At Home with Tech

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Tag: shopping

Where to Buy a Belt before 9am near Grand Central Terminal

If you forget your belt after leaving for your commute to New York City, all is not lost. Here’s the solution I found within steps of Grand Central.

The fundamentals of dressing oneself properly isn’t a topic that should require much attention. We all know the rules. Sure, we can discuss fashion, but the basics of covering up your birthday suit doesn’t usually require much thought. And that’s sometimes the problem.

It’s when you’re rushing off to work on autopilot and not paying attention that little mistakes can crop up.

  • Mismatched socks
  • A forgotten tie (when jacket and tie were standard wear)
  • Shirt sleeve cuff buttons misaligned into the wrong holes

These little errors can happen to anyone. (I’m certainly guilty of the occasional ‘I dressed myself too quickly’ faux pas.) None of this is catastrophic. But what do you do if you forget a more structurally important item… such as your belt?

I’ve got a friend who recently experienced this problem. Here’s his story.
(Okay… it was me.)

Help! I Forgot my Belt!
No, it wasn’t such a big deal, and yes, I could have gotten through the day with slightly looser pants on my waist without risking a wardrobe malfunction. But I didn’t feel right, and it was bothering me while I sat on my Metro North commuter train.

I figured as I headed to Grand Central Terminal that there must be thousands of ways to solve the problem and still be at my desk by 9am.
Hey, this is New York City!

I thought back to pre-pandemic days when men’s clothing stores in Midtown Manhattan were open early to handle commuter traffic. (My go-to store is usually Charles Tyrwhitt. Their shirts with ‘proper’ collars can’t be beat.)

But on the train ride, as I held my iPhone and Googled the hours of men’s clothing stores near Grand Central Terminal, I was awakened to another painful example of our new normal.

At 8:30am, stores are still closed.

All except for one.

A Lone Outpost in the Center of Everything
It’s the Men’s Wearhouse at 360 Madison Avenue (45th and Madison).

That store opens at 8:30am. (All of their other branches in New York City open at 10am.)

As I walked by at 8:40am, this Men’s Wearhouse actually looked closed. The darkened windows obscured any activity. But as I peered in, I spotted blurry movement. I walked up to the door and pulled.

And the portal opened!

As I entered, I still wasn’t entirely certain the store was actually ready for business. It was empty, save for one salesman at the register.

I walked up and cautiously asked… “belts?”

He pointed to the back without looking up. I continued on.

I’ve Joined the Club
So I quickly found a black belt and brought it back to the salesman.

As he started to ring it up, I suddenly felt this intense need to confess. So I told him my story.

He finally looked directly at me and gently explained that belts are actually their hottest-selling item in the early morning. My story was not so unique after all.

He handed me the receipt and asked if I wanted him to cut off the tags so I could wear the belt out of the store.

I smiled.

Tame your Inner Vecna
I walked out of the Men’s Wearhouse with my new belt around my waist and a feeling of great accomplishment.

Sure, you’ve got to roll with the punches, and if you forget your belt, it’s not the end of the world. Stranger things can happen.

But with the past two and a half years feeling a bit like the upside down, it’s especially sweet when you have the opportunity to take back a little control.

The Intersection of Human Error, Annoying Tech and Great Customer Service

Your power drill is not an option to remove a missed security tag on a new piece of clothing. But the solution in this story is probably not what you’d expect…

This is not my story. But when I heard it, I absolutely had to share it. I still can’t quite believe that it happened, but I was there to witness it.

It speaks to how irritating technology can sometimes be, how some people will knock your socks off by exceeding all expectations and how brick-and-mortar stores are fighting back…

Here’s what happened…

Uncovering a Major Shopping Glitch
My wife bought a Calvin Klein dress at Lord & Taylor in Stamford, CT for an upcoming trip. She asked me to take a look for a second opinion
(Entirely unnecessary. My wife looked fabulous in the dress.)
Just one problem…

I pointed awkwardly to the plastic security tag still bolted to the bottom of the dress in the back.
(Wow, that’s a bummer, right?)

Of course, the theft deterrent was supposed to come off before she left the store. Perhaps some technology breakdown failed to detect the device on her way out.

Suffice it to say, the store’s check-out system didn’t operate the way it was designed.
But accidents happen.

It’s not the end of the world, even though these security tags are always annoying. But it’s much worse when they come home with you.

The standard solution would be to bring the dress back to extract the security tag. Except there was a problem… She couldn’t get back to Lord & Taylor in time before the trip.

So what would you do?

Exploring the Forgotten Edge of Customer Service
Well, my wife simply picked up the phone and called the store to explain the situation.
I watched from across the room, entirely skeptical. I was certain there would be no magical solution. What kind of out-of-the-box thinking could customer service possibly offer?

Get this…

The store’s employee offered to drive to our house at the end of the day to remove the tag.

What?!!!

“That’s impossible,” I thought. Even though Lord & Taylor clearly messed up by leaving the security tag on the dress, what store would offer this level of response? Maybe a service call with a four-hour window could be set up in a week or two.

But a house call later that day?

Entering Another Dimension?
I simmered with a not insignificant level of cognitive dissonance, trying to identify some rationale to explain this alternate-universe solution.

And then the doorbell rang.
It was the flesh-and-blood employee from Lord & Taylor.
(I needed to see this for myself.)

And, it was all true. The tag was quickly removed, and the whole episode was over within moments.

My wife smiled and moved on the next part of the evening.

I still felt disoriented.
(Had I entered “The Twilight Zone?”)

Deconstructing the Human Factor
What did this all mean? I couldn’t wrap my mind around an employee from the oldest department store chain driving by our house on her way home from work to remove the security tag.

It’s like a story my maternal grandmother would have told me. (I never met my grandmother, but through old photos, I’ve got a sense she would have also initiated this kind of clever solution.)

But this is 2018!
Huge companies can’t offer this level of personal service!
…but Lord & Taylor just did.

It’s hard to know if this moment of outstanding customer service came from a customer-first DNA in the store’s culture. Perhaps it simply pointed to the problem-solving skill of an exceptional employee.

But in this age of brick-and-mortar stores under constant attack by more efficient digital shopping solutions, you can’t deny this momentary resurgence of the human factor.

Until Amazon drones are approved to fly to every doorstep and are outfitted with the capability to remove a security tag, I’d say this is a big win for brick-and-mortar shopping.

It’s also worth pointing out the value of the human spirit in a world rushing towards the promise of AI.

One Customer’s Opinion
Thank you, Lord & Taylor. I know that times are tough for you these days. And I’m sad you’re closing your flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City that my mother always loved frequenting.

But you have exceeded this customer’s expectations.

Is Wayfair.com a Fair Way to Shop?

This shard of glass is all that remains from the top of our nifty living room lamp. Where are you supposed to go to replace a piece that you’ve owned for twenty years? It can be a lighting jungle out there…

This shard of glass is all that remains from the top of our nifty living room lamp. Where are you supposed to go to replace a piece that you’ve owned for twenty years? It can be a lighting jungle out there…

In our living room, there once stood an old-time floor lamp. It wobbled just a bit and supported a nifty white glass bell shade on the very top, harkening back to another, less tech-filled era. And for the past few years, our almost six-year-old son has been zipping by it. The lamp stood there, seemingly impervious to his growing energies.

Alas, the lamp’s time finally ran out, and a couple weeks back…. Crash…
The glass shade shattered into a thousand pieces.
(Everyone was okay… by the way.)

So now what?

Well, it was time to replace the glass shade. I figured I should be able to easily do that online…
(Who wants to schlep around to various stores to check limited stock for something as unique as this?)

Amazon… My Old Friend
I started with my old standby… Amazon. But I’ve got to admit, it was a little frustrating navigating to find exactly what I was looking for. Most of the choices weren’t Amazon Prime eligible, and many of the descriptions from various sellers weren’t as clear as I needed them to be.
(I was looking for a 2.25” base to pop back on the lamp’s mount.)

And the idea of paying $10-$12 for shipping really was a non-starter.

So I ventured into the wild, and began Googling about. I found several companies that specialized in lighting… but I honestly wasn’t really interested in starting a new relationship with a strange online vendor.

Hello, Wayfair
That said, I did run several times into something called Wayfair.com.
And on a lark, I decided to Google it.
wayfair According to Wikipedia, It’s the largest online-only furniture retailer in the United States. And it’s headquartered out of Boston.
(My old stomping grounds)

Huh.

So I decided to check Wayfair out…

Zeroing In
And I’ve got to say, the website looked and felt really solid. Its interface was easy to use, and it had the look of a serious player. Plus I could easily save my choices to a ‘board’ for final evaluation later.
(Very useful!)

I was quickly able to find what I was looking for…
Alabaster Glass Shade
An Alabaster Glass Bell Pendant Shade by Volume Lighting
$47.99.

Wayfair offers free shipping over $49.00… so I figured I’d pick up something else to cross over the finish line.

Done…right?
Not quite….

You know me… I like to do price comparisons….

Lighting Jungle and Amazon Team Up
So I went to Jet.com to see what was going on there.
But the inventory was limited, and I couldn’t find that particular glass shade or anything close to what I really needed.
(Bummer…. Jet has really been disappointing me lately.)

Then, I went back to Amazon to look for that specific glass shade from Volume Lighting. And in fact I found it. I had originally passed by the choice, because it was a non-Prime offering by a company called Lighting Jungle, and the description didn’t contain enough detail, including the critical fitter size at the base.

But it did contain the model number, which didn’t mean anything to me the first time around. Now I was able to do the match.

And match… they did.

The price on Amazon…?
$19.44!

What?!

Okay, plus the dreaded $12.99 shipping cost.

But that’s still a grand total of only $32.43.
That’s a huge difference compared to Wayfair’s $47.99.

Huh.

Well, that’s disappointing. What’s up, Wayfair?

Inconclusive Data
So I decided to do a quick tour around Wayfair’s site to get a better sense of the overall pricing…

I happened to need another LED bulb for the upstairs bathroom to replace a decorative incandescent bulb that had just burned out.
(You know me in my ongoing LED bulb replacement crusade.)

I came upon this cute 4-Watt LED replacement for $19.43.

Then, I crossed check it with both Amazon and HomeDepot.com.
Wayfair had them both beat by about a buck.

Huh.

Okay. So I wasn’t going to easily get a clear verdict on whether Wayfair was unnecessarily marking up the inventory or not.

There’s Never One Retailer that’s Always Best
But really… is there ever a one-stop online shopping solution for everything you’ll ever need?

Amazon is great… but you’ve also got to watch the pricing. It’s often, but not always the best deal around.

You’ll recall, I had high hopes for Jet.com. But the selection there is still more limited than Amazon’s. And Jet’s lower pricing promise hasn’t panned out for me.

Is Wayfair Way Fair?
So now I’ve found Wayfair.
And even though it was wicked expensive on my first try, I think I’m still going to add Wayfair to my short list.

Why?

Well, I’ve just got a good vibe about this place.
(Any of you out there have other experiences with Wayfair?)

Check out this appealing Wayfair YouTube video-

Sure, my warm response to this video only speaks to Wayfair’s successful marketing strategy.

Whether I’ll end up regularly shopping there is another story entirely…

Yes, regarding my new glass shade… Amazon won the day.
But I think it’s fair to say I’m rooting for Wayfair to do more for me in the future.

Because remember, there’s no one place in the world you should always shop.

That’s way fair.

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