@ Supply Chain Management


Before thinking out of the box, how about thinking in the box?

This weekend, my wife and I were out shopping for a crib for my five month old son. And we visited the Burlington Coat Factory, Appleton, WI to get one. We also decided to get some beddings for the crib. All in all a successful trip.
So, here’s what happened. The bedding was originally at $159.90 and it gets on wife’s nerves no end that if asked about the price, I would invariably reply $159 or $159.90 whereupon she would round up the value to $160. Nevertheless, it was marked down to $139.98 which made it a great buy. It was further discounted at a 25% off as well. Ofcourse, that made it a great must buy. So far so good.
Only having driven all the way back to Green Bay, did we discover that the 25% was applied to the original price (that of $159.98). And that’s where the fun begins.
So we drove back again the next day, Sunday, to settle the matter and we line up at the returns center. Since, I was looking for some dress shirts, I proceeded to the aisle leaving my wife to settle the matter. The matter is rather simple, as far as we can see it, apply the discount to the marked down price of $139.98 which should cost us a grand total of $104.98 instead of the $119.92 that we had been charged the previous day.
Five minutes later, my wife searches me out and says – No go. The returns clerk had informed her that the original price of bedding was $159.90 to which the discount had been applied and so the charged price was $119.92. This even though, she had shown him the marked down tag of $139.98. Said I, “This is silly,” and so took the bedding back to the returns center.
This time round, the line at the returns center was rather long and so I did the next best thing which was take the adjacent line and in due time I was waited upon by a teenager (a girl who could be in my estimate about 12-13 years of age). That’s when the fun really begins. I explain the situation to her, show her the tag, prove further that there is a 25% discount and on and on. She scans the bar code and the price reflected in the register is the original price of $159.90 and so apparently there’s nothing that she can do. I show her the tag on the item itself which reads – $139.98 but the system retrieved only the original price.
And that is when the fun really begins.
The returns clerk (a guy about 25-ish) leans over and tries to convince me that if I applied 25% to the original price of $159.90 or the marked down price of $139.98, I would obtain the same price. In fact, he walked over and tried to convince me about that – “Its all percentages – you’ll get the same value.” I’m not kidding. By this time, I should have spent about 5 mins in this entire process growing quite incredulous.
Ofcourse, the checkout girl is getting a little confused with all these numbers flying about especially with the percentages. So she does the next best thing rather than trusting a customer (Is the customer still king?), which is turning to a co-worker – another teenaged boy (of the same age or close enough).
Now, he thinks for awhile about the conundrum – what is 25% of $139.98 which should then be subtracted from $139.98 to obtain the right price? So he writes down dutifully on a scrap of paper and instructs his co-worker (and friend, I must say) to multiply out $139.98 * 0.25. Ofcourse, all this is flabbergasting to me. No, not the fact that they don’t have a calculator but as I tried to explain to both these teenagers that all you have to do is divide $139.98 by 4 (which I hope you’d agree is a far easier prospect than straight out multiplying $139.98 * 0.25 on a scrap of paper) and then subtract that value from $139.98 to get the right amount.
So the checkout girl ignores me and sets about the task of multiplying out the values. She doesn’t finish the task though – a lot of numbers here and there but no result. So her manager appears on the scene and proceeds to ascertain what the situation is. And so starts the process all over again. I explain my situation as clearly as I can.
NO GO! Even with the manager.
The manager (a woman of about 40 years of age) is befuddled by the system though. Not with the math. But ofcourse, we all get to the math sooner or later. The manager however wanted to find a calculator as I was trying to explain to her that the right value was $104.98 and how to obtain it rather simply. Meanwhile, the returns clerk comes over once more to explain his version of math to the manager.
Alright, you shouldn’t take a customer at his word. So not being able to find a calculator, she gets the manager of the Baby department after a few bell buzzes. So here I am having to explain the situation a third time to the second manager. She goes through the process of scanning the bar code, looking at the tag and declares that she will have to override the system which she proceeds to do. Long story short, I get my discount. The whole affair took a good half an hour of my life which I won’t get back but my wife and I could not help but talk about it on the drive back to Green Bay.
You’re free to draw your own conclusions about this episode and what it says about the acquisition of the most basic skills through education and a dependence on technology and how clueless that can leave you. Here’s my conclusion – “If you don’t do the numbers when you have to, the numbers will do you in when you don’t want them to.” There are enough characters promoting the importance of thinking out of the box but the need of the hour is to first teach people to know that there is a box – A REAL UNDENIABLE BOX – which needs to be thought about first before thinking out of it.

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About me

I am Chris Jacob Abraham and I live, work and blog from Newburgh, New York. I work for IBM as a Senior consultant in the Fab PowerOps group that works around the issue of detailed Fab (semiconductor fab) level scheduling on a continual basis. My erstwhile company ILOG was recently acquired by IBM and I've joined the Industry Solutions Group there.

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January 2007