When price is an afterthought

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On the day before Thanksgiving an acquaintance of ours wandered into a CVS drug store in Mendham, N.J. There, at the store’s entrance, was a display, a Disney Lionel train set. Price: $79.95.

Our acquaintance, a longtime Lionel train buff, immediately snapped it up, took it home, assembled the track and, by 8:00 that night, had it running smoothly, on the carpet in the den. Clearly pleased with his purchase, and the price, he shamelessly blew the battery-powered whistle, rang the bell and happily ignored his wife’s persistent question: “What do you need it for?” After all, why waste time explaining the impossible to a woman who clearly missed the obvious beauty of a Lionel train set?

Next morning, Thanksgiving morning, came the usual delivery of The New York Times. The CVS catalog was clearly on view, just inside the considerable bundle that wrapped itself around the holiday newspaper. Just as clearly, on the front page of the catalog, was the lead item: Black Friday special: a Disney Lionel train set: $39.95.

Clearly feeling vindicated in her condemnation of the purchase, our acquaintance’s wife threw down the gauntlet: “Well, what are you going to do about this?”

Our acquaintance’s options were clear, if limited. He could return the train set and ask for a refund. He could demand the difference of $40.00 in cash or credit. He could whip out his Extra Bucks card and demand an explanation for being overcharged. Or, and this was his preference, he could continue to run the train, sound the whistle, ring the bell and hope that the current torrent of words and accusations would soon pass, swallowed up by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the incoming turkey dinner and the festivities that unfailingly mark this most American of all holidays.

Well, gentle reader, we put the question to you: What would you do? CVS, clearly, is no fly-by-night operation. Just as clearly, our acquaintance was a personal friend of the people who run and manage this esteemed drug chain. At the least, a visit to the CVS in Mendham would have brought forth an apology and a sincere attempt to make things right. And after all, what’s $40 when stacked up against a Disney Lionel train set, especially on Thanksgiving Day, most especially with the wind outside gaining momentum and a fire already burning in the fireplace.

Honesty is, and always has been, a core pillar on which chain drug retailing functions. It is a reason the industry has succeeded so well for so long. Its integrity is unquestioned. So the question becomes not what CVS would do, but what would the customer do. Does the customer have the obligation to confront the personnel in their Mendham store, who clearly knew the price of the train set was soon to be reduced, to demand an explanation — and, hopefully, a refund or an agreed-upon remedy? Or does the old maxim “Let the buyer beware” apply in this instance? Was this mistake excusable under the Act of God clause, one which clearly implies that any 60-year-old man who remains loyal to the Lionel trains he remembers from his youth gets what he deserves?

The Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone, and that Disney train set continues to roar down the carpet-softened track in central New Jersey. The whistle continues to sound its shrill warning to those who contemplate crossing the track. The bell continues to warn those impetuous vehicles of lesser strength and persistence not to cross the track in the vain hope of beating Mickey and his band of merry mice and ducks to the crossing. And the happy owner of the brand-new Lionel train set is even now perusing the internet in the hope of purchasing, at full price, some accessories to complete his acquisition. Foolish indeed is the consumer who flies in the face of logic and common sense in the vain attempt to recreate an experience that has long since been replaced by newer, more meaningful events in a life that has had a generous share of life-changing events.

Meanwhile, down the street, the CVS drug store is happily open for business, the Lionel train display already a memory, replaced by new inducements to the customers who continue to open the doors, crowd the cash registers and contemplate their own return to those glorious days of yesterday when, out of the past, came the sights, sounds and thrills that made childhood so special.



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