BUYING NOTHING ON AMAZON PRIME DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Not only am I broke, but I don’t need much. We are already overstuffed. However, our GPS is slowly dying. I’m pretty sure the battery isn’t recharging properly. When I went to see when I bought this GPS, I realized it was more than 4 years ago. It has left my “bought” list on Amazon.

It is old.

Then I realized today is “Prime Day Deals,” so I figured okay. At least I should take a look and see if there’s something selling cheap that is usually expensive.

There were a few items on sale — mostly Garmin and a few TomToms, as well as a few items of unknown origins. First, I bought a Garmin. Then I canceled it and bought a TomTom. And canceled that one, too. There was not a single GPS from a known-manufacturer that had my minimum rating of four stars. There weren’t any in the “unknown” category either.

I know some complaints are phony (as are favorable reviews). But when I read them, they sounded all too familiar. The same complaints I have made and everyone else has made.

Voices that couldn’t pronounce basic words in English. Weird directions that send you to a graveyard instead of the mall (we did that one in Gettysburg and it was hilarious). Batteries that die in less than a year and only work for an hour at a time even when brand new.  And, of course, terrible customer service. Not enough gigabytes so that when you try to update your firmware or “lifetime maps,” the unit drops dead.

None of this is new. These are the same old problems which have shown up in every GPS I’ve ever owned for as long as they have been around.

The thing is, spending more on a bigger, fancier unit doesn’t mean you’ll get a better GPS. Basically, the complaints about the big expensive sets were the same as the complaints about the small, compact ones — except people who spend hundreds of dollars for a GPS that can’t find it’s way on a straight road from point A to B were even MORE pissed off than people who spend less money.

Amazon’s best which oddly are the same as Best Buy’s best …

Some folks complained that to get more than half the “benefits” of the new units, you have to hook them up to your smartphone. Several people pointed out if they were going to use a phone, they wouldn’t bother to buy a GPS. They could get the same crappy service without spending the extra money.

In the end, I didn’t buy anything. The “Prime Day Deal” discounts were no better than the discounts you can find on Amazon on any normal day. They have also made it increasingly difficult to tell the used items from the new. They hide the word “renewed” so that you can easily think you’re getting a bargain whereas you are actually getting something which was broken and is still broken.

No matter what they say, they do NOT check the broken items to make sure they are genuinely fixed. They repack them and send them out so you can argue with customer service.

It’s an online version of “Black Friday.”

Maybe there are some big bargains tucked in between the (mostly) junk they are selling for short money, but I didn’t see any. Overall? “Big Sale Days” are a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

Meanwhile, you can add to my list of “things which need fixing, the faithful, but wildly inaccurate “vehicle GPS.”

Software designers, it’s time to toss out your existing designs and come up with a new design that works. Which won’t, in the middle of your travels from Boston to Bangor, send you on a side-trip through an ancient forest to a collapsed bridge.

THE SUPER BOWL OF GROCERY SHOPPING – Garry Armstrong

Men can shop. I shop. Moreover, I am a highly competitive shopper. This is Guy Shopping, in three scenarios.

Scenario #1

I’m one of those guys who, if shopping “solo,” can zip through the aisles, getting everything on the shopping list. Sometimes I time myself. It’s like a “Wide, Wide World of Sports” event for me.

As I exit the supermarket, my cart full of groceries, I look at my watch. A big smug — almost “45-ish” smile on my face. I quietly proclaim in a “Howard Cosell-Marv Albert” style, “Yesssss!!

Scenario#2

I’m on my game as I begin shopping. First stop, produce.

As I check over the tomatoes, a cougar lady in stilettos, low-cut tank top, and stretch jeans — strike up a conversation about how nice it is to see a man knows how to handle tomatoes. I switch into my TV guy mode, wrap the chat, and move on. Next aisle, it’s the “groupies.” Folks who grew up watching me on TV. They’re blocking access to the pasta sauce and other canned goods. I do two or three minutes of my greatest hits and move on.

The deli section is always difficult. There are inevitably two or three people buying a quarter pound of everything. They must taste a piece of each item to make sure it’s quality stuff. Oy!!

Now, I’m trying to make up ground. Taking short cuts through various aisles and BAM — elderly people, crying kids, and a Mr. Know- It-All, blocking access. I silently curse their birthrights and smile my TV guy smile.

Finally, finally, I’m at the checkout counter.

Groceries bags are lined up in front of my stuff on the counter. The “hot and cold” bags are clearly open to be used for frozen food, meat, and so on. I slowly and clearly explain how the bags should be used. You know — perishables into the “hot and cold” bags. Please pack evenly.

I always bring extra shopping bags so I don’t have to lug overloaded bags up two flights of stairs.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

What was I thinking? It’s like I was speaking Klingon. Outside, I repack stuff at the car, loudly cursing the gods. The drive home is slow. Very slow.

The slow drivers who are always waiting for me are blocking the lane. Probably the same folks who blocked the supermarket aisles.

Scenario#3

I enter the supermarket and eyeball the “self check out” section. Do I have what it takes? I promise myself to try. Someday.

I can do it.

Fast forward. I approach the checkout counters, eyeball the “self check out” counter. No! I don’t have it. No true grit. Maybe next time.


Note: I omitted the folks who still ask why I don’t have “my people” shop for me. They are of the opinion that we are too rich to shop for ourselves. Yeah!

LAST CHANCE – Marilyn Armstrong

Most of the stuff I buy online are necessities that are cheaper online or not available (locally) offline. Dog food. Dog biscuits. Over-the-counter medications like generic Tylenol and generic allergy meds.

I buy very little clothing because I don’t wear much and feel I have more than enough probably for the rest of my life. I haven’t bought a pair of shoes in about 4 years. Once a year, I buy underwear for me and Garry. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I swear it wears out faster than it used to. Cheaper fabric?

Olympia Sports

Every now and again, I buy a couple of new tunics tops and loose pants for summer — or yoga pants for winter. When it’s Garry’s birthday, I get him whatever he is currently yearning for. This year, it was Marine Corps garb but that’s only because we’ve run out of NCIS clothing.

Any place from which I’ve ever bought anything sends me advertisements for their sales including cameras, clothing, computers, furniture, cell phones, and phone carriers. Streaming TV stations, shoe stores, LL Bean, and Land’s End. J Jill and Coldwater Creek.

Every single advertisement assures me this is my absolute last chance, my final opportunity to get 40% off, 50% off (with free shipping for purchases over $100 or $75) or cash in on their two for one sale. Don’t forget, if you rope in a friend, he or she will also get a fabulous discount, too.

Every sale is my final opportunity to acquire something. The most annoying thing is even if I want something, they don’t have what I want. Wrong size, wrong model. Too big, too small, too something. Or it’s in some strange color like lime green or delicate baby pink. If I really need it, it’s the one that isn’t on sale.

Yesterday
Today

These final chances to save money never end. I have concluded that the “last chance” will never arrive. Before I have time to delete yesterday’s “last chances,” there is an entirely new set of last chances in my inbox. I remember thinking I got way too much snail mail. I still get way too much snail mail, but the amount of email is catastrophic and overwhelming.

It takes me hours to delete all my final chances to get whatever is on sale at a gigantic, huge, monstrous, final last chance opportunity.

My conclusion from all of this? There is no such thing as a final sale unless the company is really going out of business.

A lot of “going out of business” sales are also endless. I remember when I was growing up in Queens, there were stores that had been going out of business for years. Eventually, a law was passed that you could only go out of business for six months. After that, you were either back IN business, or you had to close your doors.

Also, you couldn’t have a continuous sale. If it lasted past a certain interval (I forget what it was, but something like six weeks), they became your regular prices.

I suspect when any of us really get our final opportunity — our true last chance — it won’t be via email. It won’t even be through snail mail. You or someone will discover someone dead.

That would be the genuine final opportunity

ONLINE SHOPPING REVOLUTION OR CONSUMER REBELLION? – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve been thinking about shopping.

Does anyone remember in those last ten years before online shopping came into full flower? That was when you’d go into a nice shop and discover there was no one there. No one to help you find the right size or style … or even the correct department. More than half the cash registers were closed and the people who worked the counters were actually working multiple counters so wherever you were waiting, they weren’t there.

I remember not buying a watch in Kohl’s because there wasn’t anyone at the jewelry counter and the cash register was closed. I looked everywhere and I didn’t see a single store worker.

There was absolutely not a soul willing to help me find the right size or choose a different color or size, or even say, “That looks nice.” Or do anything that might encourage me to buy something.

Shopping went from being fun to being work.

By the time online shopping was readily available, most of the brick-and-mortar stores had cut down their staff by more than half. Returning something meant standing in long lines for the one individual who handled all returns and you’d better have saved that receipt!

They did themselves in. They treated their customers like WordPress treats us … and the results were exactly what you’d expect.

When the day there arrived offering us a real choice, shoppers were ready. Instead of fighting for a parking space and wandering around a mall trying first to find the right store, then searching the shop and discovering there was no one on the floor to talk to. Hoping to get some assistance in finding an outfit and realizing there wasn’t any.

All of which was followed by another ordeal, searching for an open register.

Suddenly, you could order clothing and return what didn’t fit or what you didn’t like. In the meantime, just to make what was already difficult just a bit harder, many city malls began charging customers for parking.

Free gift wrapping was not free. You couldn’t even get plain boxes to wrap without paying for them. The quality of the clothing went down while the prices went up. There were no more departments where you could get clothing altered, either.

It wasn’t just the Internet that ruined “real store” shopping. It was the attitude of the store’s owners and managers. They decided they “owned” their customers and we’d show up anyway, no matter how bad the service. It must have been a rude shock when they realized not only did we have a choice, but we weren’t coming back.

So they can blame their demise on Amazon and the Internet, but they can also look in the mirror and realize when you treat your customers badly, eventually, when times change, they won’t be your customers.

It’s a lesson that cable companies are learning, cell companies are just beginning to learn … and it won’t end there. I fought with my cable company for years to get them to give me a package I could afford … and when I finally gave up and cut the cable, suddenly they filled up my email with all kinds of tempting packages — for ONE year only.

After which they would do what they always did: jack up the prices by 100% and we’d go through the same thing again. There are only so many times you can anger and disappoint customers without expecting them to hit back in the only way that matters: financially.

You never own your customers. They own you. Eventually, they will let you know how they feel about you. Count on it.

BRING BACK THE GAP – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Gap

The Gap had the best jeans ever. Although I loved the cut of the button-down version, sometimes one didn’t have the time to hustle the buttons, so I generally had to settle for zippers.

Zippers are quicker.

They have been in the process of closing many (in some areas, almost all ) of The Gaps.

Not that I could afford them since I stopped working. They used to have sales, so their $60 (probably now $90) jeans dropped by as much as 75% and I would load up until the next sale. They were not only attractive, but it was good, soft, solid denim. The shops were a bit erratic. You never knew if they were going to have your style or size.

Still, it was good knowing they were there. Just in case I or someone I knew  (like Garry or Owen) decided to go and buy good jeans to last a lifetime. I remember one of Owen’s birthdays, I took him to the Gap and bought him a couple of pair of jeans, a great denim jacket, and a few cool shirts.

Plus one hoodie which I seem to have inherited. It’s just worn out enough to be the perfect Gap hoodie. And it’s got to be at least 20 years old … and it’s still got another ten or twenty years in it. That is the joy of quality. As long as you don’t change sizes, the clothing lasts forever.

This is probably why Garry has so much clothing. He can still wear his dress Marine Corp clothing from when he was 17. I think I hate him.

Now, it’s all “Old Navy” which is going independent and of course, the wildly overpriced “Banana Republic.” Although these three companies produce essentially the same stuff, it’s not exactly the same product. There are quality and style differences.

Old Navy is okay, but they don’t have the range of sizes the Gap had. The jeans are thinner and frankly, Wranglers look at least as good. Often better. They certainly wear better. Old Navy is also weak on styles anyone older than 18 would wear.

I could never afford The Banana Republic, even when I was working. Though these days, it’s hard to know if that is the name of a store or the name of the country in which I live.

Bring back The Gap!

I need those boot-cut button-fly jeans! Or maybe not. Are they elastic?

NEWER MOMS AND POPS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry came back from the deli with news. Lance and Betsy have sold the place and are retiring. Someone else is taking over.

Quaker Deli and its friendly and generous owners were among the very first people to welcome us to the valley more than 18 years ago. Until we got our feet under us and began to know our way around, it was a required stop in our daily rounds. They make great sandwiches and sell quality cold cuts. And they always know how we like it sliced.

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But time has had its way with them, as it does with us all. It’s what happens nowadays to almost all “mom and pop” shops. In this case, it’s not a lack of business. It’s simple tiredness. The kids don’t want the business. Mom and pop don’t want to spend all their remaining years on their feet. So, they sell.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if only whoever takes over the place would keep it as what it is … a place to pick up a few necessities without going into town. Where you can buy a great lunch, made for you. Buy a lottery ticket or whatever. Most of the new owners of these shops are immigrant families. They see a small business as a ticket to the Dream of America.

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They don’t mind the long hours and hard work. But they don’t necessarily maintain the place in any way that resembles how it was. They go more heavily into higher volume, bigger profit items — like lottery tickets and cigarettes. They stop selling food and making sandwiches. This has happened to every little deli or mini grocery sold since we’ve lived in the Blackstone Valley. If it happens here, we will have to go into town for everything. The last convenience store will be gone.

I have heard over and over again that mom and pop stores are disappearing because we don’t support them, but that’s not necessarily true. It may be true sometimes, in some places. In this case, Lance and Betsey have plenty of business, maybe more than they can comfortably handle. All the truckers stop there to buy lunch. It’s the only place at this end of town where you can get an emergency supply of eggs or half-and-half.

The problem is that — not unreasonably — their kids have different dreams. They don’t want to run the family deli. They want a job where they can sit at a desk and go home without worrying about the business.

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Small business are nonstop work. Buying, selling, bookkeeping. Ordering supplies. Tracking sales and figuring out what you should buy in greater or less quantity … or just stop selling entirely. The shop may be closed, but there’s always work to be done. I’m sorry to see them leaving and we will miss them very much. But I understand. I couldn’t do it.

Among many other reasons, this is why we need immigrants. They will happily do the jobs we can’t or won’t do. Think about that the next time you begin to rail against newcomers to our shores.

Do you want that job? Could you do it? Would you?

NEAT OR LAX? – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Neat vs Lax?

You know? I don’t care if they are lined up or in a heap in a barrel in the aisle. All I care about is that they not be on the top shelf where I can’t possibly reach whatever it is.

Neat or messy, I don’t care. But please! Put it where I can get to it!