The woman ahead of me in line at Janney's Ace Hardware was quite irate.
"I bought this outdoor fireplace here last week for $98, and it was marked SPECIAL, so I figured it was a good deal," she whined. "But I just saw the SAME FIREPLACE at The Anderson's for $88, and they even assemble it for you! I feel like I was ripped off. I just couldn't BELIEVE I had paid all of this extra money...(blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum)."
Of course, all I wanted to do was to pay for my plumbing supplies, but I picked the wrong lane, and now I was stuck watching this drama unfold. The cashier called a manager, who -thankfully - appeared in rapid fashion.
Personally, if I overpay for an item, I chalk it up to a failure on my part to properly examine all of the alternatives. Besides, I have certainly wasted money in more frivolous ways over the years.
As the manager arrived, the customer repeated her litany of woe, adding that she didn't have a receipt, nor the fireplace, which was now in her backyard with ashes in it. All she had was an advertisement from The Anderson's showing the $10 difference, and she demanded a refund for this egregious affront to the modern consumer.
I kept eyeing the other checkout counter, but customers more savvy than I wisely avoided the lane in which I found myself. I braced myself for what I thought would be a heated and lengthy exchange.
Instead, the hardware manager simply said, with a courteous smile: "Well, what if I just refunded you the difference? That way you wouldn't have to disassemble the fireplace, or have to bring it all the way back up here."
The woman paused for a second, apparently knocked off guard by the very reasonable solution to the dilemma. My estimation was that she came prepared for an all-out war, and had not considered that there was a middle ground in which all parties could win, or that disputes could be resolved without resorting to calling one's adversary a cheating scoundrel.
"That would be fine," she managed to stammer as a reply. With that he approved the $10 refund, and the problem was resolved in what I considered to be record time.
Now, I hate to generalize about big box retailers, but I would suggest that this scene would have played out differently in one of those mammoth corporate home centers. It is precisely the ingenuity and flexibility of a small retail business that led to this creative solution, and one that probably left the complaining customer more likely to return.
And got me through the checkout lane in relatively quick fashion.