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Archive for March, 2008

Dickering Around

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Cash Register

Are you kidding me? I now have to haggle at Best Buy?

Well, according to this New York Times story, if I want to get the best deal at stores like Best Buy, Circuit City, Home Depot, or even the Polo Ralph Lauren store, I have to be prepared to negotiate:

Savvy consumers, empowered by the Internet and encouraged by a slowing economy, are finding that they can dicker on prices, not just on clearance items or big-ticket products like televisions but also on lower-cost goods like cameras, audio speakers, couches, rugs and even clothing.

The problem is that I just won’t—probably can’t—do this. For one thing, I’m shy, and I don’t especially enjoy striking up conversations with strangers, particularly those with ulterior (profit) motives. This is why going to a store like Circuit City is painful for me, anyway. I know that as soon as I start browsing the big flat screen TVs or the laser printers, some officious salesman is going to be at my side. Our interaction, if you want to be charitable and call it that, will amount to something like this: I’ll avoid eye contact, hoping for just a few minutes to scope out the merchandise; the salesman, overly willing to avoid the social cues I’m (not!) sending out, will ask if I “need any help”; and I’ll end up demurring and scurrying off to another aisle. Pretty, huh?

To avoid this kind of scenario, I just don’t drop by car showrooms or jewelry stores. I know I’m never going to get the best deal there, and I don’t even try. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve always preferred Best Buy to Circuit City is that Best Buy usually lets its shoppers be. I thought the entire idea was that all shoppers, including me, were getting the good deal. That’s apparently not true anymore:

Frederick Stinchfield, 23, was a Best Buy salesman in Minnetonka, Minn., until last January. He said about one-quarter of customers tried to bargain. Much of the time, he said, he was able to oblige them, particularly in circumstances where a customer buying electronics (like a camera) also bought an accessory (like a camera bag) with a higher markup. He said the cash registers at Best Buy were set up so that prices could be reset at checkout.


Silly me, but I actually thought one of the advantages of modern civilization was that we’d moved away from an economy that was explicitly dependent on who you are, how you look, or how well you negotiate. And according to the Times, until recently, I would’ve been right:

Haggling was once common before department stores began setting fixed prices in the 1850s. But the shift to bargaining in malls and on Main Street is a considerable change from even 10 years ago, [Nancy F.] Koehn [a retail historian] said, when studies showed that consumers did not like to bargain and did not consider themselves good at it. “Call it the eBay phenomenon,” Ms. Koehn said.

eBay‘s to blame? No way. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Sure, I’m happy to bid in an online auction, but that’s not actually haggling. It’s antiseptic—and in the best possible sense. I don’t have to make pretend-friends with the seller or worry that I’m not getting a good deal even when I manage to get 10% knocked off the ticket price. Dickering at Best Buy with a real salesman isn’t anything like bidding pseudonymously on eBay. Online auctions reward the introverted buyer—who’s moving the action without having to suffer the social costs of interacting with the seller. Haggling at Best Buy punishes consumers like me.

Anyway, where will this trend leave the “savvy consumer”? If I pay the asking price for the digital camera I’ve been eyeing, even if it’s the “sale price,” am I getting fleeced? When the Diet Dr. Pepper doesn’t happen to be on sale at my supermarket, should I offer the cashier $1 less for the fridge pack? Should I threaten the Polo salesman that I’ve seen nicer pants down the street?

Who has time or patience for this? Not me. And if the New Haggling Culture catches on, we’ll all literally be the poorer for it. When you buy a new car today, you have to be prepared to spend days and hours with the salesman, watching as he plays games, negotiating ridiculous service fees and hidden costs. And even if you do all that, there’s still a pretty good chance that you haven’t gotten a good deal, let alone the best deal. Do we really want to take the car-shopping model and extend it?

If I have to haggle for something, I don’t want it.

Written by Jimmy

March 23rd, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Posted in General Interest

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Green Lightbulb

Written by Jimmy

March 17th, 2008 at 1:14 am

Posted in General Interest

Philly Beer Week

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Downtown Philly
I spent the past week getting slightly toasted—over and over again. Why? Well, just to prove that this is America’s best beer city, Philadelphians have been celebrating Philly Beer Week. So getting slightly toasted was my civic duty. Woo hoo!

I started things off last Saturday at Tria Cafe’s Fermentation School with a session devoted to porters and stouts. The class was led by beer writer Lew Bryson. I’d like to be able to tell you what I particularly enjoyed that night, but I seem to have misplaced my notes. And my memory. Er, in my defense, I’ve had a lot of beer since then. I do remember that Bryson was entertaining, though, and I wallowed a little bit in the malty goodness he presented.

The rest of my week was devoted to Belgian beers—fitting since Philadelphia is so crazy for Belgian beers. (Apparently we drink more Belgian beer than anywhere except Brussels.) On Tuesday night, I was back at Tria’s Fermentation School for a session devoted to the Van Honsebrouck family’s Kasteel Beers. Xavier Van Honesebrouck, representing the seventh generation that his family has been brewing, was there, aided by Bruce Wright, an entertaining and informative importer. I have to say that Van Honsebrouck’s beers were a revelation. The Kasteel Donker, a classic Belgian-style ale, was absolutely my find of the week. It was malty and balanced, and—despite its 11% ABV—didn’t have any alcohol burn at all. I’ll be hitting my local beer distributor soon for some more.

I was also taken with another Kasteel beer, the St. Louis Peche. I’m a big fan of fruity Lambics, and the St. Louis is among the the best peach beers I’ve tasted. It’s just gueuze and fruit, but that’s all it needs to be. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for sweet beers, and some traditionalists will never accept the idea of sweet Lambics. But if you’re open to sweetness and, er, to peaches, the St. Louis Peche is worth tracking down.

Friday and Saturday saw me at the Fermentation School again and again (I started to feel like a conspicuous weirdo fixture there) for two more classes on Belgian brews. The first was led by Don Feinberg, the co-founder of both Vanberg & Duwulf Importers and America’s well-respected Brewery Ommegang. That night, I quaffed one of the world’s great beers (and one of my favorites), Saison Dupont, but it was the interesting grapefruitiness of the Boon Gueuze that really struck me. I just can’t get enough Lambic anymore.

Saturday’s session was led by Armand Debelder of Belgium’s Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen and importer Don Shelton. I particularly enjoyed two Cantillon beers that night, the Broucsella 1900 Grand Cru (which I’d had before) and the Iris (which I probably hadn’t). I have a crush on Brasserie Cantillon, and I’m sure I’ll be blogging about that again sometime soon.

Sandwiched between all of these sessions at Tria was a Wednesday evening beer dinner at Philly’s Belgian Cafe. A friend and I sampled some tasty dishes designed to complement five different Lindemans beers. Lindemans beers are what got me interested in Belgian beers in the first place. And I haven’t changed my mind—despite repeated exposure to “experts” who bemoan the brewery’s emphasis on sweetness (accomplished by adding fruit juices to the beers). As I’ve blogged before (at the old place), Lindemans Framboise is my perfect combination of sourness (Lambic) and sweet (raspberries).

Somehow, I now have to face the fact that I won’t have four or five beer events to get me through the days ahead. That is so depressing! I’ve been spoiled by Philly Beer Week, and I don’t want to go back.

Written by Jimmy

March 17th, 2008 at 12:53 am

Posted in Beer