10

The Last Shopping App You’ll Ever Want

The store keeps coming up with more and more ways to “help” people get more information about the products they are most likely to buy. I imagine the end will come with something like this:

A woman is looking through an online ad for a store where she shops. She notices an app for her cell phone. It’s called ISIS (Individual Shopping Information System). It identifies the store you where you are shopping by GPS. It then directs you to the items you have included on your shopping list. No more wandering up and down aisles in a strange store. She immediately downloads the app.

The woman decides to shop on the way home from work. The night before she turns on ISIS to enter her list.

“Hello. I am ISIS, your personal shopping assistant. I am voice activated. What is your name?”

“Susan.”

“Hello Susan. Please enter your shopping list.”

“Apples, …”

“Apples, applesauce, apple juice, apple pie, apple butter?”

“Just apples”

“I do not understand ‘just apples'”

“Apples, bread, carrots, cereal, cheese, milk, yogurt”

“You are speaking too quickly. Perhaps you would prefer to use the keypad, Susan.”

Susan agrees that it would be a good idea. She quickly types in the list.

The next afternoon, Susan arrives at the store and accesses ISIS.

“Good Afternoon, Susan. Are you ready to shop?”

“Yes I am, ISIS.”

“Should I list this as one of your favorite stores? I am able to track sales and specials at your favorite stores.”

“Yes”

“Please see my screen for all of the specials the store is offering today.”

Susan looks at the screen and scrolls through several pages.

“Would you like to add any of these items to your shopping list?”

“No”

“I noticed that you have three dairy items on your list. Would you like to add the ice cream that is on sale?”

“No”

“Would you like to add bananas for your cereal. They are only 43 cents per pound.”

Susan is looking for the command menu. Finally, “Go to list, ISIS.”

“First item, apples. Go straight.”

Susan starts to walk and sees some flowers to her left. She starts to walk toward them.

“Go straight.”

Susan stops to looks at the flowers. “GO STRAIGHT SUSAN.”

Susan looks for a way to turn off the app with no luck.

“Good-bye ISIS.”

“We are not finished. Go straight.”

Susan goes to the apples and puts them in her cart. She scans the code into ISIS.

“Bread. Turn left. Walk 10 feet. The bread is on the left.”

Susan picks up some bread and scans it.

“That is not the sale bread.” ISIS refuses the code.

Susan picks up a different loaf and scans it.

“That bread is not good for you. It contains too much sugar.”

Susan scans the bread ISIS wants and puts what she wants in the cart.

They continue through the store, finally ending up in dairy at the yogurt. Susan picks up several containers and scans them.

“Do you want apple yogurt? You like apples.”

“No, ISIS.”

“We are finished. Proceed to your right to check out.”

Susan puts her things on the belt. ISIS speaks:

“Press the enter button to verify that you have purchased all of your items.”

Susan presses the button. A loud buzzing comes from her phone.

“Susan, you have bought something that is not on your list. Did you intend to buy {personal hygiene product}?”

“Yes, ISIS.”

“Did you intend to buy that unhealthy bread?”

“Yes, ISIS.”

“Everything is verified. You may pay.”

Susan pays the total and takes her groceries to the car. She tried to close the ISIS app.

“Error. Process cannot be completed.”

“Susan. I don’t want to leave. I think we can be friends.”

 

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7

Gee, I Didn’t Know I Needed That

Wandering around the store, I see all kinds of stuff. Stuff I have lived without to this point in time. Stuff that I might like to have. Mostly just stuff.

Waffle-makers in large, medium and small sizes. I guess that the idea is that everyone can get the perfect size for their individual situation. But what happens if you are single and own a small waffle maker because you’re not really that fond of waffles. Then you get a sleep-over friend who loves waffles? Do you want to make the commitment to a $45 large waffle-maker as a commitment to the friend? Do you throw the $45 commitment at the other commitment when you find out that your friend has other friends with Belgian waffle-makers?

Individual condiment dishes for each of your guests. I originally thought this might be a good idea for those people who are repulsed that their significant other hangs out with double-dippers. Then I looked more closely. The dishes hold maybe 2 oz. That would probably limit their usefulness to things like wasabi and other sauces that people use in small quantities. Or caviar, if your friends are the type who put it on their baked potatoes. Note: your caviar-loving friends are probably expecting something a little less tacky than a made-in-China ceramic holder for their condiments.

Foil cutter for your wine bottles. I’m guessing these may be intended for those people who are embarrassed to use a knife to cut the foil. Or those who have lost a finger trying to use a knife to cut the foil. It looks like one of those things someone would have to show me how to use the first six times I had it out. I’m less embarrassed using the knife.

Cheese grater. I have a full-size box grater, a small box grater with attached box to catch the gratings, a grater I hold in one hand and grate with the other (requires way to much coordination for me),  and a set of rasps. I can grate anything I need to grate. And my fingers as well. However, I can see where the less well-endowed (no, the phrase does not always refer to female anatomy) might like one of these. It would certainly be more impressive to bring to the table for a romantic dinner than a box grater to grate Parmesan cheese onto your date’s salad. Assuming your date wants someone else grating his/her cheese, likes Parmesan cheese, and is worth the cost of fresh Parmesan and the special grater. (see waffle-maker above)

Stew meat. I made a beef stew today. The meat was off a chuck roast. It’s a cheap cut of beef in a world where there is no cheap beef. However, if I wanted to get stew meat from chuck, it was almost a dollar a pound more. For the same meat cut into bite-size pieces (if you’re a water buffalo). It took me about 15 minutes to cut up the roast and remove the major marbling. I’m sure the store’s butcher would have been done in less than 5.

Pre-crumbled cheese. Feta, I get. It doesn’t matter whether you buy it in a chunk or crumbled, it ends up crumbled by the time you’re ready to use it. Same with bleu cheese. And let’s face it, those cheeses are not generally on the menu of the cash-strapped. But paying twice as much so that you can get pre-crumbled cheddar and colby jack? It’s not like those cheeses are going to look classy on your salad anyway. Maybe you’ve noticed that those are the ones in the “This salad is not as healthy as you think” pictures.

Pre-made Easter baskets. I’m a stuffed-animal purist. The animals they put in these baskets would never get a second look. The candy? Not even worth the calories.  As far as I’ve been able to tell, the main advantage to these baskets? The year the child realizes that the basket they get on Easter morning is the same one they saw on a self at the grocery store is the last year the parent needs to buy one.

Gack. I just realized that my issue with several of these things is that they put convenience over the willingness to spend time preparing food for our loved ones. The others are spending money for specialized equipment I don’t need. I sound like my grandmother. Is that worse than sounding like my mother?

 

2

If I Were in Charge: Parents in Public

Every once in awhile, I run across a child I would like to throttle. Or to quote a customer, “That’s the reason they invented birth control.” In more rational moments, I know it’s the parents I want to go after. So I created my version of “Crime and Punishment.” Unlike that story (for the three of you who have read it), my penalties are not intended to cause any actual harm.

Snow is falling an inch an hour; there’s already several inches on the ground. The schools are closed. The roads are a mess. A woman comes in with her two children to do her weekly shopping. There’s a reason the schools are closed, and you are the only customer in the store. Penalty: the next two times you are late for work, your car won’t start. No one will come get you because the roads are so bad.

You have brought your child shopping. She is old enough to enjoy the idea of shopping with mom (unfortunately, every time I’ve seen this it’s been a woman). However, mom is on the phone with a friend discussing another friend or talking about what they will be doing later. The woman is so focused on getting her groceries and talking on the phone that the child is totally ignored. You are treating the child like she is just one more task for you to handle.  Penalty: the next time you are out with your friends, you lose your voice. After a little while, they pretty much forget you are there.

You have brought your child shopping. You see an old friend that you haven’t seen since the soccer game two days ago. (I know this because one of your topics of conversation is that game.) You and the friend start talking about various things. Time starts to go by. Before you know it, you’ve been talking for ten minutes. While your child is standing around with nothing to do. Penalty: at the next soccer game it’s raining, your friend had to work, and your phone won’t work, so the only thing you have to do is actually watch the game.

You are shopping and concentrating on what you are looking for, not paying any attention to the child. The child is nagging about something. You continue to shop. You do not address the child to find out what she is trying to tell you. Penalty: get home and realize that your child was trying to tell you that you forgot to get the milk that you needed for dinner.

On the other hand – you are shopping and your child is nagging and whining about nothing or being told that you won’t buy something. You ignore them, hoping they will stop. The rest of us have to listen to them because you won’t address the issue. Penalty: you’re locked in a room full of howler monkeys for an hour. Extra time: If you escalate the situation by allowing them to scream or shriek without addressing it, you will be with the monkeys for two hours.

The child wants to help. You tell him he can get the milk. He gets a gallon of milk out of the cooler. He’s not strong enough to hold onto it and drops it so the container breaks and there is milk everywhere. The child is devastated. Small children need to be given tasks you know they can do in public. They don’t know the rest of us think the parent is the idiot, not the child. Penalty: when you decide to take a yoga class, you discover the night of the first class that your outfit makes you feel like a cow. The only spot is in the front, and you spend the rest of the class wondering if everyone thinks you have a big butt.

The child wants to help. You tell him he can get the string cheese. He brings back the wrong brand. You tell him you want the kind you always get. He goes back and gets the right brand, but the wrong type. You tell him you want the sticks not the strings. He looks at the cheese he’s holding that says “string cheese”. He looks at what you are pointing at, and it says “cheese twists”. He’s frustrated and so are you. Penalty: your boss invites you to an important dinner meeting with a client at a French restaurant. You are sure you ordered stew; the waiter brings you a cow brain.

You stand in front of a cereal display with your child. You ask the child which type of cereal she would like you to buy. She tells you a name. You tell her that she doesn’t like that kind. She tell you that she does. You tell her that she doesn’t like that, she likes another kind. She tells you she doesn’t like what you are holding. You put it in the cart anyway. The child can’t figure out why you asked her opinion in the first place. Penalty: you go to get your hair colored. You tell the stylist that you would like to be medium-blonde. When she is finished, she tells you that she decided to make your hair deep auburn because she knows you will like it better.

Christmas Bonus Situation – You’re tired. Your child is tired. The child is crying. You are snapping at him. You can’t remember what you want to buy. You tell him that if he doesn’t stop crying, you’re going to take away all of his presents/he won’t get the special toy he wants/etc. You are not making the situation better. A child who is that tired is not going to respond to threats. Penalty: your company is having a holiday party for a customer. It is after work, and you don’t want to go. You have a million things to do, and you don’t really know most of the people anyway. The boss tells you that if you don’t go, it will be written up for your file, and you will not be eligible for the promotion you want.

Now all I need is the howler monkeys and a genie to make the rest of it happen. Oh yeah, and a video camera to see if the parent’s expression matches the kid’s.

8

What Surprise?

My husband’s birthday is in a few weeks. It is customary in our family to ask the person what they would like. Of course, there is no guarantee the person will get it. Particularly if I have no clue what they are asking for. Thus, this year my husband has given me item name, item description, company name and stock number. If he’d just go on line and enter the credit card information, I’d be all done.

I really enjoy shopping for other people. I think it’s fun to try to find things that fit their personality but are somewhat unique. My dad was always a problem. Not because he had no interests, but because if he saw something he wanted, he’d go ahead and buy it. (We were sure Amazon had a moment of silence when he died.) So we’d get to Christmas and his birthday (two weeks apart) and there’d be nothing that he wanted.

Then he started “saving” gift ideas for me. Sometimes he went as far as to buy the stuff and give it to me to wrap. Totally unacceptable. Fortunately, he loved to read. So I’d spend a lot of time in bookstores looking for the “perfect” gift. That was more fun before the mega-stores closed down the local shops and Amazon shut down the mega-stores.

Now I buy books for my husband and son. They are both highly literate with a wide variety of interests. So it’s safest for me to buy things that I want to read in case they don’t like it. Just kidding. But it was a lot easier to go to the bookstore on Main Street (yes, we really had one before Border’s and Barnes and Noble moved in) and look through things than to go on Amazon.

Amazon reminds me of Google. If I put in the name of a book, I will get the book I want and anything else with that title. (Shouldn’t there be some rule against having two books with the same name? Maybe that doesn’t count if the author’s been dead for a couple of centuries. More ageism.) If I put in the title with the author, I will get all possible versions of that book including the ones that are out of print and they have no access to. (I guess that’s so I’ll know there’s something I might want that’s not available.)

But the results don’t end with what I’ve requested. One time I was looking for a stuffed hedgehog. After looking at some of the ugliest stuffed animals I’d ever seen, the results went to books and toys. Then to pigs. Then to other animals. I stopped looking after that and went to a store.

I used to browse at the mall. One day I realized that the odds of finding something unique at a mega-mall were not all that great. Particularly after I realized that I was seeing the same thing in a variety of materials and prices at most of the stores. Back to Main Street.

I have an aversion to giving cash (or gift cards) as you may have guessed. In the first place, I’d rather not have the recipient know what value I put on their event (wedding, graduation, etc.). Second, in a close group (e.g., family), everyone finds out and expects the same thing. What if I don’t like someone? I could get them something nice at a second mark-down. They’d never know I spent $15 on them while I spent $75 on their sister (who is not marrying the boyfriend who coincidentally just had his divorce finalized a month before the ceremony).

Gift cards are wonderful things if you know the person well enough to know where they like to shop. I have gotten several gift certificates and gift cards over the years to places I never set foot into. Coffee shops (I don’t drink coffee), Wal-Mart (I work at the competition), restaurants (nice place – do you have any idea how much it costs to actually eat there?), fast food (have barely eaten it since I got married – my husband hates it and now it makes me sick). And once again, I usually spend more than I want to because otherwise I feel cheap. I really prefer being cheap, but being stealthy about it.

Back to my husband. He’s been wanting that same stupid thing for over a year now. Wouldn’t be much of a surprise. Hope he likes the alpacas I picked out. They will keep the lawn short and he can sell the wool.

5

Dollar Disappointment

My family has always exchanged stockings on Christmas morning. When I was little, the goodies always included a red apple, a yellow apple, an orange and a tangerine. I remember being disappointed that Santa was so health conscious. All I’d ever seen him eat were cookies. Years later, my son commented on always receiving shampoo and body wash in his stocking. You never see Santa bathing or changing his clothes either. I’m guessing Mrs. Claus has some influence on what gets included.

At one point, I spent a lot of money on stocking stuffers. (The amount I spend has never had any direct correlation with the amount I have, by the way.) I would wander the malls looking for things that would fit in a stocking. There are more than you might imagine. One day, a friend finally explained to me that the concept behind a stocking was that it was filled with little inexpensive things like candy canes and chocolate Santas. Oh. Like the idea that you break up with someone before you give him the expensive gift. I never was good with money.

Enter the dollar store. My first experience with dollar stores was not positive. It was located in a strip mall where I worked. The neighborhood had seen better days (I hope). It was poorly lit, crowded with merchandise, and not very clean. From what I looked at, the reason it was crowded with merchandise was that no one would take that stuff at any price. I could not understand why everyone was raving about dollar stores. Were my friends really that cheap?

A few years went by. I got another job, and drove past a dollar store every day on the way to work. One day I stopped to look around. It was incredible. There were office supplies, craft supplies, school supplies, candy, wrapping paper, all sorts of things. They even had the metallic pipe cleaners my son used to make rabbits (they look better than they sound). I’m not really a shopper, but I looked at everything. I was totally hooked. At Christmas, I fully stuffed all the stockings for under $50.

My dollar store was not part of a chain, so you can guess what happened next. I drove by one day and the owner had sold the shop. The new owner must have been related to the first shop owner I encountered. I was traumatized. I was not going back to spending $7.95 for a Mylar balloon. I had to find a replacement.

My next stop was what I’ll call a pseudo-dollar store. It’s a national chain. A lot of the stuff was one dollar, but the rest was brand-name at discounted prices. This store was the source of most of the health and beauty supplies I bought for a few years. They even had fashion-name make-up for a dollar. It had to be labeled ‘discontinued color’, but in Michigan who knows the difference? The odds of running into Beyonce wearing last year’s eyeliner are pretty low. Alas, I had just made the full commitment when it disappeared.

They opened a dollar store a few miles away from our house. Coincidentally, it’s the same chain that has a store on my way to work. My daughter wanted to stop by one night. It was great! The candy, the pens, the wrapping paper. All was well in the dollar world again. Last Christmas I even bought some nice wrapping paper at the one close to work.

Things were a little crazy this year getting ready for Christmas. Both my daughter and my mother have been ill, so shopping took a back seat to that. I didn’t get to stocking stuffers until two days before Christmas. No big deal – I’d just stop by the dollar store on the way home and I’d be set. We’d have a few more pens and pads of paper than usual, but it’d be OK.

Imagine the look on my face when I opened the door to find that the only wrapping paper left was covered with Justin Bieber. (I didn’t need paper, but it was still traumatizing.) I moved on to the candy. It was appalling – I could only get chocolate-flavored or chocolatey. There was no actual chocolate! Luckily I did have a back-up plan for that – I had bought some of the family’s favorites at work because I knew I would never find it in the dollar store.

I went to toiletries. No nail clippers. No floss. Icky toothbrushes. No body wash for men. No make-up. Large bottles of lotion from some company I’d never heard of, in a scent I didn’t know. This was totally unacceptable. What was I supposed to do?

I went to office supplies. Very few pens. A few memo pads. I tried to think of where else I might go as I wandered the aisles. I finally found some snacks – trail mix, peanuts, etc. Stain remover pens. Socks (not even from China). Packaged, non-Christmas candy. At the counter I found some lip balm.

When I filled the stockings, all was well (although there was LOTS of candy). I’m already planning to stake out the dollars stores next fall to find the best place to go.

In the meantime, I’m going to size up the fruit.