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The trials and tribulations of shopping in modern times

Published January 14. 2012 09:01AM

This week, we have been bombarded with news about the Republican Primary. Rather than bore you with politics, I picked an entirely different topic.

Over the last few years, I have noticed a significant decline in the quality of the products my wife and I buy. We prefer high quality goods and are willing to pay more for better products. Unfortunately the quest for quality is often a frustrating one. If we go to Wal-Mart or Target to buy three items, within a week we are returning at least one of them. The product does not work or the parts don't fit together properly.

I'm not talking about complex things such as bicycles; I'm talking about simple things like towel racks and hoses. Last week we bought an over-the-door towel rack. We brought it home and could not put it together as it was poorly designed. It was returned to the store.

Another new product failed last week. I was making a new batch of wine and needed to wash my barrel and utensils. I decided to use my nice new green utility hose. We had only used it 3 times before and I was very happy to have it because it made washing my wine barrel so much easier.

I turned on the water and washed the barrel using the spray nozzle that came with the hose. When I was done, I left the water on as the nozzle served as a shutoff valve. I took my wine barrel downstairs and brought my wine utensils upstairs for washing. I was only gone for five or six minutes but when I returned the hose had sprung a leak and sprayed water all over the utility room floor and walls. Everything was soaked. I checked the hose and found that there was a half-inch gash where the hose had ruptured.

In my time, I have washed many things using a utility sink. This is the first time the hose ruptured. My wife mentioned that I should have turned off the water rather than relying on the nozzle. From this point forward I will heed her advice. It is better to turn off the water than to clean up the mess. (An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure).

On our next shopping foray, we went to Bed Bath and Beyond. In my opinion, they charge more than other stores for similar products. That led me to believe that the products are of better quality. After purchasing our item and using a 20% off coupon I walked out of the store confident in the quality of the product. Within hours, my confidence was dashed. We paid more for a product but alas it was broken.

From this point forward we will load the car with items that need to be returned prior to going shopping. We will plan our stops for purchases and returns to minimize our fuel cost. The lesson I learned is that more expensive products can still be poorly made. In many cases, there is no correlation between price and quality.

As we live in a rural area, going shopping means driving 15 or 20 miles each way. To save gas, I decided to buy more goods online as offers free delivery for Prime members. So far, this has worked out well. The items I purchased are delivered quickly and they work as advertized.

I have not had to return a single thing. Could it be that when the vendor is responsible for shipping costs, they take extra measures to ensure the products they sell meet or exceed the customer's expectations?

In December, I resumed my quest for American made products even though they are often more expensive than foreign made goods. Buying American is difficult as many manufacturing plants have moved overseas. When I started my quest, I found a website that helped me to quickly identify American made goods ( My first purchase was a woolen blanket for my wife. It was made in Minnesota.

I ordered it on December 5th from the factory. They promised that it would arrive within two weeks. Well, it never arrived. I tried calling in the week between Christmas and New Year's. They were closed until after the New Year so that all of their employees could enjoy the holidays. I was pleased that this company treated their employees well and let them be home with their families over the Christmas holiday.

Since the weather was unusually warm, we didn't need the blanket that badly.

By the 10th of January the blanket still had not arrived. Fortunately, when I called the vendor, I reached a person rather than a computer. It was wonderful to actually speak to a human instead of a never-ending computerized menu. The customer service representative found my original order that had "fallen through the cracks".

The blanket is in stock and she is expediting the shipment. I have her name and will call her back if it is not delivered in a week. I did not have to drive to the mall and I did not have to pay shipping. When there was a problem, a real person fixed it. What a great way to save money on my purchases.

It is wonderful to speak to humans again. As companies automated their ordering processes, I was forced to interact with computers if I wanted to buy something, enquire about goods or services or simply find out an account balance. Needless to say this frustrated me and many other customers. I believe that companies are learning that people like to deal with real people (like duh! rocket science!).

Some companies are now offering customers the ability to speak to a person as the first option. If you choose a person, they are on the line in seconds. If you prefer computerized service, you can push the buttons or click the mouse and get your answer.

I am committed to supporting the American worker. If we do not purchase American-made goods we will lose what is left of our manufacturing capability. I know it takes more time to find goods made in the United States. I know there may be additional shipping costs involved in purchasing American-made goods.

If we want our economy to improve, we have to employ our fellow Americans. The government cannot increase employment through an act of Congress. We the American people have to create jobs by buying goods made by our friends and neighbors whenever possible. Look at the label. If it is not made in the USA, take the time to find an American made product.

As the dollar continues to fall against other currencies, American made goods will be more cost effective. Several companies including Fortune Brands, Ford and Caterpillar are moving production back to the United States. With better quality and lower distribution costs "Made in America" can be profitable. Let's all do our part to put Americans back to work again.

Buy American goods, made by Americans, from American companies that pay taxes here in America.

© 2012 Gordon Smith - All Rights Reserved.

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