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Harry Hertz

Quality Insider

I’d Rather Shop at a Restaurant

No haggling

Published: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 14:06

One of my regular readers and harshest critics, my wife, complained that my recent posts have been too pedagogical and lacked my storytelling instincts. So this post is for her.

Have you seen the recent commercial about buying a used car? It compares the experience to a dinner out and asks whether you ever worry about having to haggle over price at a restaurant. It then encourages you to shop at a specific used car dealer where you don’t have to bargain about price.

Recently my wife and I recently bought a new mattress. So now you’re wondering what that has to do with eating out or buying a used car. The answer is simple: My order of preference for the three actions is to 1) eat out, 2) buy a used car, and 3) buy a mattress. Fortunately, I buy a mattress even less often than I buy cars.

When you buy a used car, you can compare prices among dealers and even look up average prices online for your make and model. You can also look up the Blue Book value. You can walk into the negotiation as an educated consumer so you don't feel badly when the salesperson tells you that you’re taking food out of the mouths of his young children with the price you want to pay.

Mattresses aren’t like cars. Every store is always having a half-off sale as the entry point (which, for starters, tells you about the list price). Then you’re expected to bargain down from the half-off price. Comparison shopping? Forget it. Every dealer has different names for the various mattresses from each major manufacturer. The salesperson whom we eventually bought our mattress from even showed us her commission on the mattress for the price we negotiated. Her kids were going hungry on that commission, she implied, but she needed the volume. (I hope she isn’t married to a car salesperson, or I could be partially responsible for a whole family dying of starvation.) And, the deal was so good that she needed her district manager’s approval, which he reluctantly gave, according to her report back to us.

So, I should have felt either great or guilty when I left the store, but I felt neither. I felt like I needed a shower.

Who wins in these negotiations? Maybe the dealer (whether car or mattress) feels this is necessary to earn a decent return. I never feel good after the shopping negotiation. Why does this practice pervade a few retail industries and not exist in others?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these retailers used the Baldrige Excellence Framework? How would they answer questions in the “customers” category? A few I’d like to see answered are: • How do you listen to potential customers to obtain actionable information?
• How do you build customer relationships?
• How do you manage customer relationships to manage and enhance your brand image, retain customers, and exceed their expectations?
• How do you determine customer requirements for product offerings and services?

Did I get a fair deal on a good mattress? I wish I had some way to know. Or better yet, I wish I didn’t have to think about it because I could trust that the exchange offered a reasonable quality/price ratio.

All I want is a fair transaction for the dealer and for me. Is that asking too much? 

First published July 9, 2015, on the Blogrige.

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About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.