An upset customer was in front of me, perplexed and mad that she had been sold an empty box. The box should have contained an electronic device of some kind, I couldn’t tell what. Perhaps a cell phone or a personal digital assistant of some sort, but when she got home and opened the box she found it was empty.
The young salesman was apologetic, and almost as confused as the customer. After watching from the back of the sales counter for several minutes, the manager finally walked over and without saying a word, replaced the empty box with one from under the counter. After opening the box to prove this one contained the product, the customer, still upset, placed her receipt and the new box back in the shopping bag and left.
The young clerk began telling the manager he had no idea he had sold the box from a store display unit and that it wouldn’t happen again. The manager said dryly, “Too bad she opened it!” He was quite serious as he carefully replaced the empty box back under the counter. He turned and walked away, leaving the salesman with his mouth open.
Caveat Emptor was definitely the business model for this retailer. Latin for "Let the buyer beware", Caveat Emptor is the idea that buyers take responsibility for the condition of the items they purchase and should examine them before purchase. If you don’t have a written warranty or guarantee when you buy a product or service, you expose yourself to this type of problem.
With today’s consumers spending more time doing Internet research before entering a store, retailers find some customers are well informed of prices and features before they ever enter the store. On line buying is slowly becoming more popular, especially when free shipping is offered. Even with the traditional retail outlets, consumers are arming themselves with competitive quotes and comparisons before talking with salespeople.
The more expensive the product, the more likely on line research is used prior to actually making a purchase. According to an article in the April 2nd-8th 2005 issue of “The Economist”, even Ford Motor Company is finding that eight of ten customers have already used the internet to decide what car they want to buy and what they are willing to pay before they arrive at the showroom floor.
No amount of planning or research, however, can take the place of caution or prudence when making the actual purchase. Knowing what recourse you have with the retailer should you be dissatisfied with your purchase should be a major part of your decision to do business with any store or seller. Dealing with an individual seller is a matter of personal risk. From goats to go karts, bargaining has always been part of dealing with individual owners and sellers. When it comes to a nationally known retailer though, customers tend to not be as skeptical with a purchase. Caveat Emptor indeed.
George Mindling © 2005