Please, Take My Money!

Earlier this week my wife and I were at one of the local big box home improvement stores. Which one doesn’t really matter. I could easily imagine this playing out at any one of a number of establishments.

After much hand wringing and soul searching, the carpet and vinyl flooring choices had been made, and we were ready to sign the contract. We had been given a quote earlier and went to the appropriate section of the store, which of course was empty of personnel. Soon an employee from another department appeared and began trying to find our account in the computer. Within a few minutes someone assigned to flooring happened by, and our odyssey began in earnest.

After finding our account and pulling it up onscreen, we started going over it and I immediately noticed several items that hadn’t been discussed when the estimator had visited us the week before. After a few phone calls most of the questions were more or less answered, and we moved on to payment.

I pointed to a clipping taped to the post above the computer that said, “Ask how you can get a 20% discount.” When I asked, I was offered an application for a store credit card. At the end of the online application, after the process was complete, the fine print limiting the discount to a maximum of $100.00 appeared, which was a disappointment. Also disappointing was the 27% interest rate, but not as much as the discovery that the discount did not apply to anything that involved installation. I decided not to bother asking why the offer was displayed in the flooring section of the store, which pretty much only deals in things that must be installed, thinking it would be wasted time. At this point we had already spent close to a half an hour trying to finish this deal. 

It turned out that there was much more to come. We had to move to the front of the store to complete the transaction, and when we got there I got out my checkbook and wrote the store a check for a little over ten thousand dollars. I had moved some money around and had more than enough in my account to cover it. 

The check was declined. The employee tried to run it through again, with the same result. When he called over another employee, she said that when a check was entered into the system, it was treated the same way as a debit card, and if the debit card had a daily limit the transaction would be rejected. 

I called my credit union, had the limit on my debit card lifted, and the employee decided it would be best to tear up that check and write a new one. As it happened, that was the last check in my book, so I went out to my car and got a new booklet of checks, came back, and wrote another check. 

Which was also rejected the first time it ran through the machine. The second time he tried it, it became stuck, and the computer froze halfway through the attempted transaction. This required a call to the IT department and a move to a different terminal. The new terminal would not open our account because as far as the system was concerned, the account was already open on another machine.

At this point we were an hour and some several minutes into trying to complete this sale. A department manager showed up and took over, and much discussion ensued among the several employees involved in this fiasco. Eventually the correct forms were brought up on the computer and the printing process began, which took more time.

By this point we had agreed that we might as well give up on trying to get the machine to accept a check and we used a couple of credit cards to pay for the flooring and installation (which was to be done by a subcontractor; I understand that is standard practice now). I elected not to use the store credit card on principle, because of the usurious interest rate.

The whole process took over an hour and a half, not including the call we got the next day from someone in another department informing us that two items totaling about $500 had been left off the estimate and it was actually going to cost more than we had settled on the previous day.

A thoroughly unpleasant experience, and it’s taking a fair amount of restraint to avoid using the kind of language I would like to use to describe the ordeal.

Later, I spoke to a friend in the construction business and described the above to him. I told him I was thinking about bailing out of the whole mess and trying again at another store. When I asked him if that was a good idea, he said sure, but it might very well be the same at the next place. “That’s just the way it is now,” is how he put it.

As a young man, I did much of the work constructing our house myself. Now that I am well past being young, I no longer have the strength, balance, or stamina to do the kind of things I used to do. Sometimes, having to hire out a job I would have tackled myself some years back is frustrating to say the least. Overall, I like being an old guy. There are lots of advantages: perspective, experience, a sense of the long view of things, the opportunity to play the curmudgeon, and so on. Occasionally, though, it’s a little irritating.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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