Sunday, December 24, 2006

Off Topic: CompUSA experiment

Years ago, I dreaded purchasing things at Radio Shack. Don't get me wrong: I'm a Radio Shack fan from way back. I cut my teeth on a TRS-80! And they're a handy source for electronic goodies for the physics lab. But if you went in to purchase a couple of D-cells for $1.59, the salesperson would initiate the check-out process by taking down your complete mailing address.

Each time you made a purchase at a different location, they'd ask for it all over again.

I tired of the ritual, so I became accustomed to engaging in a polite refusal. After I was asked for my name and address, I'd kindly respond, "How about I give you my money, you give me your product, and we call it a sale?" They'd look at me like I just spat on their hamburger. The audacity of a customer with money in hand refusing to volunteer personal information! What was that line from The Princess Bride? "Inconceivable!" What did I have to hide, they'd wonder, eyeing me now from head to toe and searching their memories for recently viewed police artist sketches.

And the smoke would really start to curl over their heads if I refused to give the contact info and then paid with a credit card!

After waiting too long in a post-9pm checkout line at CompUSA tonight, I had a recurrence. The cashier asked me for my ZIP code. I decided I wouldn't give it. I told her, "I won't give you my ZIP code but I'll be happy to give you money for this item." I showed that I had cash in-hand to clarify the point.

"Well, I need your ZIP code *and* your money."
"So if I don't give you my ZIP code, you won't take my money?"
"OK, have a nice night."

I left the merchandise for her to take care of as I departed. The title above includes the word "experiment." I intend to go back and try again but with a pricier item on the checkstand counter. I'm curious to see if there is a price point at which the the ZIP becomes optional. At this point, it's an open question and I don't presume the answer is obvious.

If you feel a need to chide me in the comments, please do so. But keep in mind that I was *not* rude to the cashier who was "just following orders," and "had no choice in the matter." I've seen skilled service-sector workers in action before and I know how they would have handled the situation. They would have typed in a common ZIP and moved on to the actual sale. They would have ended up collecting my cash instead of sending me out the door with a heavy wallet.

Anyway, I crossed the street to Best Buy and bought the item without surrendering any personal information. They were the closest among my many alternatives who
a. had the same product to sell and
b. required nothing other than legal payment in order to secure their wares.

Radio Shack eventually heeded the complaints of their customers and dropped their data mining operation. I fear CompUSA will be in Chapter 11 before they figure out why people opted for other--less nosey--vendors.


Anonymous said...

No Chiding from me. I hate the practice. I even hate the coffee shop people asking for my name. I'll only give it if it's busy enough that there might be a problem if I don't.

Once when I went into Radio Shack, they were not only collecting addresses, but repeating them in a loud voice to make sure they got them right. The sales lady seemed very surprised that I wouldn't give mine, even though she was aware that I was a woman by myself and that there was an obviously crazy guy standing right behind me. Can't imagine why I wouldn't want her sharing my address with him... It was years before I shopped there again.

Anonymous said...

Twin sons of different mothers. However, in a recent trip to CompUSA I noticed a marked improvement in their level of awareness that a potential customer even exists. In the past it's felt like I was a spectator to an insular game of Nerd Grabass. Todd and Chaz the Spas trying to impress Lisa Lubner. (Guess that dates me, eh?)

Dean Baird said...

Let us hope that the unnatural selection process of free market forces will correct the situation.


Anonymous said...

I always give them 49505

Dean Baird said...

I thought about giving then 00000, but was more curious to see how a refusal would play out.

Darren said...

I still have my TRS-80 Pocket Computer, Level One. Qwerty keyboard, 4kb of onboard RAM, and the ability to be connected to a tape recorder for program loading! Programmed in BASIC, which we all taught ourselves, and it's smaller and lighter than today's TI-83. I even have the portable printer for it, and the whole setup is only slightly larger than a TI-83.

If I put batteries in it, it would still work. How cool is that?