My Windows computer is crashing several times a day, making my work-life something of a nightmare. I’m committed to moving away from Windows to Apple, so today I went to the Apple store to check out the various models. At 10:30 AM on a Friday morning the store was packed, unlike the other retailers in our high-end Fairview mall. In addition to the 30-40 people in the store looking at Apple machines, there were about 50 people lined up against one wall. They were of all ages and occupations from obvious students, to business people in suits, and everything in between. I assumed they were waiting for a course to start; apparently if you buy an Apple computer, you’re entitled to a workshop on the intricate details of its operation.

As I chatted with the sales person – a young and very knowledgeable lady – I asked her if the people waiting by the wall were there for a workshop. “No, she replied, “They’re waiting in case we get an iPhone 4 delivery some time today”. “Oh”, I said, “Are you expecting one soon?”. “No”, she said, “We never know when we’ll get a shipment; they’re just waiting in case we do…sometime today”. I was agape. “C’mon”, I said, “who would be so nuts as to wait all day for something that may not even happen?”. “Well”, she replied, “To be honest, I recognize many of the same faces from yesterday, and we didn’t get one then either”. Is this a cult or what?

The second experience was at Walmart last night. Yes, I know, Walmart…I’m hanging my head for not knowing better. They’re advertising a new HP 15.6 inch laptop for $398 and we want one as a gift for my 88 year-old Mother-in-law. The ad is all over the TV and in the newspapers as well as Walmart’s flyers. The sale started the day-before-yesterday and runs till next week. Trouble is: No inventory. Sold out within the first couple of hours at all stores in the city, and get this, NO NEW STOCK EXPECTED.

I love dealing with young sales people who are still too naive to know that you’re supposed to toe the company line and spin some corporate bullshit excuses. This young man must have been about 17, perhaps a junior-college student working part-time. When I reacted with surprise at the lack of inventory, he looked at me, lowered his voice, and said, “I know Sir, Walmart’s awful…they do this all the time, bring the customer in on a sale that has no inventory”. “If you look at the flyer and the TV ads”, he continued, “You’ll always see the fine print: Limited quantities”.

I respect companies that use “lost-leaders” to draw in clients. But good stores always offer a rain-check if the inventory runs out. Apparently, Walmart uses this incredibly cheap gimmick without a shade of respect for its customers, who it obviously assumes must be morons.

Lesson learned. Or, relearned, I must add. “Fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice shame on me”.