It was the year 2000.
A young mother and her two children settled into the car, readying themselves for a short trip to the mall. You see, that morning the family’s kettle had stopped working and a visit to the hardware store was lay ahead.
It was a time of bustling stores, with energetic salesmen. They bumped into John from down the road who recently started working at the store and had a nice chat about all the exciting things he’d been up to since leaving school. John was only too happy to offer his expertise, a smile across his face, conveying the warmth of a truly wholesome customer experience.
The mother took a look at the kettles, picked them up, felt their weight and quality, and chose to go with the middle of the price range. After all, it was just heating water that she was after. And so, the happy trio returned home with a new kettle in hand, ready to make tea the very next morning.
Fast forward twenty years and now the daughter is all grown up with her own family to take care of. The year is 2019 and the family has decided to skimp on their daily Starbucks and invest in a coffee machine instead. But the simplicity inherent in the preceding story is no longer present and in its place is a void of consumerism to be filled by the buyer’s anxiety.
As all good American moms do, this one set out for a search online for the best product at the best price. It started with the options. The endless options. On a multitude of sites. How could one machine vary so greatly in price? It was just a latte she was after, not a return trip to the moon.
Don’t get overwhelmed she told herself. But before she knew it, the mother was deeply immersed in a world of reviews and ratings far beyond the capacity of a simple shopper.
Are these real? What are the chances of my box being damaged? Is that such a big deal? A milk frother? That sounds fancy! But do I really need it? Will I regret not getting extra features? Wow there’s a lot of people buying coffee machines in India. Do they really ship $1000 machines that far? This guy sounds like he’s having a really rough day. It’s like the coffee machine ruined his life.
She shut her laptop and resolved to go to the store. Pulling up to Best Buy she promised herself not to walk out barehanded. Stepping in, the mom couldn’t help noticing how deserted it felt .
“Second aisle on the right,” the lady at the counter said, slightly lifting her hand to show the way before allowing it to resume its duty of scrolling down her Facebook feed.
Second aisle from which side? My right or your right? The mom contemplated, puzzled, as she combed through the aisles of redundant machines sitting all alone.
“Can I help you?” A man’s voice asked from behind, and despite feeling somewhat startled the mom turned in high hopes to he who had come to save the day. “I’m looking for a coffee machine,” she burst out excitedly. “I can help with that,” he responded flatly.
Before relief could spread through her forlorn body, the salesperson - if we can even call him that- did the unthinkable and pulled out an iPad. “Have you checked our options online? We can always order something in if what you’re after is not in stock.”
YOU DON’T SAY, the mom silently swore in her head, cursing the moment she decided to forgo a morning with the kids in place of this. The man began to scroll through the stores website, as the mom tried really hard to contain her frustration through gritted teeth.
She tried shifting the man’s attention back to the machines available in store. But even as he continued with his monologue of technical advice, all of which she had already read online, a voice deep inside whispered: You can get a newer model online. At a better price. With coupons. And free shipping.
Suddenly the voices in her head, the man’s droning lecture and the elevator music playing over the speakers got the better of her. “Thanks for your help!” she snapped and made her way to the car, only to be comforted once back on her phone surfing the myriad of options online.
Oh dear, it had been three hours since she had left home. The kids would most likely be bouncing off the walls. I’ll finish researching tonight and hopefully finalize the order.
But maybe I should wait for Labor Day sales? Or perhaps it’s worth it to pay more and buy from a store that has free return shipping? Didn’t Sarah say Nordstrom price matched this very machine?
In a daze, the mom found herself pulling into Starbucks to pick up a freshly brewed coffee made by someone else. Maybe I don’t really need that machine after all, she thought.