retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Earlier this week, responding to an email suggesting that a move to replace printed school textbooks with tablet computers would disenfranchise poor and disadvantaged students and create a greater gap between the haves and the have-nots, I said that I thought we have a societal responsibility to make sure that such a gap does not exist.

One MNB user really, really disagreed with me:

Your reply regarding the comments about the underprivileged students being unable to afford iPads speaks volumes. Allow me to dissect it.

It will be our responsibility as a society to make sure that this gap does not exist.

How is it the responsibility of society to manage any economic gap of its citizens? We are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is no guarantee of prosperity or economic equivalence. In fact, I’d argue, it’s the gap that motivates us to pursue success via education, investment, etc.

One of the ways to do this would be to view such a shift as an investment, not a cost ... an investment in having a better educated citizenry that is better equipped to work and contribute productively to society.

More appropriately, philanthropic organizations can drive this investment by helping corporations, like Apple, to see the value of such investments. By making visible contributions to college students, these corporations will not just be helping society, they will be marketing their product and driving growth, which equates to higher profits and ROI. This is the sole purpose for the existence of a corporation.

I did a quick check, and it costs more than $5 million to build one drone aircraft for the military. Let’s make the math easy and assume you can buy a tablet computer for $500. This means that for the cost of one drone, you could buy 30,500 tablet computers. Which is a better investment?


Since the government’s role is to provide infrastructure and defense, the better investment from tax dollars is the drone. Tablet computers for college students would be a good investment for the companies that make and market tablet computers (see above).

And could there be a lot of other places where you could economize as a way of helping to educate these underprivileged students?

You shouldn’t begin a sentence with “and.”


And that’s all you have to say?

Before I respond, here is an email on the same subject from another reader:

If the citizens are willing to pay for it and the local school administration is willing to implement it, a “one-to-one” program to provide every student with a personal computer could go a long ways toward better preparing our students for the economy of the future.

We live in a town of 5000 in Iowa and recently had our school district approve spending for just over $1.1 million to lease/purchase 1100 Apple laptops for every student in grades 4-12.   All the K-3 classrooms will be outfitted with iPads that do not leave the building.   The laptops purchased for the students are not the same as what you would purchase directly from Apple as a consumer; however, they have all the bells and whistles necessary for academic programming.   Students are assigned a laptop that is in their possession 24 hours a day from the beginning of the school year to the end of the year.   Each summer students turn in their laptops for cleaning, maintenance, etc., and receive them back the following fall.    At the end of the four year lease period, the district has the option to keep the laptops (as they are essentially “paid for” at that time) or to start another lease of newer equipment for another period of time to be determined.

While we believe that this is the right thing to do at this time, there have been a few hurdles to clear.   First and foremost, there are faculty members who don’t like the idea of having to convert their classroom curricula into a format that can be used on a computer.   Some of those teachers are retiring, but not all of them.   Then there are the issues of monitoring the usage of the laptops and attempting to block inappropriate websites.   Most of all, there is the question of where students will find Internet access away from the school building if they don’t have access at home..…..will they go to the public library?   to McDonalds?

All in all, it has not been a completely smooth or painless process……but in the end, we believe that we will graduate students who will be better prepared to deal with today’s technology, no matter what career path they choose.


I think it is instructive to hear about a tablet computer program that is working, albeit with some bumps in the road.

I have no problem with public-private partnerships that make such programs possible, nor do I have a problem with private contributions that enable kids of have access to such technology. How we get there is less important to me than making sure we arrive at the destination.

I think the first email writer missed my broader point. (Or maybe I didn’t make it clearly enough.)

Think of it this way. We as a society have no problem investing in printed textbooks. we have no problem investing in desks and chairs and libraries. I view an investment in technological replacements for print textbooks as being along the same lines - except that it may be smarter because it will better equip kids to deal with a technological society, and can provide kids with constantly updated information relevant to their educations.

My wife is a third grade teacher. She still has a blackboard, but the district also invested in a smart board that allows her to be more inventive in presenting lessons to her students. Would anyone argue that our schools ought not make such investments, that it is a bad use of money to better equip our teachers?

BTW...if I’d had used a tablet computer, maybe I wouldn’t have screwed up the math on that drones vs. iPad comparison.




We also got some emails yesterday responding to a letter about customer service at a golf store.

One MNB user wrote:

The example of Golf Galaxy sounds a lot more like a shopper who felt overly entitled rather than poor customer service.

At any golf store where I’ve tested clubs, they always put tape on the club face to keep it pristine.  Knowing I had the wrong clubs, I wouldn’t hit over a dozen balls with any comfort that I could get an even exchange.  It wouldn’t be surprising that the store manager would have to get involved.  Once the decision was made, I would be thrilled they were willing to make the exchange (side note: I did find it odd that they were trying to peddle extra merchandise, though the exchange didn’t seem conditioned on the additional purchase).

The result of a store agreeing to exchange a set of used clubs for a $1,000 set of new clubs?  A nasty e-mail published on MNB and who knows where else.  All because they didn’t apologize enough?  It may not be sterling customer service, but I’m not sure they did anything wrong.


Another MNB user chimed in:

I believe the email from the fellow who received the wrong set of golf clubs says more about him than Golf Galaxy.  He realized that the clubs were not the ones he purchased, but had his son "hit a few balls" with them anyway.  Now he had a used set of clubs and expected Golf Galaxy to give him a new set.

I have breakfast most Saturdays with a large group of guys, and frequently the waitress will set the wrong order in front of some of us.  We figure out who should get which order.  I guess the golfer would "take a few bites" and ask for his original order!


Taking a broader view, MNB user Amy Miller wrote:

With many years in retail I am thoroughly enjoying all your retail stories your readers are sharing– both good, the bad and the crazy.  I find them entertaining and educational of course.  Retail is hell on the sidelines and sometimes it rears its ugly head on the field (was that a good pun, as I don’t know football? LOL).  The irony is there are always 2 sides to every story.  I am surprised you haven’t had any stories sent to you about outrageous customers, because they DO exist as well and can make you shake their head just as these do.   But ahem, the customer is always right.

I am sure your getting emails to stop posting them but they are, like I said -- educational.  Anyone could take any one of these stories to their employees and do training with them - today.  These are scenarios that EVERY retailer has encountered, or will.  I call these good ‘weeding tools.’  They weed out your bad, good, better, best employees.


Actually, people seem to like the customer service emails. No calls to stop them, at least not yet.

As for the golf thing...I have to be honest here. I know almost nothing about golf. I’ve played the game exactly once, and the two people I shared the course with would tell you that there ought to be a law against people like me going anywhere near a golf course.

It never occurred to me that you couldn’t hit a couple of golf balls with a set of clubs and then not return the clubs if they were not what you wanted - especially if the store gave you clubs different from what you thought you bought. I gather, from these emails, that this is bad form. Which I did not know.

So maybe Golf Galaxy doesn’t deserve all the scorn that was heaped on them.

As Amy Miller suggests, sometimes the customers isn’t always right.
KC's View: