets, I often have the experience of not being heard when I respond when my number is called, and not being seen over the counter.  (Jordan is not only a foot taller, but is such a good customer of theirs, it’s like old home week when he comes — he gets seen and recognized and chatted up and served lots of samples.)  Flags would be just the thing to get the deli clerk’s attention.

Words, especially written ones

January 26, 2012

Sometimes when I’m participating in religious services, I find myself closing the prayer book and following the sound.  I don’t read Hebrew really, so there’s not too much incentive to follow the print, even the transliterations into English, but there’s also something in me that gets to come to the surface and take some exercise when I follow the sounds.  Sometimes it’s just letting the words wash over me, sometimes it’s joining in in singing or chanting them.  Leaving aside the written words and following the sound allows [this is one act so I’m going to use a singular verb even though I’ve used a compound subject] me more brain space, I think, to meditate at the same time.

This experience give me a point of entry into exploring more of the strengths and weaknesses of relying on words more generally, in other contexts, both written and spoken.

I think I’ve already mentioned in other posts that when I pray and meditate it’s not in words — I can usually translate it into words, but that’s not its primary language.  Maybe an analogy would be a hug — not words, but conveys meaning.

There are advantages to non-verbal language, especially since it can’t be used as easily by mistake as a substitute for action.  I don’t think we feel we’ve done the job of helping someone pick out a wedding dress if we enthuse with them about it, but if we talk them through the process, we may feel we don’t really need to accompany them on the actual search.

So, I sometimes think our capacity for putting things into words both allows us to be more helpful and to be less helpful.  It allows us to share ideas and information and some amount of understanding with each other (and to use judicial processes instead of violence to settle disputes), but it also can allow us to put up walls and to substitute words for deeds.  (My favorite occurs with social service providers who are all meetings and plans, and when it comes to implementation, it’s more referrals to more providers, who then do the same thing, until eventually (true story) the client is referred back to the first provider, with whom they started.)

I am not against words, I just think there is a time and a place for them, and that sometimes it’s the time to put them aside and do something.  They are a politician’s best friend, they are one of Cupid’s arrows, but as Jackson Browne points out in his song “Late for the Sky,” they are sometimes inadequate.

I get frustrated when they are used to paper over real need for action.  On the one hand, they allow the re-framing of a situation into something more manageable, on the other, they can allow a person who wants to avoid action to have a framework, however illusory, in which none by them is required.  Their use can also become an energy sinkhole if the person using them insists on an argument.  But perhaps situations such as these are really merely a more complicated arrangement for learning the lesson of accepting that people just don’t always perceive things the same way, that some points of view just can’t be reconciled.  Maybe my quarrel with the role of words in this is how they are sometimes used to try to deny the other person’s point of view — with other forms of communication, the differences in realities may remain clearer.

But as I indicated, words give us a medium for working things out in situations in which other media might fail more spectacularly.  So, I’m not “against,” words, just a little cautious about how they are used.

More pitfalls

January 10, 2012

Earlier today I was ordering something on line from a vendor I have used before, and I even found my password to access my previously established account with them, so I wouldn’t have to type in all that information.  Which does suggest that the information in my account had worked before, for a previous purchase.  But this time, when I tried to continue to the next page, I was informed that my zip code was “invalid.”  Really.  So, I deleted the “plus four” extension and that seemed to satisfy the software and I was allowed to proceed. Since I doubt my “plus four” code has changed, I’m going to ascribe this little episode to synchronicity.

Good business

December 23, 2011

I stopped inside a local store today as I was walking home from the other end of town.  I had noticed in passing by the store front while in my car or on a bus that it seemed to have changed hands, and I had even confirmed this at a new local store in my own neighborhood that sells the same sorts of things (things handcrafted by local folks) and is managed by the mother of a classmate of one of my kids.  She even mentioned that the previous store had closed due to health issues of owner.

So, today I finally made it in there.  And I got into a conversation with the owner after asking whether she had taken up some of the inventory of the previous shop, because some of it looked familiar.  And she said she was buying from local artisans, so there was some overlap, where the previous owner had also bought from them.  And that progressed into a conversation about the transition from one store to the next, and sure enough, illness figured prominently.  Terminal illness (mitochondrial disease), of two people, a young mother and a young child.  Apparently, the commercial lease could not be terminated easily, and when the woman I was talking to heard that the previous owner’s family was going to have to file for bankruptcy because of it, she decided that the gallery she had planned on opening some time in the future would open within three weeks.  She assumed the lease.

It meant a lot of scrambling around for her, and she said with a rent as high as it is, she won’t be getting rich, but she said that when presented with such a situation, you do what you can.   I thought it was a wonderful thing to do.  And I was glad I was in the midst of buying something from the store when I first broached the question of inventory.