I made the mistake recently of needing a couple of items from the store and being near a Wal-Mart at the same time. I’m not a frequent patron of “Wally World” for the same reason I tend to avoid hitting myself in the head with a hammer. Though I do understand they’re having a great price on hardware.
The store I visited happened to be one of the so-called Super Wal-Marts, so the experience was unpleasant in the superlative. All I needed was a bottle of acetaminophen, to treat some back pain I’ve had lately, and an electronic nose hair trimmer, to treat the fact that I’m 55. I arrived during the late morning so the crowds weren’t bad and the parking was easy.
I gave the greeter who welcomed me only a casual nod at first, until I caught a glimpse of the vast interior and figured I needed the help of a Sherpa. Where in the mountain of merchandise that sprawled before me might I find the two things I was looking for? Make a left, he said, and walk till you can walk no further, then you’ll see the pharmacy area on the right, just below a row of Hindu prayer flags.
Even the health and beauty section by itself was immense. A pharmacist worked in the distance; maybe he’d spare me an Adderall to get a little focus. The other option would be to consult one of the locals stocking the shelves. In either case, someone was going to have a fixed stare, and I guessed I’d rather it be them.
Sheila tried to be helpful in leading me to the right spot, but that turned out to be an empty display case with pictures of electric razors across the top. She explained that for security reasons, they’d had to remove those items to a stock room, and if I was lucky enough to find a photo of a nose hair trimmer that she’d retrieve one for me. After taking a moment to admire the fine work of the photographer, I grabbed my Tylenol and headed for the checkout. I found the self-scan stations, pushed and touched and swiped at all the proper moments, and completed my transaction.
Looking at the receipt, I learned that I had just enjoyed the “Fast. Fun. Easy.” self-checkout, and also found that I could participate in a discussion of the previous ten minutes at an online location called http://www.survey.walmart.com. This becomes my Friday Website Review.
I’m warned at the beginning that this process will take about 15 minutes to complete, a full 50 percent longer than the actual shopping experience, so I imagine it’s going to be pretty thorough. However, if I make it to the end, I have a chance to win one of five $1,000 gift cards that Wal-Mart awards every three months. An annual expenditure of $20,000 on this program by a company with multi-billions in sales seemed less than impressive, especially considering the money has to be spent on Wal-Mart merchandise.
After a few perfunctory queries about my age, zip code, etc., I get to the survey. I’m asked if the Wal-Mart I visited offered photo processing, bill-pay, money transfers, optical services or a site-to-store delivery program. The store number is right there on the receipt! Don’t they know this stuff themselves? Or is this some attempt at crowd-sourcing an internal research effort to catalog all the pointless services now offered in mega-stores?
Next, they wanted to know the reason for my visit. The closest option was “to buy something special for myself,” though I also could’ve answered “to touch a product from Wal-Mart’s website” or “to have fun through shopping.”
Then I had to indicate all the areas of the store I had shopped in during this trip. Admittedly I did pass by several departments that I peered into, hoping they might have the nose hair trimmer: sporting goods, electronics, lawn and garden equipment (next to the hedge clippers?) and the toy department were momentarily considered, so I guess you could say I “shopped” there. I did notice, however, that I missed the pet supplies and large appliances departments; maybe I should’ve checked those too.
Next, they wanted to know about my general satisfaction with the store, on a scale of one to ten, with one being disgusted and ready to sue, and ten being spiritually transformed. How did it smell? How was the lighting? Was it clean? How did associates react when you were “near them“? (I sensed fear, confusion and concerns about communicable disease.) How friendly was the check-out person? (Pretty damn nasty actually, since it was me.)
Now I had to comment specifically on all those departments I had looked at. I checked some random scores and moved on to the screen asking about the qualities of the pharmacy area. More random numbers seemed appropriate, especially since the “percent of survey completed” progress bar at the bottom indicated I was not even halfway done yet. Then, even more questions about the pharmacy. By now, I’m running out of even the small amount of creativity required to select different digits, so I give a “5” all the way down. “You responded the same to several items — please consider your response carefully” came the reply. They sensed I was glazing over.
Finally, it appeared as though the end might be in sight. Overall, how satisfied was I with my visit? I was “4” satisfied. How likely would I be to continue shopping at Wal-Mart? I was “6” likely. How likely, if asked, would I be to recommend Wal-Mart to others? I could find no number that represented “I’ll never admit to anyone that I was ever here,” so they got another “5”.
Where else did I shop besides Wal-Mart? I answered Target, Michaels and the annual confiscated items sale at the County Jail. What percentage of the money I spent went to each? Like a good Wal-Mart customer, I couldn’t make the figures add up to a hundred without several tries. “Thinking about financial services,” the study asked, “which of the following do I use?” I equate Wal-Mart with financial services about as much as I equate J.P. Morgan with tube socks, so I selected “none.”
Who shopped with you today? Sadly, I had to answer “I shopped alone.”
“Are you of Hispanic or Latino origin?” Are these the only two choices?
“In which of the following groups would I place myself? White, black, Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander.” I’d probably place myself with the islanders, preferably on a beach in Tahiti.
“Which best describes my employment status?” One of the options was actually “don’t know.” True, I had a job when I left for lunch break, but 35 minutes is a long time in this economy.
“Including myself, how many people lived in my household?” I answered “8.” How many were under three years old? “7.” They call me the “Septodad.”
“Would you describe the area in which you live as urban, suburban or rural?” Suburban, since there’s no “hellhole” option.
Finally, I was told I had reached the end of the survey. I had to claim to understand a bunch of legalese, most of which seemed aimed at preempting a belief I didn’t have before reading it – that phishing, online scams and fradulent websites were rampant, and I needed to be careful about disclosing personal information. Now they tell me.
To qualify for the drawing, I had to give my name and address, but by now they had me so paranoid I was wearing big sunglasses so no one would recognize me through the monitor. I gave a fake name – Aldo Moro, the Italian prime minister who was kidnapped and murdered in the 1970s by the Red Brigade – and submitted myself out of there as soon as possible.
Next stop: nosehairclippers.com.