MAY 2023 IN

A Bathroom Scale and a Retail Failure

The question of whether former retail juggernaut Bed Bath & Beyond can survive its missteps of the past ten years has now been answered with the company filing for bankruptcy liquidation. Almost all stores are expected to liquidate and vacate as soon as reasonably practical.

Such is the decline of Bed Bath & Beyond’s reputation that most of the inventory will likely not be liquidated in-store, as it would be hard to bring in enough customers to carry away all the merchandise regardless of discount. Instead, the merchandise will have to be packed on trucks and taken to stores that have more reliable foot traffic.

Why did customers stop thinking about a store that was once considered the most reliable supplier of housewares? The answer can be found in my last purchase at the store, which was a bathroom scale.

I grumbled at the $26 price, which seemed a lot to pay for a basic electronic scale, but I picked out the most promising design on the shelf and took it to the checkout.

I discovered the flaw in the design only after I got the item home and set it up. The scale was designed to use a low-profile lithium battery rather than the AAA batteries conventionally used in a low-power indoor device. This saved 5¢ in manufacturing as it allowed the scale to operate on one battery rather than two, but these lithium batteries were expensive and would have to be replaced frequently. My guess was that the battery would last 10 months in a bathroom scale, and my experience proved that out. By contrast, a pair of AAA batteries might last four years, and at a small fraction of the price.

The scale was effectively useless. After paying a premium price to buy it, you would spend 10 times the original purchase price on batteries over the lifetime of the unit. Every step on the scale, even if by accident, would cost you a measurable sum of money in battery life.

I was not angry at the store, only disappointed that it would choose to sell a design that it knew was useless in an economic sense when it had the power to insist on a practical design. It gave the impression of a store that had no interest in what happened to its customers after the purchase. I would have to be more careful with my future purchases there, I decided.

Except that there were no future purchases. Years went by, and then the word came that the company was bankrupt and the store was closing.

Is the retail sector so cutthroat that one disappointing experience is enough to lose a customer for life? Well, no. The thing is, Bed Bath & Beyond already had a dodgy reputation before the deception of the bathroom scale. I could remember looking over the store for staple items such as bath towels and coat hangers, wondering why every item I looked at was either ridiculously expensive or had some kind of gimmick in its design that took away most of its functionality. I often left frustrated and empty-handed, but I was willing to give the brand another chance.

And that continued until, one day, I guess I gave up. There may be a limit to how much frustration a retailer can put its customers through before it is erased from those customers’ memories.

Having exceeded that limit, Bed Bath & Beyond would have had to show some kind of sincere and splashy effort at reform to regain the attention of customers like me. But from everything I have heard, it never did change, never even made the attempt.

When I finally did find a “normal” bathroom scale, the basic-black style of the scale was actually a sharper look than anything I had seen on display in my visit to Bed Bath & Beyond. This scale was lighter and tougher with a more modern and efficient industrial design. It weighed me in exactly the same way, with the same precision, the same controls, the same display. It used normal AAA batteries, so I would never go broke weighing myself. And the price of this high-style, fully functional scale? Not 26 dollars, but 5. Not a sale price, but the everyday price of the item.

If the comparison of the bathroom scales is any indication, maybe the world is better off for having forgotten about retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond.

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