Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sometimes, the economy isn't the problem

I recently had the opportunity to patronize not one, but two local computer stores. Both owners mentioned to me that times were tough, business was slow and they hoped things would pick up very soon. If my experience with them was typical, they'd be in trouble in any economy.

All I wanted to do is bump up the RAM in my old PC. I could have just bought the chips online, but I wanted to do my little bit to support local businesses. I started with the closest one, about 5 miles away and an occasional customer of mine. I went to his shop, picked up a couple of 1 gig sticks that he assured me would work fine. They didn't. I went back, got some different ones. They didn't work either. Finally I brought the computer in. He decided that it was a speed issue and he ordered some different ones for me. When I got back to my shop I started thinking that I'd already wasted a lot of time on what was supposed to be a 20 minute errand. I called the computer store again and asked him if he needed the complete model number of my motherboard so he could ensure he was getting compatible RAM. "Oh no," he said "I know these ones will be fine." Five days later, the RAM arrived. It didn't work. Finally, I did some research on my own (it took all of about 5 minutes on the web) and discovered that this particular motherboard required single sided RAM and all the ones he had ordered were double sided. Not only did he not have a supplier for the RAM I needed he informed me that there would be a 15% "restocking fee" for the RAM HE HAD INCORRECTLY ORDERED!

I probably sent this genius 6 or 7 customers over the previous 12 months. Rather than make a great big deal over the $12 he wanted to steal from me, I simply told him how I felt about it and that he should make good use of it, because he'll never see me or anyone I can stop from going there again.

Okay, it wasn't an emergency upgrade, so it was a couple of weeks before I called another computer store. I had been introduced to the owner of that store when they first opened. He too was now worried about being able to keep his doors open. I told him I had a small order, but I guess it's better than nothing. This time I handed him a paper with the complete motherboard specs and told him to make absolutely sure that the RAM they got was compatible with it. After not hearing from them for several days, I called to check on my RAM order. The associate who answered was pleased to inform me that they had the RAM in stock. I told him about my previous experience and again asked if he was sure this was the right RAM. "Oh yes" he said "But bring your computer in and, if it's not, you wont have to pay a restocking fee." I pressed him on the issue again, because the time it would take to disconnect my PC and make the 15 mile round trip, through heavy traffic, was not insignificant to me. He was certain he had the right product. Just to be sure, I again got on the web and looked up the specs. This time I found what I was looking for in two minutes. I called the shop back and asked him if the RAM he was ready to have me drive up and install was one sided or two sided. "Two-sided" he said.

I'm pretty sure a computer repair shop has internet access. Further, the "experts" there should already know where to get the information they need to ensure compatibility. Yet, in their mind, it was better to waste an hour of my time, as well as a gallon of gas, than to spend a minute or so of their own time looking up the information they needed to ensure they were selling me the right product.

Ultimately, I ordered my RAM online...again. It was cheaper, it works, and in purchasing it elsewhere, I'm not supporting bad business practices in the local market.

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