ERMA's desk...: Caveat emptor buyers !

The consumer-retailer relationship is a two-way one. Sometimes the consumer must take the initiative; other times, the retailer. Neither party should take the relationship for granted.

Or should they just sit back and let things be?

Recently I had an experience which makes me ask the question “undeserved trust or naive customer”? For more than a decade I have been a customer at a small family-owned business in my community. My routine visits occur every six weeks. I usually spend between $58:00 to $70:00 per visit. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was after my last visit two weeks ago when I pulled out my credit card and paid for my three core items that I usually get. After I paid and walked out of the store, I began to think of how expensive the items were. I felt a nudge to go back and ask the owner about discount possibilities. To my surprise, he responded with a resounding “yes”. I was very disappointed in the answer. We both felt awkward at the moment so I ended the eye contact abruptly. This was to give him an opportunity to compose himself and think of a solution worthy of the response he had just given me. He looked at me shamefully and when he realized that I was not impressed he said “Well, it is too late now because you have already paid. I will give a discount at the time of your next visit”.

My disappointment stems from the fact that I was a customer who had returned to the store to actually ask about a discount; coupled with the notion that we had a social connection. By this I mean, we usually have the customer/business owner conversations. In these conversations, we usually talk about a lot of different things, such as family, vacation spots, mission trips and cultural practices. We usually discuss different hotel chains, cruise lines and the best time to cruise to different places. When I remove the social aspect of our interaction, what is evident is that, first and foremost I am a customer.

Am I being naive to think that a simple discount which is offered to others should be naturally extended to me? This may sound petty to some people but trust earned and destroyed is not easily restored. I am also aware that there are different levels of social connections, which means it was strictly business; however, if a discount is good for other customers then it should also be extended to me. On the drive home I wondered if they only offer discounts to those who ask about it?

In the wake of my discovery, I started thinking about my relationship with another group of acquaintances who also operate a small family owned business. I had good thoughts of that group and my appreciation for them grew exponentially. First, I met the sons and then I met the father who was the founder who has now passed away, but the business thrives well enough to keep their doors open. They are a great landmark in the community and it gives me great pleasure to voluntarily make referrals for them. I had peace with my thoughts of them.

Every time I stopped by to do business, I would be given the option to take a drink from their stocked beverages from their refrigerator. This kind of hospitality is very cultural for them; even though they live in Canada longer than they did in their own county; they kept this part of their culture alive. I only accept the offer if I am really thirsty. Just because they offer does not mean I should take it because it costs me nothing. Whenever they offer I only take it if I need it. I don’t think it’s a good thing to always say no thank you! With this group, we usually discuss some of the same topics as the ones in the above-mentioned group. If I am in a hurry to go they will say pay tomorrow or next time. I honor their trust and do as I promised. This act of trust and kindness has developed over ten plus years of interaction. I am not expecting the same treatment from the previous group but I expect honesty. In my early interaction with the second group, they demonstrated good business practices which surprised me. They have been extraordinarily kind to me over and over again. It was good to be able to draw strength from another aspect of my life, knowing that there are still truly good people out there.

Both businesses are family owned. They are both small businesses which have been around for a number of years. This is not to say I am expecting both of these groups to have similar behaviour. I am disappointed because I didn’t think that I would be overlooked for a discount. The fact is, I know business is business and so I would not feel comfortable asking for a discount, based on the fact that we have social conversations during my many visits to their store.

I am a very sociable person who finds it easy to talk to others. In the eighties, there was a half an hour sitcom on Television called “Cheers”. I loved the show and I equally love the theme song. “Sometime you wana go where everybody knows your name and they are always glad you came…” This song talks about a spiritual connection where everyone benefitted from your visit. It talks about the familiar and how important it is to be known by others where you feel a sense of connection. It alludes to friendship on a more casual level. These two groups meant that to me. The question is, what does my patronage mean to them?

I have made a decision never to shop there again. I will look for a different store to acquire my merchandise and be more intentional with my acquisition. How sad it is for me. Did they make an honest mistake? How long has it been since the discount was instituted? Was I supposed to ask about a discount each time I go shopping, or was I being naive? I will never know the true answer to these questions but I believe both sides lost. Have you heard the saying Caveat emptor, a Latin term which means “let the buyer beware” I am a victim of unawareness. I think I played a role in my own victimization. In the end, I know I have no control over what people do but I can do things differently by becoming a customer who exercises “Caveat emptor”.

Erma

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