Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Big W

It was a battle between the Ks and the W. Unfortunately for us, W stands for Winning.

Needing lots of little things to set up house, we drove to the Big W discount department store in Kingston. Big W is a lot like Walmart only without the charming floor staff. And without the wide range of products. And without the top-quality brands. And without the great prices. But otherwise, it's a lot like Walmart.

You could say it is like K-mart, only not so upscale. Or you could say it is like Nieman Marcus, but only if you mean they both have rooms with stuff you can buy. No, the Big W is a dreadful store.

And that's coming from me, who is pretty much not focused on shopping experiences. You can only imagine how my darling reacted to finding herself in this store.

I should add, LK is not all that elitist about shopping. As much as she loves Tiffany & Co, she gets just about as excited going to the Dollar Store (or the $2 Store here in Oz, where a dollar won't even buy you a punch in the nose).

Nonetheless, there we were loading our shopping cart with 24-packs of toilet paper, extra-large rolls of industrial strength garbage bags, three laundry baskets, 24 cans of Diet Coke, a box cutter, an electric kettle, enough paper napkins (called serviettes here in Oz) to keep a platoon tidy at lunch, a camper folding chair, four bags of chips, cleaning products and some things I have already forgotten.

We weren't altogether happy because the store didn't stock some of the things on our list - basic things like small waste baskets, for example - but really, other than the fact that there weren't a lot of items on the shelves, it wasn't all that bad an experience until we got to the check-out.

And there the shopping experience took a decided turn for the wretched. It seems the Big W management, in a brilliant cost-cutting exercise, decided to have no check-out people. Not terribly concerned with what their customers felt, they made all of us go through the self-service check-out. And it is such an enormous pain in the butt - not to mention that it doesn't work all that well - that I can right now name at least two customers who vowed they will never go back to the Big W.

In fact, I believe I told the young lady who was there to help people like us who couldn't master the self-service check-out, "I'm never coming back to this flaming store. I can't believe they'd put customers through this crap just to be able to avoid hiring a couple of minimum wages flunkies." OK, I didn't say "flaming" or "crap", but what made me feel bad almost immediately was that I realized even as I said it that I undoubtedly was already talking to a minimum wages flunky.

The problem with the self-service check-out is that it is really lame technology. You scan a product, then put it in the plastic bag that is resting on a scale. Only no one tells you you can't move the product once you put it there. But worse, the system just doesn't work very well. Half the time the damn eternally pleasant computer voice tells you a product has been removed that hasn't been removed. And there's nobody to argue with.

I won't even go into the challenge of large items like 24-packs of toilet tissue. They don't fit on the scale and yet the computer goes into paroxysms of fury if you don't weigh them. When the person whose job is to assist people who can't master the self-service check-out technology came over once again to help us, LK or I (and I honestly don't know which of us) muttered, "We are ready to just walk out of this store and leave our stuff here."

As you would expect, this person showed us how to weigh the oversized items, punched a few things into the touch screen to make everything work again, and probably walked away feeling very conflicted that they had solved our problems since my guess is they would have definitely preferred that we walk out of the store and never return.

Anyhow, we eventually got our stuff, loaded the car and drove away. "I'm never going back to that place," LK said. I thought for a second and said, "Actually, now that I understand how to use the check-out, I could handle it."

There was a long silence in the car. I think Big W is a deal breaker.


Tomorrow - less than 12 hours from now - our furniture arrives. We will have a home again!