Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Many Walmart Employees Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb?

I don't know, but I can tell you how many it took to help (or rather, not help) me today. I know what you're thinking: "Well, your first mistake was shopping at Walmart." This is true, and I knew that going into the store.

Let's back up. I am in the market for an elliptical fitness machine. Why? Because I am flabby and waaaayyy out of shape, I want something cardiovascular to do, and running (which I enjoy) is too hard on my knees. When I have exercised at the gym, I have quite enjoyed using the elliptical. It gives me a good workout and does not cause stress on my knees. So I'd like to get one. I actually think if I had one, I would use it pretty faithfully. I can watch TV or read while doing it, and the time passes by quite quickly.

The problem is, a really good elliptical machine is out of my price range. They are quite pricey for my budget. So I have been looking at some low-end ellipticals, and I found one through Walmart that is affordable. It's made by Golds Gym, and I read quite a few reviews about it. Most said the same thing: it was hard to put together, and it is a low-end model, but it is sturdy and does the job and is a good value for the money you pay. So I was interested in finding out more about it.

I went to Walmart to check it out. It is, indeed, a low-end model without many "bells and whistles," but it seemed sturdy and smooth to me and seems to be appropriate for my needs. I did have some questions about it. My mother (who was with me) and I examined the model, and then I decided I wanted to ask a store employee for more details. We couldn't find one immediately. My mother went in search of one, but was unable to find anyone. Finally, a woman (let's call her Delores) approached us and asked (very pleasantly) if we needed any help. I replied that I was interested in perhaps purchasing this particular elliptical and was hoping to get some more information about it. She said, "Oh. Well, I'll have to get you someone from Sporting Goods. I don't really know details about this particular machine."

Fine. I've worked retail before. Sometimes you only know things within your particular expertise. I told her that would be great. She said, "I'll page someone for you." We thanked her. Shortly after, we heard her voice over the intercom system; "Customer needs assistance in Sporting Goods." She returned and said someone would be with us shortly. Great.

Except that no one ever came. Another Walmart employee (let's name her Eileen) happens by maybe four or five minutes after the page. She cheerfully asks us if we need assistance. "Well," I said, "I'm interested in perhaps buying this machine and would like to find out more about it." She immediately gets a look of resistance on her face and says, "Oh, well, I don't know anything about sporting goods. I'll have to page someone for you."

"Well, someone was paged earlier, but they never showed."

"Well, I'll have them paged again." It was obvious she didn't want to answer our questions about the elliptical. I can understand that. If I worked at Walmart and somebody asked me automotive questions, I'd probably panic, too.


She gets her little communicator out. "Fitting Rooms, can you page Sporting Goods for me? Thanks." She looks at me. "They'll page someone for you, and they should be here shortly." Isn't that what Delores said earlier?

"Okay. Thank you." Eileen walks off.

This time there is no page. So we wait. Delores swings by again a few minutes later. "Did they never come?"

"Nope," I reply. "Someone else came by and paged them again, but no one has come."

"Mel?!" Delores yells to an approaching employee (a man in a wheelchair who looks to be in his late 60s or older). "Do you know where Bernice is?"

Mel is actually using his feet rather than his hands to propel the wheelchair, which strikes me as odd, but okay. "I think she's gone to lunch. What do you need?"

"These folks have some questions about this machine, and I need someone from Sporting Goods to help them. What about Miguel?"

"I don't know where he is. Maybe I can answer their questions." He looks at me as he shuffles the wheelchair closer. "I don't know much about sporting goods, but I can try."

"Okay," I shrug. "I was wondering what the power source for this machine is."

"Probably electricity," Mel says matter-of-factly as he rolls by me.

"Well, does it come with a plug?" I ask.

"I don't know," Mel answers. "Like I said, I don't know much about sporting goods. I've never used one of those before, as you can see." And then he disappears down another aisle. I look at my mom, amused, and mutter sarcastically, "Thanks for answering my questions." Delores is no where to be seen, either. I guess she figured she had pawned us off on Mel, who was soooo very helpful. Thanks, Mel.

By this time, my mom and I are kind of laughing at the absurdity of trying to get what I thought would be a few simple answers to some questions.

Ahh, Delores has returned. "I found someone to help you. They should be along shortly." I think you said that ten minutes ago, Delores.

"Thanks," I reply, good-naturedly.

A few minutes later a woman employee (Karina) shows up. She says in what sound like an Eastern-European accent, "You needed some help, yes?"

"Uh, yes. I was wondering about this machine. I'm interested in perhaps buying it, and I just wanted to find out some things about it."


"Do you happen to know what the power source for this elliptical is? Does it run on batteries or do you plug it in?"

Karina looks at me like I have just asked her how to make a nuclear warhead. She looks panicked, quite frankly.

"Uh," she stammers, "I do not know. Let me get my assistant."

Her assistant?! Her assistant knows more about Sporting Goods than she does?!

"Well, I do have some other questions as well. Maybe you can answer those before you..."

"Just a moment," she says as she flees to find her assistant. "I go find him."

The horror on her face made me wonder if she thought I'd asked her to remove her clothing. By this time, my mom and I are cracking up.

Finally Klaus arrives (probably 25 minutes after I first asked for help). I name him Klaus because he looked like a Klaus to me. Karina has summoned Klaus! Hooray!

"Hi, can I help you?"

"I hope so," I say. "I am interested in perhaps buying this elliptical and was hoping I could maybe get some details about it."

"Okay, what do you want to know?"

"I was wondering what the power source on this is."

"Probably electricity, I would imagine."

Klaus, have you been talking to Mel?

"So does it come with a plug?"


Klaus starts examining the machine, much as I did while I was waiting for various people to help me. He peers closer. "Uh...it says here it's battery-operated."

"Right. I noticed that. But I also noticed there was what looks like a jack for an A/C adapter, and I was wondering if that is for a plug, and if it is, I was wondering if the elliptical comes with that or if I need to buy it separately."

"Gosh, I don't know. Nobody's ever asked me that before."

Oh. My. Gosh! Really?!

Klaus continues: "It probably comes with it."

"Well, I would like to know for sure before I actually buy it."

"Well, I just don't know. But it probably comes in the box."

"Well, if it doesn't, is that something I could buy here?"

"I don't know. You might want to look on the Golds Gym website. That might tell you."


"We probably don't sell anything like that. You probably would need to get it somewhere else."

"Any idea where?"


Okay, Klaus. Thanks.

"Okay, well, I do have another question. I was wondering what your extended warranty entails and how much it costs."

"Well, it really depends on the product."


"Well," I calmly say, "I was hoping to find out about the extended warranty on this particular elliptical, sir."

"Barbara," Klaus says to a passing manager and her companion, "What's the price of our extended warranty?"

"Well, it depends on the product."

OH. MY. GOSH! I can't fault Barbara, though. After all, she just got here.

"What's the price of the extended warranty on this elliptical machine?" I ask.

"I'm not sure," Barbara replies. "Let me find out." Barbara leaves her companion. Let's call him Frank.

"So you're interested in that elliptical?" Frank asks. "I have one."

Maybe Frank can help me. I don't even think he works here, but if he has an elliptical, maybe he knows more about it than the stooges that have tried to help me thus far.

"Oh, really? You have one like this?"

"Yep. They're great machines. They give you quite a workout."

"Do you know what kind of power source this runs on?"

"Oh, I don't have that model."


"Twenty dollars." Barbara has returned. "That's for a two-year extended warranty."

"Twenty dollars for two years," Klaus repeats.

Really, Klaus? Repeating what Barbara says doesn't make you look any more knowledgeable.

"What else would you like to know?" Klaus asks.

I don't know. What else could I possibly glean from the encyclopedic organ that is your brain?

"Obviously, this needs to be assembled. Is that something I have to do myself or could I get someone here to do it for me?"

"Oh, no. We can assemble it here, if you like."

"Yes, we can assemble it," Barbara chimes in.

"And how much does that cost?" I ask.

"Oh, it's free," Klaus answers.

"Yes, it's free," Barbara repeats.

"Oh, great," I say.

"Another question I have is that I noticed this same model online is $247, but here at the store it's $277. Do you know why that is?"

"Don't know." Klaus stares at me blankly.

I look at Barbara. Same blank look.


"Well, I think I'm going to think about this a bit more and come back if I decide to buy it."

Barbara, seeing that Klaus has things well under control, walks off with Frank. A homeless-looking man walks by. Klaus points to him.

"Oh, this is Leroy. He's one of our assemblers. He'd be one of the people who might put your machine together."

Leroy stares at me and Klaus in bewilderment.

Ah, that's good to know. Good to know that the homeless, bewildered guy is the one who would be putting my elliptical together. And if he's as knowledgeable as the other people I've talked with today, I know I'm in excellent hands. Good thing I'll have that two-year warranty handy.

"Well, thank you for your help," I say. "I have to think on it and maybe do a little more research." Like find out if the thing has a plug.

Six people! It took six people to help me, and none of them really knew much at all about a product their store was selling. Klaus, the "expert" of the group, knew just a hair more than I did about the elliptical. Barbara was probably the smartest of the group, which is probably why she's a manager, and even she seemed to know very little. Mel, Eileen, Delores, and Karina were basically useless. I had a feeling that Frank, an innocent bystander who didn't even work at Walmart, probably knew more about the elliptical than anybody.

Look, that's what I get for shopping at Walmart. And I can understand if Eileen, Delores, Mel, and even Barbara, don't know squat about Sporting Goods. That isn't their department. But shouldn't Klaus and Karina know something about the products they oversee? I didn't think my questions were all that outlandish or strange.

Part of me admires the fact that Walmart hires people that no one else will hire. The other part of me understands why no one else will hire them. But it is Walmart, after all. It's like wanting a gourmet meal and high-end dining experience at Chuck-a-Rama (look it up, non-Utahns). You get what you get. But is it too much to ask that some of the people get better training?

I plan on writing a letter to Walmart. Everybody who offered to help me was very pleasant, but mostly unhelpful. I think that should be remedied. And I was verrryyyy patient! I just found it laughable and absurd. There's 30 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Ah. Breathe.

In spite of everything, I am leaning toward buying the elliptical, by the way.


Beck said...

This is great writing! I've got a smile on my face that wasn't there before, and I thank you for making my morning!

David Baker-@DB389 said...

Well not to bash walmart, but perhaps you can get better bang for your buck with Tim Ferris' new book "4 Hour Body". I bought a copy and it should arrive today. You probably can skip the chapters on increasing female orgasm though haha.

apronkid said...

Hahahaha, sorry it was so frustrating, but this is great. A man in a wheelchair moving himself with his feet... I'm still laughing about that :) Oh, and ellipticals are really entertaining. Good choice.

Scott N said...

I don't know how much your budget allows for, but I just got a 2-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness for $300 at Costco.

That's less than the price of most individual pieces of equipment (treadmill, elliptical, recumbent bike, weight set). And I'm finding that it's easier to motivate myself to go to the gym than it was to use the treadmill and cable weights I have at home.

(Incidentally, is anyone in the market for a treadmill or a cable weight home gym?) :)

Sad to say that most of my Walmart experiences mirror yours. And yet for some reason I keep going there...

Gay LDS Actor said...

Glad you guys enjoyed it and that it could amke you laugh.

David and Scott, thanks for the suggestions. I think I'm just the opposite of you, Scott. I have a harder time dragging myself to the gym than I think I would just doing it at home. I know I'd be more likely to do it if I had immediate access and was able to watch something I enjoy watching while doing it.