Our washing machine started leaking this week, like a puppy relieving itself in a corner, so we’ve been spending our spare time looking for a new washer/dryer combo. It’s a good thing that appliances last over a decade, because it will take at least that long to ease the horror from my mind. Part of the problem is that we have very precise space constraints, but most of the problem is the way that appliances are sold.
Most of the time when I’m looking for hardware, it’s a computer or a computer peripheral. Because the competition is so fierce for computer hardware, manufacturers and vendors document everything about what they’re selling on their websites. Speed, physical dimensions – you name the spec, and you can find it on every site. Consequently, you can spend a hour or two in front of your computer and arrive at the store armed with an exact idea of what you want, and get out fast.
By contrast, household appliances aren’t sold that way. For several local appliance vendors, having a web site is simply a means of announcing their existence. In one case, their site is a single page. In another, you can can learn what brands they carry, but not which models or what the prices might be, because most of their site is simply links to manufacturers. Another one doesn’t bother to give dimensions. None of them update their site with any regularity.
Consequently, if you are trying to be a conscientious consumer and shop around, you have to do a lot of old-fashioned legwork. I’m no stranger to exercise, so ordinarily I wouldn’t mind, except that the trudging around was in the service of a necessity that doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Frankly, reading washing machine stats and peering inside their drums is so mind-numbingly boring that a mentally sub-normal yak would be bored by it. Personally, boredom set in after the second or third examination – and we’ve looked at dozens in the last few days.
Then, just to make matters worse, the sellers of appliances seem strangely reluctant to take your money. Our first stop had only a couple of models on the floor. We could ask about other models, we were told, but how would we know about them if we didn’t see them? We would have to jot down the brands the store sold, then go home and do research.
Our next stop was the Sears store in Metrotown, a complex that has long had my vote for the most hideous shopping complex in the whole of Greater Vancouver. I can’t confirm that minotaurs roam its corridors freely, but if I hear any bull-like rumblings as I pass the service hallways, I’m not investigating.
But the Sears store has its own special horror, because its staff is apparently competing with each other for the fewest times they have to talk to a customer. You can see the staff scuttling low down the aisles a few over, but, by the time you learn how to get one’s attention, you would have the experience to track big game anywhere in the world. About the only thing you can say for this attitude is that it is marginally better than having the clerks dance attendance on you with unrequested information.
At Future Shop, the pricse were good, but each time we were ready to buy, we were told that the warehouse was currently out of stock and was likely to remain so for the next couple of weeks. I strongly suspect (although I cannot prove) that this was a variation on bait and switch. To be fair, we did receive a phone call saying that one of our choices was available, but, by then we had already bought.
The next stop was Home Depot. I realize that the company has built its business on do-it-yourselfers, but the staff didn’t seem to understand that plumbing is a bit beyond the average home owner. The company didn’t even a list of suggested contractors that customers might hire to get their new appliances connected. Nor did the staff see anything ridiculous in the attitude.
Finally, with madness nibbling at our brains like a glimpse of Cthulhu and the Elder Gods, we stumbled into Trail Appliances in Coquitlam. There, we were left to browse for a few minutes before an employee approached us. He was helpful, even giving us some advice we probably wouldn’t have thought of. And, wonder of wonders, the floor model that was our first choice was actually available. Within minutes, we were paying and arranging delivery.
What the other companies didn’t seem to understand was that washers and dryers are not the most glamorous of appliances. While some conscientious but anal souls might conscientiously remember to have them serviced every year, I suspect that many people are like us, and don’t think of them until they need servicing or replacement.
The result is that, when people go shopping for washers and dryers, they are usually in urgent need of a replacement. They can’t afford to spin out the process, because, if they do, they will have to find a laundromat or an obliging neighbor who will let them have the use of the machine.
What Trail Appliances offered was simply efficient service. The result? We’ve decided to replace our fridge at the same time, since it is running on borrowed time, and we’ll do so by returning to Trail again. Trail’s website is no better than any of the others – in fact it is one of the worst ones – but at least its staff understands how to treat customers. So, naturally enough, it gets our other business, too.
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