Comparison Shopping With the Smiths

by Gary Foreman

"I can't believe she asked me to quit writing down prices!" Exasperation was clearly evident in Mary's voice. "How can a big chain like Consumer City advertise that they have the lowest prices on TV's and then try to keep you from making sure that's true? All I was doing was listing the models and their prices. What's wrong with that?"

John kept driving as he listened to the story. He had always enjoyed seeing his wife when she was a little riled up. "Easy, Hon. What exactly did she say to you?"

"Well, I had looked at the consumer magazine and selected the models that we'd be most interested in. After I had gotten prices for about six of those sets, she came up and said that she'd have to ask me to stop what I was doing. I was so surprised that I just looked at her. So she repeated the exact same words. It sounded almost like she had memorized a speech.

"I asked her who she was and she said she was an assistant manager. I was on the last one anyway so I finished listing the price and put my notes away. Boy, I've never had that happen before!"

As John changed lanes he thought about his reply. "You know, I bet it was a memorized speech. She didn't tell you to stop taking down prices did she? That would be illegal. So she just asked you to stop. And since there's such a fine line between telling and asking, the store probably instructs her in the exact words to use. This way you can't say that she made you stop. You voluntarily complied with her request. Oh well, you got what we needed. Kinda makes you want to buy somewhere else. Let's see how me make out at Electronic Advice. They've always been a bit pricey, but maybe they have a loss leader we'd be interested in."

The Smiths stopped at Electronic Advice. A salesman immediately approached them, but grew less interested when he learned that they weren't interested in the top of the line models. But something he said puzzled Mary. He suggested that she take a look at their sales flyer at the store's entrance. She had picked one up as they went back to the car.

They were pulling out of the parking lot when she solved the mystery. "Now I get it. That one low end model we were considering is in the flyer. And the sale starts tomorrow! He probably figured that since we weren't going for the fancy TV, he might just as well steer us to the sale."

By now John had the family van headed towards the interstate. "Let's head out to Buy Smart. I read that they might have to close some stores. Wouldn't be surprised if they had some pretty good sales."

Once the Smiths got to Buy Smart they headed right for the big screen TV's. Surprisingly, no salesperson came into the area to talk with them. But Mary and John knew what they were looking for. By now they had a pretty good idea of what a good deal would look like if they found one.

Mary called John over. One of the models that they had been considering was on sale and was about $30 cheaper than others sale prices for the same set. After talking about it they decided to find a salesperson and buy the set.

They told the salesman what they wanted and he disappeared to write up the order. When five minutes passed and he didn't return, John figured that something was up. "Watch, Hon. I bet they're out of that model." Sure enough, when the salesman returned he told John and Mary that they were out of stock.

Mary was quick to ask for a 'rain check' so they could get it later. But, even that didn't work. She was told that was only for 'advertised' sale items. John was persistent and asked when new sets would be arriving. He was told that no more were on order.

This time when they went back to the car they were both confused. "Did I miss something here? They had a sign on a set that was not in stock and no more were coming in. How can they makes sales that way?"

An explanation was forming in Mary's mind. "Well, suppose we that we didn't try to buy it. We would have shopped all the other places. But when we were ready to buy we would have come back to Buy Smart. Then once we were there and anxiously picturing a new TV in our family room they could have switched us to another set."

"Then why didn't he try to switch us tonight? We told him we were willing to buy." Mary thought for a moment before replying. "Either he figured we were willing to wait because I asked for a rain check or he figures they're going to close the store anyway and it doesn't really make any difference."

John accelerated back onto the expressway. "Boy, this sure has been some evening! So far we've had one place tell us to stop taking notes. Another hints that we'll get a better price tomorrow. Now we find a place that's playing bait and switch without the switch! I never thought it'd be so hard to spend our money!"

Mary looked up from her notes. "Well, Sweetheart, it's probably not that hard if you just walk in and buy at the first place you shop. But you sure can learn a lot by trying to find the best deal."

"Yeah, right." Sarcasm was always one of John's best weapons. "I've learned that we don't need a new TV. The best shows are the ones that these salespeople are putting on for us. Maybe we should forget about buying and just keep shopping!"

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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