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The Official Baldrige Blog

I Would Rather Shop at a Restaurant

car salesman and customer

One of my regular Blogrige readers and harshest critics, my wife, complained that my recent posts have been too pedagogical and lacked my storytelling instincts. So this post is for her.

Have you seen the recent commercial about buying a used car? It compares the experience to a dinner out and asks whether you ever worry about having to haggle over price at a restaurant. It then encourages you to shop at a specific used car dealer where you don't have to bargain about price. Well, my wife and I recently bought a new mattress.

So now you are asking what does that have to do with eating out or buying a used car. The answer is simple, my order of preference: eat out, buy a used car, buy a mattress.

When you buy a used car, you can compare prices among dealers and even look up average prices for your make and model on the web. You also can look up the blue book value. You can walk into the negotiation as an educated consumer when the salesperson tells you that you are taking food out of the mouths of his or her young children with the price you want to pay. How do they ever stay in business?

Fortunately, I buy a mattress even less frequently than I buy cars (run them to the end of their life is my philosophy).  Mattresses are not like cars. Every store is always having a half-off sale as the entry point. Tells you about the list price for starters. Then you are expected to bargain down from the half-off price. Comparison shopping -- forget it. Every dealer has different names for the various mattresses from each major manufacturer. The salesperson who we eventually bought our mattress from, even showed us her commission on the mattress for the price we negotiated. Her kids were going hungry on that commission, but she needed the volume. (I hope she isn't married to a car salesperson or I could be partially responsible for a whole family dying of starvation.) And the deal was so good that she needed her district manager's approval, which he reluctantly gave according to her report back.

So, I should have felt either great or guilty leaving the store. But, I felt neither. I felt like I had to go home and shower to return to normal.

Who wins in these negotiations? Maybe the dealer (car or mattress) feels this is necessary to earn a decent return. I never feel good after the negotiation. Why does this practice pervade a few retail industries and not exist in others?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if these retailers used the Baldrige Excellence Framework? How would they answer questions in the Customers category? A few I would like to see answered are: How do you listen to potential customers to obtain actionable information? How do you build customer relationships? How do you manage customer relationships to manage and enhance your brand image, retain customers, and exceed their expectations? How do you determine customer requirements for product offerings and services?

Did I get a fair deal on a good mattress? I wish I would ever know. Or better yet, I wish I didn't have to think about it because I knew that I got a fair quality/price ratio. All I want is a fair transaction for the dealer and for me. Is that asking too much? How about you?

And for those of you who are curious, I let my wife preview this post and she approved!

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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Ain't that the truth! Good One, Harry
Well, that certainly is a different twist on the value proposition! Thanks, Harry!
I like your return to storytelling and your great insights into customer non-service.
I loved this; it's a great call-out about a method that has been that way forever but that few like and many may even dread. Listening is needed for both the obvious improvements and the status quo-busting process overhauls. Thanks for the example, Harry!
While I agree with both Harry and my good friend Kay I cannot but ponder that price bargaining is a beloved practice in many cultures and may even be a component of customer satisfaction.
Lance, Thanks to you and everyone else for their comments. I do agree that price bargaining is a beloved practice in many cultures. However, I also believe that it is not part of our preferred culture in the United States. Further, I actually believe that some people might buy cars (or mattresses) more frequently if they didn't have such great dislike (or dread) of the purchase process. I would love to hear how others feel about this!
If i am in a street market in a foreign land haggling is a game everyone is playing. When i walk into a store (or dealer) i want a straight up value proposition. They convince me of the value of the product and if i agree i pay the price. I hate the show hput on
Maybe the customer non service practiced by car dealers, mattress retailers, or other retailers who negotiate through the guilt game approach is why they appear to be struggling as businesses. I find it interesting that every time a negotiation is going on, the sales person plays the victim role, with the patriarch manager calling the sots. Not much empowerment going on there. The sales person always needs to go check "with my manager" when pressed for a negotiated deal. So, the customer walks away with a bad taste in their mouth from the experience, and the sales person must feel very frustrated due to the lack of trust and micromanaging their manager puts them through. Businesses such as these retailers could learn a lot about customer loyalty through the Baldrige Performance Excellence Criteria. Sadly, most have never read the guidelines. They just keep making the same business mistakes. You had some great insights in your story Harry.
Wish that Hamdi Youssef and I had thought to raise the bargaining issue when we helped Egypt set up its Baldrige based Quality Award program some ten years ago. In my current incarnation I am very interested in how best to determine customer satisfaction for people with varying levels of dementia. Would be interested to know of anyone working in this field.
Hi Harry, I have always empathized with your stories and have lots of my own I could share. From a customer satisfaction point of view, I have a few questions. After you got the mattress home or had it delivered, was it comfortable? How did you choose among all of the options? Did you have to buy new sheets because it was now so much thicker than your old one? Do you need a step stool to climb in and out of bed? One of our sons recently asked for pointers regarding a mattress purchase. We'd much rather take him out to eat!!!
Hi Pat, Thanks for the comments. My first piece of advice is to ignore sales. You still need to negotiate. The mattress is a good bit thicker than the one we replaced, but that was good for us. The old mattress was so low that it was like getting out of a very low chair to get up. Now, it's perfect. We got to the mattress we wanted pretty quickly by describing firmness, amount of pillowtop, foam or spring, and general price range. We love the new mattress and now think we should have gotten it sooner!

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