Note: This tale is from 1996 and does not reflect current tech.
GETTING MORE TALE #504: Waiting
The store that I managed for the longest period of time was opened in April of 1996. The format was 95% used stock, about 5% new. It was fun being a part of the cutting edge in retail.
When we opened that store, we were inundated by customers who had never heard of us before. Every day for months, somebody would wander in who had never been in one of our stores before. It was cool. We were different, and we wanted people to know it. We were eager to promote our special features and strengths, such as our listening stations and reservation lists.
The reservation list caused a lot of confusion among new customers.
Here’s how it worked. Let’s say you’re looking for a CD that is hard to find used – Pink Floyd’s The Wall. That one was expensive brand new. Usually it ran for about $33.99. Customers would much rather pay less, so they put themselves on our waiting list. At the time we opened, the waiting lists were for that store only. We didn’t have the ability to share our waiting lists with other branches yet. This was still a massive improvement over the old system: a notebook with phone numbers and titles written in it. (There were lots of names and numbers with the title “any Beatles”.)
The list operated on a first-come, first-served basis. If you were the very first customer to put their name in for The Wall back in April ’96, then you would get dibs on the very first used copy that came in. If you were second, you’d get the next shot at it, and so on and so forth. What seemed to confuse my early customers the most was “Where do these used CDs actually come from?”
There was no magical land of used CDs. There was no massive warehouse from which to pick and choose copies of The Wall in various conditions. There was no place from which to order used CD stock like you could with new. If there was a Used CD Magic Wonderland, then it was in your basement, because the only way we received our stock in those days was via the customer. If a customer came in and traded a great condition copy of The Wall, then congratulations – the first person on the waiting list received the first call.
On down the list we went. If the first person no longer wanted The Wall (a frequent occurrence) then we’d go down the list to the second person. We would phone each customer and give them a week to pick up their CD. Unfortunately most customers who no longer wanted the CD never bothered to tell us, so it would sit there for a whole week before we could put it back in the hopper. We wiped out our entire waiting list for Last of the Mohicans (Soundtrack) with just one copy, because none of the reserved customers wanted it anymore. There were five names on that list, and then suddenly none!
So: reserve a CD, and we would let you know when one was traded in. This doesn’t seem like it should be hard to understand, but apparently for some it was.
One upset customer came in about two weeks after reserving a rare CD. “Is it in yet?”
I checked. “No, it’s not in stock, but since you have a reserve for it, we’ll call you when it does show up.”
“When’s that going to be?” he asked.
“Hard to say,” I responded, trying to answer his question. “Whenever someone trades one in, which could be tomorrow or it could be next year.”
Then he bellowed, “What do I have to do to get this thing to come in?!”
Sometimes, I just didn’t know what else to say.
“You don’t have to do anything,” I said, not sure how to explain this further. “Somebody will get tired of their copy, or just need the money. If they sell it to me, you’ll get a phone call right away.” Then, feeling a little snarky, I added, “Unless you know somebody with a copy that you can talk into trading it in to us.”
There was actually one nearly-surefire way to guarantee a used CD would come into stock. T-Rev discovered this, inadvertently. Somehow, any time either of us bought a new CD that we’d been hunting for, suddenly a used copy would show up in store. Sometimes on the same day. This happened more than once! I was there when it happened with a Primus CD he was looking for. (Wish I could remember which one.) It was eerie.
Everything has changed today, obviously, and now you have access to the world’s inventory from your PC. It’s hard to imagine there was once a time when you (gasp!) had to actually wait to find a used copy of The Wall!