Service of One More to Sell

March 19th, 2015

Categories: Customer Care, Details, Retail

Empty store shelves

The formula used to hold that a retail store would be better off tossing out an item than turning away a single customer because it had run out. Retailers were also advised to keep shelves full otherwise customers lost confidence if there were large gaps where merchandise used to be.

I went to a major office supply store to buy a printer cartridge today and while I was there asked for a multiple power strip. The enthusiastic and helpful young salesman first checked that I hadn’t missed any—the shelves were indeed empty—and he immediately called a colleague in the storage area.

Empty store shelves 2The store, that has countless laptops, tablets, computers and other devices that might need to be plugged in or charged at one or another time didn’t have a single power strip at any price. I then remembered that the last time I was there the store had run out of the Cannon cartridge I needed. On my way home that night I found one at another store.

So I wasn’t surprised by the quarterly earnings report for this chain. According to Drew FitzGerald and Chelsey Dulaney of The Wall Street Journal, the chain “reported another quarter of declining sales and dwindling store traffic, deepening the retailer’s challenges…..” That makes 11 such quarters. If they don’t have it I can’t buy it.

Yesterday I went to a drug store chain on 42nd street and Third Avenue at 3 pm—it’s open 24/7–and took the last of a popular item. The next customer looking for it will leave empty handed.

purchase by date on milkThere’s a gas station in upstate New York near the railroad station. On my way to the house on a Friday night I often drop in to buy milk but try not to. Why? For one thing they don’t sell fat free milk so I live with 1%. Worse: The “purchase by” date has either expired or is about to—and I’ve told them. I am better off buying milk at a grocery store the Sunday before and leaving it in the fridge as it’s still fresher than what I’d buy at the station five days later. [The local grocery store in the town closed a few months ago.]

Imagine what the rent for retail is in midtown Manhattan and what it costs to run a busy gas station. The irony is that the latter company started in the milk business!

Do people no longer pay attention to “purchase by” dates on food? Do you think that businesses are trying to keep inventory so lean that the old retail models no longer apply? Perhaps they think that you could use the Internet as backup, but if you need a printer cartridge, milk or OTC pharmacy item right away, in addition to the outrageous cost of shipping, what good is next day delivery?

 I want it now

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10 Responses to “Service of One More to Sell”

  1. ASK Said:

    You’ve just hit on the reason why I rarely shop big-box stores…While it seems that their shelves are fully stocked, I always seem to choose items (hardware, light bulbs, printer-ink cartridges etc.) that are not in stock. I’d rather pay a little more to a smaller retailer and find what I’m looking for on the spot. And I am always amazed at what I find crammed into the shelves at some “mom-and-pop” store in the Manhattan neighborhood where I work…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good advice and you are lucky to have mom and pop stores to visit–so many have been snuffed out by big box competitors.

    I wonder if the major office supply company with 11 straight quarters of declining in-store sales has anyone visit its stores and check the shelves/inventory and fire the managers who don’t keep them stocked, or, is the company having financial problems so the managers can’t order? The old chicken/egg question, appropriate I guess so near Easter and Passover.

  3. JBK Said:

    I think the answer to your question may be in where the best paying, and most secure, least demanding, jobs can be found today. The former are in tech and finance, and the latter are in the public and not-for-profit sectors.

    The best and brightest are not going into retail, they don’t pay well enough. Also, they are even less secure than they used to be. The chains have forced most Ma and Pa stores out of business, and they (the chains) by being more efficient (meaning better computerized). Look what has happened to Blockbuster and Radio Shack for example. They were both darlings of growth a quarter century ago.

    Retailers no longer decide what, how much and when to stock, computers do it, and if you don’t like it, there is not much you can do about it.

    As my dentist said to me the other day while I was sitting in his chair, “Corporate has taken over medicine.” He is right. Unless you are very rich, some insurance company’s computer decides what medicine you will take and how long you can talk to your doctor.

    Skip the education bit, become a techie and get rich. You’ll be alright as long as the Chinese are still making what you want to buy.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In addition to the benefit of computerization, big boxes have a huge advantage over mom and pop stores in buying power so they pay less and can offer advantageous prices.

    And you are right about computers determining whether or not to fill a shelf though clearly, without “adult supervision,” this process isn’t working well.

    Retail has always been brutal. I have known brilliant retailers with a nose for merchandise and merchandising who were fired in their 40s/50s either as buyers or product category managers because management discounted their value and felt they could get someone else to fill their shoes for far less money.

    Years ago I met department store buyers of a client in the home decorating field who ended up choosing curtains when 12 months earlier they were selecting shoes and pots and pans the year before that, hardly given a chance to understand the product, much less the customer.

    As for Blockbuster, it was shot out of the water by a changing industry i.e. Netflix and it didn’t make the leap. The same could be said about poor Radio Shack–starting with the word radio that would turn off every 10, 20 or 30-year old person worth their earbuds.

    All this makes me sad as there is nothing I love more than to visit a fabulous store. What a wonderful industry it could be.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I don’t enjoy shopping,so pay no attention to most details, and have usually been blessed with well stocked stores in the neighborhood. A local once observed that empty shelves usually meant the store was failing. She was always on target – the stores in question were usually gone in a matter of weeks.

    One exception to selective blindness is a “purchase by” date on food. Recently there was an “up close & personal” fight between me, other shoppers, vs. a local grocer on “Bolthouse Farms Vanilla Chai” with a purchase by date of February 17. The day came and went, and two bottles bearing that date would not go away. A silent buyer rebellion appears to have followed. Finally, either shopper(s) or store caved – they were finally gone by March 16.

    Retail might be less brutal, at least to good employees, should shoppers demand the higher quality and service that the fired staff are able to provide. For that reason I try to shop at smaller establishments whenever possible, and where the firing of valuable employees isn’t prevalent. I’ve dropped CVS for the local family run pharmacy. It costs a bit more, but I feel better in more ways than one.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You got through on the expired date issue, but the convenience store at my local gas station continues to hock expired–or about to be expired–milk as I wrote. If you have a big family and know that the gallon or quart will be gone in a day, OK. But that’s not always the case. I figure they count on people dropping in on their way somewhere and never coming back although the other customers, when I’ve been there, all appear local: They know the cashiers and one another.

    I give this place credit–I wrote about it a few years ago. When I complained about the unfriendly attitude of the cashiers who were never at their posts and made you wait to pay–even if you said you were about to miss a train–while they were stocking cigarettes or re-arranging a bread display. Soon they were gone and I’ve never again been ignored or grouched at.

  7. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I just tried to buy a bulletin board and was told it was a “back to school item.” Really? No one has home offices? OK so mine wasn’t for an office but it wasn’t for school either. I ordered it off the internet and the shipping cost was more than 40% of the cost of the item. I didn’t mind because I had a gift card and it was delivered a day early and in the middle of a big snowstorm which was nice. Maybe I will stop shopping at stores.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That’s a crazy rationale–does the place not sell pens and pencils? Computers? Rulers? Paper? The office I currently rent has fabric walls used to post things with pins but I still have one bulletin board from my first office.

    Businesses that sell things will miss a lot if people can’t stroll through them. How many times have you gone into a store looking for one thing and leaving with three or more? You can let your eyes do the walking on a computer or tablet screen but it’s not the same.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Having a “big” family does not excuse the purchase of stale or nearly stale food or drink. I speak as a mother of 3, and risking children (or anyone else) drink potentially sour milk is unacceptable – at least, by my standards. I trust you already know that having “old” items on the shelf is against the law, and if reported can land the store in a heap of trouble :))

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wouldn’t suggest anyone buy any product that is past due, but if it has three days left–not long enough for me–it would work in a pinch and still be fine.

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