So, let me put on my Andy Rooney hat (again) for a second.
I've been looking periodically for ice melt for the front steps. I don't want a 20lb bag of it, I want a plastic container with a lid I can open and shake a bit out. Unbelievably, the only place I found this was at Target five days before Christmas, and I wasn't standing in line for 20 minutes for a $6 jug of salt.
Incidentally, Lowe's, Home Depot, and True Value down here all want to sell you $15 handheld crank spreaders you'd use for grass seed or fertilizer, plus the 20lb bag.
Well, last night I thought I'd stop back in at Target and pick up the container of ice melt that I wanted. I was disappointed but unsurprised to find that they were sold out, but the real irritation was the fact that I had to ask a Target team member to figure this out, and said member was annoyed because clearly he had been asked this same question at least a dozen times.
With that set up, here's my curmudgeon rant, which is two-pronged:
Why do stores go so far out of their way these days to hide the fact that some items are out of stock? Are they really that compulsive that they need all the shelves to appear fully stocked at all times?
I mean, I get that this is entirely due to our modern Just-In-Time system: Stores keep much less stock "in the back" than they used to, some corporate inventory system allocates stock inventory, and the warehouses keep only enough stock to fill orders, and the manufacturers set up their production lines to make only enough to fill the orders they have.
So in many cases, even if a local store owner looked at the weather and said, "Gee, I could order 250 more jugs of ice melt and make a killing next Tuesday" they don't have the authority to do that. Even if they did, there's no room for it on the truck because the delivery is already optimized for a full trailer, there isn't any extra in the warehouse, and the place that makes it doesn't have the workers to start up an extra line to make more.
I had the same discussion two weeks ago with a manager at Trader Joe's. A couple of weeks back, spoothbrush sent me out to see if they had any cocoa truffles left, because they are amazing. I asked if they still had any and the guy laughed at me. He said that corporate puts in one order and they get what they get. "Buddy, I could have sold another 5,000 of them, but the store gets what it gets," he said.
But back to stocking the shelves. What's wrong with allowing customers to see that you're out of something? Especially when it's an item that's popular and timely. Wouldn't an empty shelf with a little sign saying "Sorry, we're out of ice melt, we'll have more on Monday" take some of the pressure off the floor workers?
Plus, I wasted 15 minutes walking the store looking for it before I stopped someone. Which I guess is in Target's best interests to have happen, thinking I might see something else I would want to buy. But now I'm vaguely irritated I can't find any trace of it -- or where it ought to be, so I'm predisposed to be less kind to the staff than I otherwise would be. And if I hadn't asked, I could have just as easily walked away thinking "Gee, Target must not ever carry ice melt at all, I won't think to look for it there in the future."
Gah. I walked out of Lowe's because I thought the $15 spreader was gouging, but if you figure the value of the time I've burned between the trips to Target and writing this, I should have just paid the man and gotten on with my life.