My Theory on How Big Retail Corporations Make Money

Walmart

Yeah, so, here’s the thing.

Every once in a while, and not that often really mind you, you will be overcharged (or at least think you were) for something when shopping at a store like Target, or Walmart, or a grocery store like Superfresh.  And when that happens, one of a few things will happen.

1.  You never notice and, luckily, live in blissful ignorance of the fact.

2. You’ll notice it right away, during the check out process.  You’ll see the price come up on the screen (if the screen is actually angled so that you, the customer, can see it), and sense of alarm will trigger in your brain, and you will be lucky enough to have a 15 minute conversation with the cashier, and then the manager, about why you think $25 is a bit much for four tomatoes.

3. As you are taking your receipt, but during that millisecond window of opportunity before the cashier starts scanning the next customer’s items, your eye will somehow register the discrepancy and you will have the opportunity at the register to try and get the affront fixed.

4. Far more likely, you are in one of two places when you notice the error.  1. You’re halfway to the entrance, which is of course the entrance farthest from where you car is parked (in the last space of the last row on that corner that the tractor trailers seem to drive through since there were absolutely no other spaces closer) because of the three lanes open in Walmart the two next to the entrance you came in consisted of a Speedy Checkout for 20 items or less (and you have about 45,000 items even though you stopped just for a bottle of laundry detergent and a box of cat litter) and a lane with at least 42 people in it, and at least 2/3 of them are screaming children and 1/2 are complete scumbags (and their actions towards their children are why the children are screaming).  Or, 2. you are actually at home, reviewing the receipt while unpacking your 45,000 items (of which you only really needed a handful, but couldn’t resist the set of light-up lightsabers, with sound! that were on clearance), and of course you aren’t about to drive back to Walmart to try and reclaim the $.67 you were overcharged on toothpaste.

Note:  One place you never are when you notice the overcharge and decide to go back and dispute it is in your car.  There are two reasons for this.  1. The amount of money you’ve been overcharged isn’t worth the walk back from the farthest space in the parking lot.  Or, 2.  The cashier made some completely asstard mistake, and the amount you’ve been overcharged is some insane exorbitant amount, like $6K, and it is actually worth making the trip, but you don’t.   However, you won’t make that long walk back into the store because, frankly, it will be too embarrassing to admit that you are so oblivious to life, that while you were swiping your credit card, you didn’t notice that $6003.98 seemed a bit much for a Coke and a pack of gum.

Unfortunately, there is another place where you may notice the mistake, or at least come to the conclusion that there has been a mistake (justified or not).  You’re still in line, hurrying to get the last of your bags off the spinning wheel bag device, while the cashier is already shoving the next customer’s items into the bags (raw hamburger on top of stuffed animals on top of bottles of bleach, of course).  You’ve missed that millisecond window of opportunity, and you don’t have any way to generate 1.21 gigawatts of power to go back in time and save your family from being wiped from existence, or at least from overpaying by $3.26 on some red and green  Rubbermaid storage containers.

It is an immutable law that once the next person is being checked out, that it is impossible for the cashier to fix the problem at the register.  IT CAN NOT BE DONE.  You’ve got to go to Customer Service.

You’re faced with a dilemma as you roll away from the lane in chagrin.  Is three dollars and change worth it?  You look over at Customer Service, which is of course closer to the other entrance of the building, and you say to yourself, “Well, it is on the way to the entrance I came in, so it’s closer to the car.”  Then you think, but, it could take a while and I’m hungry for dinnner…mmm…fish sticks…fish sticks that were not on my shopping list but they will be oh so yummy in my tummy…fish stick party in my tummy! yummy yummy!…man, I got a great deal on that talking Brobee that was on clearance!

And then the inevitable happens. You think about how much money this ginormous corporation makes, and you don’t want them to have any more of YOUR money than they already get.

After all, it’s the Principle of the Thing.

A little secret, and I am getting ahead of myself, but the Principle of the Thing is never, ever, worth it.

So you wheel your cart, with its wonky back wheel that squeaks like a mouse on crack and vibrates the whole cart and makes your arms feel like they have the palsy, over to Customer Service and begin to wait in line.   It’s your lucky day!  Somehow, you are only in line for 10 minutes, so you thank whatever god you worship because that means your frozen fruits and vegetables won’t be too melted by the time you get to your car and the 30 degree temperature outside.  Any longer and they would have refrozen as indistinguishable masses of red and blue, or green and orange.

You explain your position to the Skeptical Woman working at the Customer Service Counter, that the red and green Rubbermaid storage containers were on display in the aisle “over there,” as you gesture emphatically towards the general middle of the vast temple to consumerism, and that the sign clearly said “$6,” but you were charged $6.50, and you bought six of them, so that was actually, and you rationalize this whole spectacle to yourself, “a significant amount of money.”  The woman, being skeptical, has to scan the containers, which means lifting them and your 45,000 items which are in them, out of the cart.  So, you do.  Green numbers and letters appear on the screen “2I R/G RBBRMD TOTE c $6.50” and you reiterate that the sign clearly said “$6” on the side where the R/G RBBRMD TOTEs where, but the other side of the sign said “$4,” the cost of the R RBBRMD TOTEs without the locking handles (a point you bring up to show that you were, indeed, paying attention and not trying to flimflam Walmart out of $3.26).

Skeptical Woman must believe you now, since you had those extra details about the prices of items also on display, but the computer DOES NOT LIE, so she will need a Manager.  She speaks into a walkie talkie, and you hear throughout the store, in some sort of distorted, diseased Transformer voice, “<beeoop>21 to Customer Service.  <skrtch>I need a <skrtch> Manager to Customer S<skrtch>ervice. <beeoop>”  By now you’ve been talking to Skeptical Woman for 10 minutes, and you’re starting to think that you did not make the Right Choice and that this was a Bad Idea and that you were wrong to come to Customer Service based on the Principle of the Thing.

And, you know what?  You are right.  By the time manager comes, approves the refund of $.50 per R/G RBBRMD TOTE, and then the skeptical woman refunds, one at a time, that $.50 + tax, you’ve lost a good portion of your life.  Definitely a portion worth more than $3.26.

You then, like everyone else before you, makes the Declaration:  “I’m never doing this again.”

So, here’s my theory.  If a store like Walmart overcharges (innocently or not) one person at each of their stores every day, and I’m not talking a crazy amount like $6K, that’s 3739 Walmart stores (including regular Walmarts, Supercenters, and Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery stores) in the United States, and then an additional 2980 international stores in 14 countries, for a total of 6719 individual stores.  If at each of those stores one person was overcharged $3.26 every day, that would be $7,994,938.10 in pure profit a year.

Crazy, huh?

Damn, now when I get overcharged again, I guess I will go back to disputing it based on the Principle of the Thing.

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