I visited coolest-sister-in-law-ever last month to celebrate coolest-nephew-ever's first birthday. Toward the end of my stay, I ran out of baby formula and Shauna and I went to the store to get some more for the journey home. Shauna totally hooked me up with a coupon for Enfamil which stated "Buy one, get one free (up to $13.85 value)." If anyone has bought anything baby-related lately, you know that it is a TOTAL RACKET. Anything baby-related costs at least 3 times a much as it should. So, I really wanted to use the coupon. And besides, getting $13.85 off of anything is enough to make me sit up and take notice.
We used the self-service checkout lane at Smith's. (I love how stores are doing this self-service things now. It's like they are admitting defeat. "Yes, noble consumer, you can do just as good a job at checking yourself out as our professionally trained checkers. Have at it!") It works well enough, unless you have a problem and then you have to wait and wait for someone to help you. We expected no problems, however.
We scanned all the items in the basket and then tried to scan the coupon. No go. The scanner wouldn't accept it. So we flagged down the clerk in charge of overseeing the self-service lanes. He was a youngish fellow and looked bored so we were happy to give him something to do. He diddled around at his register and then gave us the "you're all set" wave.
Eagle-eyed Shauna noticed, however, that we were not, in fact, "all set." The coupon had only registered $10.00 off, instead of the $13.85 to which we were entitled.
"Excuse me," I beckoned to the clerk. "The coupon didn't ring up correctly. It's only giving us $10.00 off."
He plodded over to our scanner and made a show of looking at the read-out. "Uhhh, yeah. That's all it would let me do."
"I don't understand. All what would what let you do?"
"The system won't let me put it in. The $10.00 was all I could do."
"But we're supposed to get $13.85 off."
"Yeah. But that was all the system would let me do. Sorry."
He didn't seem sorry. He didn't seem like he cared at all actually. Nor did he seem competent. So we asked for the manager. Surely a manager would be able to a) understand what the problem was b) why it was a problem for us and c) fix it.
The manager arrives. She's a biscuit older than the clerk but has a more interested and competent demeanor about her. She assesses the situation and then agrees with the clerk. "Well, yeah, sometimes the system won't let us put these things in. Sorry."
It seemed like an appropriate time for Shauna to spell out exactly what we expected from Smith's that night.
"Look here, lady. The coupon says we are entitled to $13.85 off. We are not leaving until that happens. I don't care how you have to make it happen. Just do it. We'll wait. It's not like this is a manufacturer coupon. It's a Smith's coupon. From your store. I refuse to believe that your store would issue a coupon and then have absolutely no way to honor it. Figure it out. Call your supervisor. Get creative. We are not leaving until you honor the full face-value of this coupon."
The manager looked surprisingly unfazed. "Well, if the system won't let us put it in, it won't let us. There's nothing we can do. You can call customer service in the morning and maybe they can work something out for you. I'm the only manager here tonight."
"You're the only manager here and you have no power to honor your own store's coupons?"
"That's right. My supervisor left at 8:00. Calling customer service in the morning is the only thing I can recommend." (Apparently, she had already forgotten Shauna's warning that we would not be leaving until the problem was fixed. Or she thought she could outlast us. Foolish, foolish girl.)
Since she didn't seem to have her mind open to all the possibilities of what could be done, but rather wanted to focus on what she couldn't do for us, Shauna and I began to brainstorm for her.
"Well, how about you just refund the additional $3.85 in cash to us. That would be fine."
"No. Can't do that."
"Your system won't let you?"
"No. The till would be off by $3.85. You don't want his till to be off, do you?" She gestured to the hapless clerk sitting dejectedly by his register.
"Honestly, we don't care. That's not our problem if his till is off. Our problem is getting another $3.85 off our total."
"He could get fired. I could get in trouble."
"Aren't you the manager? I find it hard to believe that a clerk would be subject to disciplinary action over $3.85. And even is he was, you could just explain the situation. You know, making the customer happy, honoring your store's coupon, that kind of apparently meaningless-to-Smith's crap. Even the most craven disciplinary board would understand that."
"No. We can't have the till off."
"Alright, working within the constraints of your system, which you've indicated will not allow a discount greater than $10.00... why don't you just put in an additional miscellaneous coupon for $3.85. That would balance the till and you'd have a paper trail."
"No. The system won't let us do that either. And the till would be off."
Shauna and I began to wrack our brains. Then suddenly, a flash of genius... inspiration!
"How about this... You charge us for one can of formula, forget about the coupon, but let us take two home. We get two cans of formula for the price of one and your till stays in balance. I'll even give you a dime, since the formula is $13.95 and we are really only entitled to get $13.85 off. Or I can keep the dime, if that will throw off your till."
"NO? Why not?"
"Then our inventory would be off. We'd be missing a can of formula that was never rung out."
"For crying out loud! Are you trying to tell me that you have such high standards here at Smith's that you expect to balance to the penny every night and your inventory is always perfectly accounted for?"
"I can't just let you walk out with a can of formula that you didn't pay for. It's too much money."
"Okay. Then I'll gather up $3.85 worth of candy and other stuff and you can let me walk out with that."
"No. I can't do that either. Inventory matters."
We had presented her with four viable options and she had matter-of-factly rejected each of them. There was only one thing left to do. If the floor had been clean and one of us had not been 7-months pregnant, we would have parked our butts on the ground to drive the point home. Instead, Shauna fixed her with a stare designed to leave no doubt as to the seriousness of our intentions and hissed, "We are not leaving. Figure. It. Out."
The manager scrittered off and grabbed the next person in a Smith's vest that she saw. Together, the manager, the original clerk, and the random Smith's employee huddled around the register. They whispered, conspired, poked buttons, frantically flailed their arms, mopped their sweaty brows and stole glances at the two stubborn ladies who refused to leave without another $3.85.
Eventually, Random Smith stepped back with a sigh of relief. The manager came over and announced that, against all odds, they had managed to input a coupon for $13.85. The total was now correct and Shauna and I could leave with no ill will toward Smith's or its good-natured and helpful employees. How happy they were that they could help!
Ironically, as we left the building, the security gate began to wail in protest. Apparently, cans formula are fitted with magnetic security tags which need to be desensitized. Ours were not.
But Shauna and I just kept walking and never looked back.