Friday, February 10, 2012
Clubs I Don't Want to Join
Excuse me here while I have a bit of an Andy Rooney moment.
Have you ever noticed how many retailers have been going over to a membership business model? It’s getting harder and harder to just walk into a store and buy something for the price shown on the shelf. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to just walk into a store and understand the price shown on the shelf.
I’m not just talking about Costco and other organizations of that ilk. Grocery stores like Safeway and drugstore chains like Rite Aid and CVS have gotten into the act. This is a bad idea if for no other reason than it adds an extra layer of time to the checkout process. Plus it creates a template for confusion at best and frustration and anger at worst.
The other morning I ran out to get a pastry and decided, since I was going right past it, to stop at the local Safeway and get some Vitamin C. I had to have the car back home by 7:30 a.m. because Linda needed to leave for work then, so Safeway was my only option.
As a rule, I avoid Safeway for a variety of reasons. The one near our house was built nearly 50 years ago and has been remodeled a couple of times with the apparent purpose of making it look older and crummier. The lighting is so dingy it would be a mugger’s paradise, except that the mugger would be hard put to find his way out. It’s chronically understaffed, so you generally have to wait in a long line because only two of a dozen registers are open, and the employees have apparently been instructed that under no circumstances are they to call for more checkers, regardless of how many people are in line. More often than not the employees are surly and uncaring, but I try to cut them a break. After five minutes in that place, I’m hardly Mr. Congeniality, and they have to be there for eight hours at a stretch.
But I digress. That early in the morning the store was fairly empty and I was able to reasonably quickly locate a brand-name bottle of 100 Vitamin C tablets for $7.79, which the ten-spot I brought would nicely cover. The line wasn’t bad and the checker seemed reasonably good-spirited. I was counting the experience as a win until the checker swiped the vitamin bottle and rang me up for $15.16, nearly twice the posted shelf price.
When I mentioned that, she asked for my Club Card number and swiped it again. Same result. “I think it’s a two for the price of one,” she said. “If you want to go back and get another one, we can try again.” At that point I looked at the line that was forming behind me and thought I discerned some homicidal intent in the facial expressions there. So I said, “Forget it,” and left without the vitamins.
That night I went to a CVS pharmacy and bought 100 Vitamin C for $8.49 plus tax. The price rung up on the register was the same as the one on the shelf, but that may have been a coincidence.
My question, after all this, is why stores bother with the club memberships. Wouldn’t it be easier and fairer and make for a quicker checkout if they simply gave every customer their best price every time? Of course it would, but then they couldn’t track our purchases as easily and pretend to offer great deals to insiders. All I can do is vote with my feet for as long as I have the option, and my vote is anti-club.