Posted in Life, shopping

What’s in your shopping cart?

So I very carefully snapped this picture of a shopping cart just a few spots behind me at a self-checkout lane in Walmart. The contents caught my eye then and still intrigue me now.

  • At least 8 cans of spray disinfectant
  • A large double stack of red solo cups
  • A tall pile of plain white hand-towels
  • A couple of trash cans
  • A huge container of cheese balls

I thought it was an interesting collection of things to purchase. I’m not here to judge; I’ve filled carts with just as many attention-getting items. More on that in a minute.

My first thought: this person teaches preschoolers. Perhaps a Sunday School class. Maybe just a bunch of kids at home.

This shopper could be turning over a short-term rental. Or cleaning up a house before the movers arrive with the furniture.

When a youth group was selling food at an outdoor church festival, I went out the day before to purchase supplies. I overloaded a cart with giant packages of hotdogs and hamburgers, bags of buns, cases of soda, and assortments of chips. As I pulled up to check out, I felt a little self-conscious. “No,” I wanted to explain, “I don’t eat like this all this time!”

Every time I come across this picture I chuckle at the cheese balls. I’ve seen them on display. I’ve always wondered who buys them. One youth brought a similar container on a summer mission trip. Barely lasted two days. I guess it’s not as big as it looks.

What’s in your shopping cart?

Posted in Life

Many (un)happy returns

“Are you going out today?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve got a few errands to run.”

“Would you drop these off at the UPS store. This QR code with this (a clothing item) and the other one goes with this (a box of something).”

“Don’t I have to pack them in a box or something?”

“No, just give them this and they take care of it. It’s all prepaid, too.”

That’s it? I was dubious, but trusted her instructions. In between the gas station and Home Depot, I found the little strip mall UPS store. As I stepped through the door, a line of people were waiting their turn.

They were all holding pieces of paper just like mine and an item. A shirt. A puzzle. Some protein bars. A sauce pan. Three workers behind the desk took each item, scanned the code from the paper, tapped a touch screen, and said, “All set. Have a nice day.” Ditto for me and my two items.

In that moment, I marveled at the booming business of returns. It’s just part of life. I do a lot of online shopping. My items arrive a few days later. I like some of the items. Some don’t fit. Other times the color is off. It may be a piece of junk. It’s not a big deal. Just print a return ticket, take it to a designated place, drop it off and immediately get your money back.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would go to the store, find what I wanted, try it on, purchase it, and take it home. Today, what you want probably isn’t in the store. You have little choice but to buy online. It might fit. It might not. You might like it. You might not. Whatever. You can always easily send it back.

My wife will order three or four of the exact same item online. When they arrive, they all fit differently. She’ll keep the one that fits, and return the rest. Easy-peasy.

The business of returns is huge. Amazon resells some used merchandise, but sells to liquidators, donates some to charity, and sometimes just throws it away, generating a huge amount of waste. CNBC reports that $761 billion of merchandise was returned in 2021.

You can buy a whole pallet of returned Amazon goods. It’s a blind purchase, and it’s on you to resell it to recoup your investment. One woman paid $575 for approximately $10,000 worth of returned items. Amazing.

Food pantries deal with this. They have to swipe the bar code with a Sharpie so that recipients don’t turn around and cash in cans or boxes at a local store.

I always buy more than I need for a home project. I return all the extra unused materials for a refund. The local Home Depot has more registers for returns than for sales. Lowes had long lines of generator returns after a close call with a recent hurricane. The power hadn’t gone out long enough to even open the box, so each got a full refund. However, those generators weighed a couple of hundred pounds each, so this was no easy task.

I’ve learned the hard way to check a box at these stores before I buy something. It’s easy to tell if the box has been opened and then taped shut again. When I didn’t check, I discovered that the fan or tool still didn’t work, or pieces were still missing from an assemble-it-yourself cabinet, or the corner was still damaged from that bookshelf.

Big screen TVs are returned the week after a big game. Suits and dresses are returned after a weekend wedding. Tools are returned after a project is complete. Stores hire extra workers for returns after holidays. What an amazing business!

Posted in shopping, Stories

50% off

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

My wife found some nice home decor items at a local craft/hobby/home decor store. She had been waiting for certain items to appear on the shelves and when she did, she snapped them up.

On her way out of the store, another customer told her that those items would be on sale on Monday. If you bring them back, they will refund 50% of your purchase. I know, I thought it sounded too good to be true, too. My wife called and sure enough, that’s what they would do. And you couldn’t just bring your receipt. You had to physically cart the items into the store with the receipt, and they would credit your card.

We had already hung the items on the wall, but they came down easy enough. My wife loaded them back into the car, carried them back into the store, and drove them back home with the promised 50% credit.

Sweet. But I have questions. Why not just sell the items for 50% off. After all, a lot of stuff in the store is “50% off.” Why make them bring the items back in? The receipt isn’t good enough? Why can’t you do this whole thing online? You can do everything else online, from refinancing your home to buying a car.

Of course, I know the strategy is to get you back in the store. That’s why you get bonus bucks, discount coupons on your receipt and flyers in the mail. The more often you’re in the store, the more you’ll buy. Plus, how many people will actually take down the decor items and bring them back to get the discount and credit? I’m guessing not many.

That’s marketing these days. Drive traffic to your website. Get people into the store. Put wonderful items at the end of every aisle. Make people think they are getting a great deal. If they are willing to give you 50% back, think of how much that item was marked up to begin with!

Posted in Ministry

The Pathmark experience

I think my mom was some kind of genius, at least when it came to raising us kids. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she really knew what she was doing.

I’m thinking specifically of taking my brother, sister and I food shopping each week. In the mid-1960’s, the sun was setting on neighborhood markets as a new day dawned for big supermarkets. Our big supermarket was Pathmark, known for big selection and discount prices.

Mom was a devoted coupon cutter. Each time we went shopping, she made a deal with us. If we helped out, stayed out of trouble and didn’t ask for anything, she would split all the money she saved with coupons between the three of us. We could spend it any way we chose. Ka-ching!

So we were usually helpful, fairly well-behaved, and she didn’t have to field constant requests for stuff we wanted. In return, we usually blew the money on candy and learned a bit about shopping. Win-win. I know the money never amounted to much, but we always felt like we had won the lottery!


Posted in common sense, shopping

Help! I’m being held hostage by product reviews!

In the good old days before online shopping, I would go to the store, look over the available products, and select one to buy. I’d pick the one that looked good, felt good, and was priced right. Do you remember those days?

I shop on line now. As do many of you. This means I buy a lot of things sight unseen. So I read the reviews. Positive reviews. Negative reviews. And some in-between. In a crazy, scary way, these reviews control my purchases. People I don’t even know are controlling my shopping habits.

And here is what I have noticed: negative reviews wield much power over me. A product may have, let’s say, one hundred reviews. 90% are four or five stars. I will read the one star reviews, the ten percent, to learn why this product is junk and the seller a piece of slime.

The negative responses usually go something like this:

  • “Worked for ten minutes, then quit.”
  • “Instructions were vague; assembly took three days.”
  • “Poor quality, missing pieces, shoddy craftsmanship, disappointing purchase.”
  • “Too hot” “Too cold” “Too hard” ” Too soft” “Too big” “Too small” (Goldilocks responses.)
  • “Arrived broken, seller unresponsive, and my life sucks.”

You know what? I tend to listen to the negative. I read about all the things that go wrong, and decide I need to buy something else. Something better. Something of quality. Whatever. People I don’t even know are controlling my shopping habits!

OK, Bill, take a deep breath. Who is writing these reviews? “Verified purchasers?” How do I know that’s true? Satisfied customers? Unsatisfied customers? Who knows.

Most of the time – the majority of the time – I’ve been happy with my purchases. And they had nothing to do with the reviews. I am not a bad judge of quality. I know that my purchase comes from China (duh!). And I know I can send it back for a refund. No harm. No foul.

You can either choose to be controlled by someone else’s opinion. Or your own discernment. My inner voice is valid, too.