We have two main office supply stores in Rapid City: Office Depot and Office Max. I personally have always been a bigger fan of Office Max, partly because of the Rubberband Man shtick a while back, but mostly because they’re the only place I can find in the city that regularly sells Prang colored chalk.
Well, I was a bigger fan of Office Max, until today.
A trip to Office Max
With the new school year starting less than a month away (eek!), it’s time for the annual late-summer parenting tradition of procuring needed back-to-school supplies, and this year it’s both the Ladybug and the Butterfly who need them. In Rapid City, these supplies are based not only on the school and grade, but also, I was surprised to find, on the specific teacher too: Mrs. Smith wants five one-section notebooks, whereas Mrs. Jones requires one five-section notebook, and so on. After a hour of weighing the pros and cons of neutral pink erasers versus hot pink ones, or whether or not this backpack or the other had the optimum number and distribution of pockets for a new kindergartner, we took our supplies to the skinny slack-jawed Office Max employee at the register.
The cashier, whose name was Chase, asked if we’d found everything all right and scanned the backpack, thus ending the complete list of things he did correctly for the rest of the transaction.
“That’s not right,” the Queen B politely noted when she saw the scanner report 37.49. “It should come up as 25 dollars.”
Chase invalidated the item and rescanned the backpack. The machine repeated: 37.49.
“That backpack is supposed to be 50% off,” the Queen B explained.
Chase looked at the tag. “The backpack is originally marked as 49.99, so you did get a discount,” he explained.
“I got a discount,” repeated the Queen B, “but not the right one. The price was reduced by 12.50, which would be 25% off.”
“Oh!” said Chase, reassured. “No, the problem is that backpacks are only 25% off, not 50% off.” He smiled, and pulled out a copy of the Office Max mailer that, presumably, every responsible buyer in Rapid City had been sent. He flipped open and pointed at one of the pictures. It read:
25% OFF ALL Backpacks
“See? 25% off.” Chase said.
The Queen B gently moved his finger down to the picture immediately below it, which read
50% off ALL Reebok Backpacks
Selection varies by location
“No, 50% off Reebok backpacks,” The Queen corrected. She then pointed to the backback, which was embroidered with the word Reebok in several places.
Chase read the advertisement, frowned, and read it again. “Oh, I see,” he eventually said. “The small print means the 50% discount is only on selected Reebok backpacks.”
“Well, the large print states the discount is an all Reebok backpacks,” The Queen B countered.
“But the small print…” Chase started.
“…only means the selection backpacks varies with the store,” completed the Queen.
“The advertisement says its 50% off selected Reebok backpacks,” Chase repeated.
“No, that’s not what it says,” argued the Queen. “It says 50% of all Reebok backpacks.”
“No, it says selected backpacks.”
“No, it says selection of backpacks varies. The discount applies to all of them.”
“Listen,” I offered hopefully, “the selected clause in the advertisement refers to the availability of Reebok backpacks, not the availability of Reebok discounts. The ad says its a 50% on all Reebok backpacks with a selection that varies; your interpretation would require the ad to read as 50% on selected Reebok backpacks. See?”
“Manager assistance, please?” said Chase into the earpiece he was wearing.
“This is why we really need Common Core Reading Standards in public school education,” I noted to no one in particular.
Chase continued his conversation with is own right ear, which is a neat trick if you think about it. “I have a customer who has a problem with the discount on her backpack.”
“Argle bargle bargle,” went the earpiece quietly.
“She says the Reebok backpacks are 50%,” Chase said to his ear.
“Bargle selargle argle,” said the earpiece.
“I said that, be she says the selected backpacks is about what’s in stock, not what’s on sale.”
“Argle nargle largle,” said the earpiece.
Chase translated. “The offers in the mailer are sort of ‘national’ offers, but they’re available only at participating Office Max locations. We’re not running that 50% discount here in Rapid, I guess.”
“Yes,” said the Queen B, “you are. You have a 50% off sign right above the backpacks in this store…. right here, right now…”
“I’m not sure we do…” said Chase uncertainly.
“I’m quite sure you do,” the Queen B replied. “We were just there. It’s one of the reasons we chose this particular backpack.”
“I can get a picture of the sign if you’d like,” I said helpfully.
“Um,” said Chase, and he tapped on his earpiece again.
I strolled back to the aisle with the backpacks. Above them was a sign that read
all backpacks in stock
the marked price on selected brands**
** The 50% off includes Reebok
As I was doing so, a huskier Office Max dude stomped his own way to the backpacks from the back of the store. He glared first at the signage, then at me, and back at the signage. I snapped a picture of the sign with my phone and left the grumpy-looking guy behind. Upon returning to the cash register, I showed Chase the picture from the phone, noting that not only was the discount being advertised in the store, it was explicitly singling out Reebok for the 50% discount.
“Yeah, um, the customer has a picture that shows we’re doing the 50% discount on Reebok,” Chase said into his glowing ear.
“Argle bargle bargle fine,” said the earpiece. Simultaneously, the grumpy dude at the backpack rack stomped off to the back of the store.
Chase switched off his earpiece. “My manager has decided that you can have the 50% discount.” He scanned the backpack again, but was surprised to see that the machine, despite the manager’s blessing into Chase’s earpiece, still rang up 37.49.
“Um…” said Chase.
“Can’t you just put in the price manually?” asked the Queen B.
“I have to scan items in first for inventory, and then I can take off an additional discount,” Chase explained. He stared at the 37.49 for a moment. “But it’s already taken of 25%… so I just need to take off 25% more.”
He did so. The register beeped: 28.12.
“That’s not right,” the Queen B sighed. “It should come up as 25 dollars.”
“The machine says its 28.12,” Chase replied.
“A 50% discount means half right, right?” explained the Queen B as politely as she could. “And half of 50 dollars would be 25 dollars, right?”
“But the machine says 28.12…”
“The problem,” I interjected, “is that you’re assuming that 25% off of something that is already 25% off is 50% off, but that’s not right. I mean, imagine if something were marked off 90%, and then you took off another 90%… it wouldn’t be 180% off, would it?”
The look on Chase’s face indicated that to him, it just might very well.
“Look, the computer already took 25% — a quarter of the cost — off. That leaves us with three quarters of the original cost. To in order to get to an end result of half off the original cost, you need to remove another quarter part, which is exactly one-third of what remains. That means you need to take an additional 33% off of the 25% to get to 50%.”
Chase remained unconvinced, although I think he started to cry a little.
“Let’s try this a different way. If you take 25% off the cost, you’re only paying 75% of the total cost, so you’d multiply 0.75 times the cost. According to my calculator, if we multiply that by 0.67, we end up getting 0.50 (or so). That means if we pay for 67% of 75% of something, it’s the same thing as paying only 50% of the total. That means we need a 33% discount off a 25% discount to get a 50% discount.”
“Manager assistance,” he said to his ear.
“This is why we really need Common Core Mathematics Standards in public school education,” the Queen noted to no one in particular.
“Yeah, I’m not sure how to give the backpack people their discount,” said Chase.
“Fargle shargle stargle!” snapped the earpiece loudly.
“The manager will be right here,” said Chaise as pleasantly as he could.
From the back of the store the grumpy manager re-appeared, stomping his way to the register. He scowled at me (still holding my phone), then at the Queen B, and then at Chase. He entered the backpack’s code into the register, overrode the discount, and put in his own. The register beeped 25.00.
“Alright, you’ve got your discount,” said the manager tersely.
“Thank you,” said the Queen B and I.
“And just so you know,” continued the manager, “that’s the only discount I can give you today.”
“You mean we’re not getting any of the other back-to-school discounts you’ve got advertised?” I asked.
“No, you get those,” the manager corrected. “But you’re not getting any more extra discounts.”
“It wasn’t an extra discount,” re-corrected the Queen, showing the picture from my phone. “It was the advertised discount.”
“Argle bargle fargle,” said the manager, and stomped back to his office, presumably to play with his dolls.
The rest of transaction went slightly more smoothly, with the only occasional argument over the semantics of an advertisement. When we’d paid up, Chris said, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“A drink,” said the Queen B.
…Whereupon we immediately headed to the local On the Border, where we ordered margaritas and all-you-can-eat tacos using a promotional email coupon we’d been sent that very morning.
And yet, despite our waitress telling us the promo had already locally expired, the manager still honored the coupon, even without having my wife and I explain the English or mathematics behind it, because On the Border, unlike Office Max, is not staffed by a bunch of dicks.