Tuesday, September 15, 2009


While I'm hating on Barnes & Noble today, this remark by Kevin Drum --
As near as I can tell, consumer-facing businesses these days virtually never think about how they can make things genuinely more convenient for people. Rather, they seem almost obsessively concerned with calculating the maximum amount of pain people will put up with before they finally get pissed off enough to take their business elsewhere. * * * It's sort of exhausting. Is it any wonder that so many people are so angry all the time?
-- instantly reminded me of calling B&N the other day to look for a book. I had to listen to a recording telling me the store hours. Fine.

But then I had to listen to an advertisement for the in-store cafe. No one wants to hear that. No one wants the simple call to find out if a book's in stock to drag on for 15 or 20 extra seconds for a freakin' ad. It even defeats the store's own goals, since calls in are presumably opportunities to sell something, and frustrating the caller makes some people more likely to hang up and just order the g.d. book off Amazon.

So why do that? Drum's explanation makes sense.

(The punch line is that when I got through, the clerk told me the book I wanted was out of print, which matches what the B&N website says, but Amazon begs to differ. Amazon, $12.71; B&N, $-0-. Too bad I wanted a book on Luther instead of a book by Hitler.)


  1. I hate this sort of thing. Unfortunately, the world supports it and it's even worse in ongoing relationships.

    AmEx just decided to bump our card's rate by more than 5%, to about 15%. No reason, our payment and other history is perfect so they don't even have universal default to fall back on. They just feel the need to gouge us.

    Unfortunately for them, we're in a position to give them a big middle finger. But even then it's a hassle. We can easily replace the card - but we also have our credit frozen for security, so it's a real pain. Same thing goes for many other customer/company relationships. Whether it's having to take off work for the new cable guy to switch you over or just losing built-up reward points, most cases it's not as simple as Amazon instead of B&N.

    This wouldn't be such a problem if companies still had a shred of a soul, but since they don't they'll play you for all it's worth and take full advantage of the impediments to transfer.

  2. Oh yeah, it's pervasive. Goodwill is evidently very cheap in their eyes. We're all busy, and they know it's a hassle for us to actually change our practices based on their crappy service ... especially when we're probably switching from Rude Corp. A to Rude Corp. B.

    It seems to me there's room for distinguishing oneself as a humane provider of goods or services ... Southwest Airlines has had some success with that ... but it has to be a genuine practice, not just an ad campaign.