I’ve recently sacrificed a bit of my soul and a lot of my pride to simultaneously do three things I said I’d never do: A) pre-order a game console B) at Walmart C) using layaway.
Stage 1: Denial
I was suckered in. Throughout the past 40 years I had successfully avoided an olde tyme economic phenomena I thought was only typical of people born before 1940. It had died out in the 1980s and so many department stores have gone under. I figured I was safe.
And then there’s Walmart.
That dreaded, scourge of a chain, finding ways to make products cheaper in more ways than two. I walk in to a store and I instantly get a headache along with sharp pangs of anxiety knowing that I’ll be bombarded by advertising, disinterested employees and customers who think nothing of running you over with their cart while scolding three of their eight kids (along with a few passers-by).
Thanks to an economic recession that revived the ancient practice of layaway and piggy-backing that program on the demand for the next gaming console, Nintendo’s Wii U, I buckled.
Industry insiders have told me that Nintendo often employs the short-supply tactic with each new hardware release, creating a flood of interest. It’s a well-timed marketing strategy, given that the holidays are approaching and a new console has not been released in years.
And now, after all these years, I have “purchased” something using layaway.
The real clincher is that I had actually decided to pre-order the deluxe Wii U a while back with plenty of time to scope out the sites, find a deal and even start ordering one through another retailer. I had even “saved” the item in my cart so that I could, as the site described, “purchase it later.” Apparently “later” is not very late as, when I went back and tried to order the next morning (only seven hours later), the deluxe edition Wii Us were all sold out. Everywhere. I must have reloaded that page a dozen times in disbelief.
A week or so later, Walmart comes along and, using a short-term promotion, tacked on the layaway system to Wii U pre-orders. Thanks to some forum posts online, I had pre-scoped the Walmart layaway plan and decided that I’d take a small piece of my soul, a bit of my pride, wad them together and put them in cold storage for another day.
Phase 2: Anger
My first attempt to pre-order the Wii U using the layaway plan was a failure. Having a job, a family and a life, I decided to head to the 24-hour Walmart after everyone else had started prepping for bed. I figured I’d not have to subject anyone to a Walmart Customer Service Desk experience. My average wait time there is about 20 minutes and it is usually a practice in zen meditation to keep from either calling the police or taking a bat from the nearest return cart and going to town.
So I arrive at about 9:45 p.m. at Walmart and quickly dart toward the Customer Service area behind a couple with a cart to avoid the greeter (*shudder*). There I see carts lined up like a rainbow around the entrance and a half dozen employees tossing items to each other like blue-shirted Oompa Loompas in a chocolate factory.
I head over to the counter and, met with a half dozen glares, politely stand and wait. I did notice the little layaway placard stuck to the register and figured I was in the right place. One of the older Wal-Oompas finally drops some bright orange thing, comes over and, in what is certainly a well-aged smoker’s throat, hacks up, “What d’ya want, mister?”
“Uh, I’d like to pre-order the Wii U on layaway.”
“Da layaway office closes at nine.”
I looked around, and there was not one sign that had the “layaway desk” hours posted. “Uh, I don’t see the hours posted. Can you help me here?”
“It closed at nine. Sorry, kid. Come back tuhmarrah.” Yeah, I found her accent a little weird, too.
That really irked me. I mean, what type of customer service was that? Cranky people, cranky attitudes and poor signage. And now I have to wait yet another night and may once again be unable to pre-order a Wii U the following day.
Phase 3: Pre-Bargaining
That night I regained my composure a bit and decided to try again the next day, this time before 9 p.m. The next day, indeed, I again dart in the doorway, avoiding the greeter (*shudder*) and head to the Customer Service Desk. I waited only a few minutes – slightly lowering my waiting average – and am helped by a girl who has a strangely becoming “sweetie” tick.
“Can I help you, sweeetie?
“Uh, I’d like pre-order the Wii U with layaway.”
“A Wii, sweetie?”
“No, a Wii U. It’s not out yet. I want to pre-order one. On layaway.”
“Oh, sweetie, you’ll have to head back to electronics sweetie. Sorry, sweetie. It’s to the back of the store, sweetie, in the middle, sweetie.”
I then head to the back and head right for the electronics department. There I see a man looking impatient and pacing around the outside of the counter. I decide to look around and see if there might be some Wii U signage in the area. Nope, not one iota of Wii U-ness. There are “Layaway” signs hanging everywhere from the ceiling and stuck to every fixture-less surface I could spot.
So any time I saved in the front of the store, I more than lost here as I waited about a half hour minutes before a single, grumpy Walmart employee finally came to the desk and asked me for help. The cranky pacer got crankier.
“I think that man was first.”
And, to my surprise, the man simply asks, “Do you have any USB cables?”
That aisle was literally next to the counter. That man had walked by the USB cable aisle about 100 times and got all flustered over something that was literally within a arm’s reach. *sigh*
Finally, I have the employee’s attention. My next fear is that he’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. The few Walmart stores I did call before heading there to see if they were taking Wii U pre-orders over the phone all met with the same basic conversation: “Wii Whut? Oh, that a new Nintendo system? There’s a new one? Is it a GameBoy or something? Hold on and I’ll ask if anyone knows anything about a Wii New.” I’d eventually learn that I had to go in and use the layaway plan, in person. So add that time in there as well.
So I pose the question and this guy actually knows what I mean. It’s a miracle, I know. But, as he quickly points out, there is a layaway desk in the way back of the store. In this case, it’s nestled between the shoes and baby stuff, and labelled “Online Order Pickup Counter.” Well, that makes sense. Should have been the first place I looked, way back in the store and mislabeled. My bad.
Anyway, I finally get to the back and, of course, there is more waiting. The first lady got whatever she ordered and then took off. dragging a screaming toddler behind her. The next, slightly hipster-ish customer, came with her iPhone queued up to the emails about her orders. Turns out only one item was in and the other is somewhere in California, which she seemed to only comprehend as she read her emails out loud.
Phase 3.5: Real Bargaining
The girl at the counter stares at me for a second, looks back at the guy I think was her manager, back at me and then does a little bunny hop. She grabs a laminated sheet with the Wii U layaway procedure on it and starts to read, line by line.
“Sorry, we’ve only had one other person do this in this store so far.”
That’s what we like to call “rubbing it in” a little. I’d kinda like to buy that other guy a drink as we may be the only two souls in the country to partake in this neo-retro ritual.
They finally get down to the part where they can ring me in, so I hand them my card and they sorta look at me like I know what they are supposed to do next.
“So, does this mean I’ll get to pick up a Wii U the day it comes out?”
“Yes,” they assured me, squinting as they read from the laminated sheet that is surprisingly worn for only one other person having pre-orderd the Wii U on layaway. “And you can come at midnight for the party. There’s a party.”
“Can I dance?”
They both laugh. “Yes, sir, you can dance.”
“Groovy, then I’m in. Put me down for $100.”
That seemed to surprise them since it was more than the 10% needed for a layaway initial payment. They then proceed to print out a long receipt. And I mean crazy long as in 34 1/4 inches long. Yep, almost a yard.
Step 4: Depression
They fold it, flip it, then staple it so it fits into some seemingly predetermined receipt size and staple it right in the middle. That receipt, I come to find out after I get home, has 15 points – fat paragraphs – of policies, things to note and legalese no one brought to my attention at the store (more on that in another, much shorter post). Of course all that reading on a single receipt that you must keep track of until you pick up your pre-purchased on layaway item does not make me happy. What if I lose it?
Just to be certain I double checked one point: “What if I decide not to get the Wii U?”
“Then bring back the receipt and we’ll cancel it and refund your money.” They neglected to mention the $5 fee to start up the layaway account, which is a line item on the receipt as well as a mention in fat paragraph #1.
As I took the long walk of shame through the Walmart, I realized I had just given them money and all I got was a piece of paper, a promise and maybe a chance to dance with strangers. Not very heartening. Oh, and I’m down $100 and I still do not have a Wii U. Sure, when I plop down $276.83 more in a few weeks I’ll theoretically get the Wii U and tell you all about it but, at least for now, there’s a sense of emptiness and anxiety that something might go wrong. Maybe they’ll run out, maybe I’ll be in a coma and miss the December 14, 2012, deadline to pay the balance and lose “my” Wii U, or maybe I’ll lose my receipt?! Horror of horrors.
Stage 5: Acceptance
So far, I haven’t quite come to terms with this time-consuming and soul-bruising experience. I typically avoid Walmart like it’s a factory pumping out toxic diseases that they lather on every customer. And layaway, until this day, was only something my grandma had mumbled about in her much later years.
I suppose that once I have the Wii U in my hands, hooked up to my TV and playing whatever games are at hand, I’ll finally be able to sigh a bit of satisfied relief.
At least, I hope I will.
So the quick takeaway is this: If you plan to head to Walmart to pre-order your deluxe Wii U, make sure you head to the store before 9 p.m. and save yourself a ton of time and head directly to the way back of the store, look for the Online Order Pickup counter and prepare to place your order there. Then pray that someone will soon be there to help you.