Monday, April 21, 2008

Chair chase

How hard is to get kitchen chairs? At Target, apparently harder than you think.

On March 8, Michelle and I were ambling through the store in Seekonk, Mass., and we spotted a display in the furniture area – a round, black kitchen table and matching black chairs. The table was sturdy, steadied by a vertical trunk and four thick legs arranged in an X-pattern. We knew we needed a new table; the one we had was a rickety affair barely more weight-bearing than a card table. It was time for a replacement, and this one, on sale no less at about $140 fit the bill perfectly. The chairs were sturdy themselves, with an X-shaped back that betrayed a touch of trend but not too modern as to offend the charm of our old Colonial house. Plus, the American Simplicity Cross-Back Side Chairs were on sale, $99 for a pair.

We were thrilled at the prospect of updating our kitchen furniture for less than $400 and with solid pieces at that. But there was a fly in the ointment. The chair weren't available, the representative told us. No matter, he added; here's a rain check that will get you the chairs at the sales price when they're restocked.

"When will that be?" we asked.
"Could be tomorrow," the associate replied. "We get shipments every day."

Happily, we left the store with our table and the imminent prospect of four sleek, sturdy chairs to keep it company.

From time to time for the last six weeks, we have called the Target store asking whether the chairs have arrived. Each time, the answer has been a version of "No, they're not in stock, but call back. They'll be here any day."

We have called back plenty of times. And there have been no chairs. A lot of chairs have arrived at that Target store, but not the ones we had seen at the display that March day, the ones we were told come in shipments all the time.

So, today, two days before our rain check price was due to expire, I called our trusty Target store to find out if the chairs had arrived.

No, came the reply. They're not here.
I wasn't surprised.

They've been discontinued, the associate named Scott told me.

That was a surprise.

So, not only were there no chairs at the store, but none would be coming.
Scott is a nice guy, and he trying to be helpful. The chairs were no longer listed in the store's computerized inventory system, but he did find a listing another way, and told me that two sets were available at the store in Warwick, R.I. and two sets in the store in No. Dartmouth, Mass. As of this morning, the sets were available at the stores. I can reserve them for up to 24 hours.

It took me 25 minutes to get this far, but I was happy. We would get our chairs after all. I dialed the No. Dartmouth store. After being disconnected the first time, I got someone in the furniture department. I gave her the identity number for the chair and explained how the representative at the Seekonk store had told me there were two sets, and, yes, we'd like to reserve them. But there were no chairs. Well, actually there was one set, but it was the display, and they couldn't be sold. Someone must have typed that set in as inventory and then compounded that error by inadvertently adding an extra set.

Sorry, no chairs for sale in No. Dartmouth.

I dialed Warwick. The associate there took the information and went to look. Sorry, she said, there aren't any chairs of the type you're seeking. Don't you know they've been discontinued?

"Yes," I said as patiently as I could. "I know. But the representative at the Seekonk store said two sets were available as of this morning."

"Maybe we sold them," the associate replied.

The Seekonk representative told me he'd be shocked if they had been sold," I said.

"Sorry," she said.

I had run out of options with Target stores – at least those in southern New England.

As I was eating a late dinner, Michelle called from upstairs. Come look, she said.

Indeed, she had found our Cross-Back Side Chairs. Same style, same color. They were in stock, right there on the screen. All we had to press the button and order them. The price? $129 for a pair.

Hmmmm. There didn't seem to be an option for rain check prices. Sure, we wanted the chairs, but we wanted them for $99 a pair, not for $129, which our receipt told us was 24 percent more expensive. But there was no way to get the discount price online.

I found an 800 number for customer service and called. I explained our dilemma to the representative, and she put me on hold to check with her supervisor.

After a few minutes she returned. "Sorry," she said. "We can only offer the price online."

"Why?" I asked.

She said something about the online price being a separate offer from that offered at Target stores.

I explained our situation, this time in more detail. I told the representative that we had purchased the table on March 8, and we purchased it in part because the table was part of a set – all of which we were getting at a discount. Now, we had a table but no chairs. We had an agreement from Target that there had been chairs, that there would be chairs, and that we would get them at the sales price when they arrived. But they hadn't arrived, and now they've been discontinued and were no longer available in the stores. Through no fault of our own, we could not get the chairs at a Target store. But now we see they are available online. We'd just like Target to extend the same discount it had extended to us when we purchased the table, spelled out in the Price Rain Check receipt I was holding in my hand.

"Let me check with my supervisor," the representative said.

I figured this ploy had worked. After all, we weren't asking Target for anything special. We weren't asking it for something that hadn't been offered. All we were asking was for it to honor an agreement it had made when we purchased the table, with the chairs I was looking at online.

After several minutes, the representative came back on the line.

"You know, the shipping is for free. You save $43," she told me.

I knew this already. The shipping fee was waived whether the chairs were $129, $99 or $599. I kept my mouth shut and listened.

"My supervisor said we would waive the tax. But we can't change the price."

I was temporarily stunned. Waive the tax? That would knock off $17. Big deal, I thought to myself. But it didn't address the core issue: Why won't Target honor an agreement it had made with us previously?

She told me something about how the online price is treated as distinct from the price offered at the store.

"But that's like one hand not knowing what the other is doing," I said. "You have one price, an online price, and another price, the store price. But you all online and they in the store all work for the same company, Target. And all we're asking is that the company, Target, honor an agreement it had made with us, to sell the chairs at the price it had promised to us."

"Sorry," she said.

"Thanks," I said.

1 comment:

Leeann said...

I am shocked. Truly shocked! Target is usually an excellent company with excellent customer service. I would call back and raise the roof until I got what I wanted. That is just bad business.