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Home Depot stocked shelves with empty boxes in its early days (cnbc.com)
222 points by gscott on June 8, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 199 comments

On a related note, my grandfather used to give away a tub of ice cream to his customers on their way out of his furniture store so they’d be forced to go home and freeze it —- preventing them from shopping the competition in the same day.

> Wrigley started out as a soap salesman in his native Philadelphia. After moving to Chicago in 1891, he began offering store owners incentives to stock his products, such as free cans of baking powder with every order. When the baking powder proved a bigger hit than the soap, Wrigley sold that instead, and added in free packs of chewing gum as a promotion.

Chewing gum reduces appetite. I take one before entering a supermarket, and it ensures I will not buy anything I don't need.

I like shopping for food when I'm hungry. I will buy more food, which leads to less shopping in total.

Ancidotal but whenever I shop hungry I buy a lot of junk food, and those costs really add up. I shop at Walmart though which is notorious for subconscious advertising so that might be a pretty big factor

The problem is you buy crap you aren't actually going to eat.

my strategy is to only go shopping at supermarkets when i have recently eaten a decent meal, and i already have enough food back at home to survive with out needing to go grocery shopping for a few days. that way i only buy bargains, and reasonably often dont buy anything at all. it helps to live close to multiple supermarkets, and have too much spare time.

> my strategy is to only go shopping at supermarkets when [...] and i already have enough food back at home to survive with out needing to go grocery shopping for a few days.

Great strategy, but if you ever have interruptions that cause you to empty out the larder, you will then starve since you can't shop.

Oh, wait... you're probably a human being not a computer program. Sorry: it's a kind of a reflexive code review process for me by now.

Oh no! I Waited too long! I’m slightly too hungry to leave the house!


> "...and reasonably often dont buy anything at all..."

Yes. But time has a cost. The reality is, leaving empty handed is a loss.

As for bargains, that's the key. Buy big when X is priced low.

Buy big when X is priced low.

Unless having lots of X at home will lead to you consuming more X at a faster rate than you normally would.

What are you talking about? I would nev-

Where did all my pistachios go? I bought like 20 pounds.

And gained 40.

I was thinking TP and such. But maybe having more TP makes me shit more? I'll have to set up a spreadsheet :)

That may apply to certain things, but I'm not going to use more napkins for the heck of it.

You could just make a list and stick to it.

It's quite easy to influence your lizard brain's urges and impulses directly through a one-time action, and much harder to manually override them through continuous conscious interference.

You can minimize the effort. I only go down isles that have what I need, so I can skip a lot of stuff without thinking about it. I avoid looking at the racks at checkout or areas that don't have what I need which again means I don't need to exercise self control.

Don't forget supermarkets stacks the stuff you don't need but may buy on impulse at the end of isles, meaning you still have to pass them.

This is where the ancient Stoics come in handy. I still struggle mightily with these kinds of things every single day, but we are animals, after all. It is certainly a lot easier for me than it was before I started studying stoicism, though.

Some gum makes the right decisions a little easier.

A list removes the need to decide at all.

I hate supermarkets so usually get in and out as quickly as I can. Often that means not getting some items on the list. I mean sure I've occasionally picked up stuff that hasn't been on the list but that's usually because it's something that should have been on the list but was forgotten about (eg milk or eggs - basics that get used frequently in a family home). However the times I walk out not buying stuff on the list far outweigh the times I've walked out with additional stuff that wasn't on the list. So I've never understood why people need such complicated systems to reduce supermarket spending like those described in this thread. But I guess everyone is different and perhaps some people like shopping and are prone to impulse buying?

I love food shopping and can easily spend an hour in my favorite food stores. Just roaming the isles, seeing what looks fresh/good/interesting that day and trying to come up with what I could use it for. I'll often head to the store to just get eggs and milk, leave with $80 of groceries and come home realizing I forgot the milk.

You're just lucky that you have an archipelago for a supermarket.

I see supermarkets as having 100 years of A/B testing to make sure that you don't stick to your list.

These include strategic floor layouts, the smell of fresh bakery goods such as bread and cakes, special offers, slow music, reduced lighting, fresh produce first, eggs in strange places, expensive products at eye level, and of course, the items in the checkout.

Having a shopping list does help. It's the sticking to it I'm curious to how easy that is.

I'm comfortable pitting my self-control against supermarkets' century of A/B testing.

Their 100 years of A/B testing has no effect on my wife.

Alternately, they have years of testing how to present things to shoppers like me, where "stick to the list" is never a hard and fast rule, but there's a conscious desire to browse a bit too.

I wonder what the overall frequencies of different customer behaviors, there, are...

I don't understand... Even when I'm starving, that's not going to make me buy boxes of strange items at the grocery store... Now, if I was at a buffet, that's a different story.

Because most grocery store items are pre-packaged or raw, they don't even register in my mind as consumable food until I put the work in to cook them.

I end up buying cookies when I'm hungry (I don't usually buy them)

This reminds me of 37Signal's [1] & ZachHolmans [2] talk about Your Product is your Byproduct. Real eye opener on how to think about what you're building and/or identify cross promotion etc.

[1] - https://signalvnoise.com/posts/1620-sell-your-by-products

[2] - https://zachholman.com/talk/product-is-the-byproduct/

Reminds me of how McDonalds is really a real estate business.

This realization is how Ray Kroc came to own McDonalds instead of the original founders, Richard and Maurice McDonald.

And then, I guess, he switched up to selling the gum...

Yep, that was the implication.

It could be fun PR stunt for an anniversary or whatever if they started to hand out bars of soap with sticks of gum...

Maybe your grandfather had a bigger effect on cultural memory than realized. I still can't seem to leave Ikea without getting an ice cream...

Mr. IKEA (can't be bothered to google his name) realized that some of his store visitors left without buying anything because they were hungry, so he opened restaurants in the stores.

(Imprecise anecdote, it could've been their customer research team and not the owner...)

His name was Ingvar Kamprad (the letters IK in IKEA is from his name).

The E and A comes from Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd, respectively the farm where he grow up, and his home town.

And it was indeed Ingvar that was the brains behind it back in 1956, i am not really sure they had "customer research teams" back then.

I imagine it also helps with family shoppers. If the kids or one spouse is tired or bored they can go to the restaurant. Ikea's restaurant is so cheap that some people go there just for that. I think they buy their furniture and household products at ikea.

I never leave IKEA without stopping for their hot dogs. Were I living close to it, I'd go for those hot dogs frequently.

For me it's their bags of meatballs but I'd also have a hotdog just for the road home :)

Our local IKEA actually has a free crèche too, so the kids don't get bored either.

I have contemplated large purchases while in IKEA’s caf. I’ve even gone back to measure or check on different configurations. If they didn’t have them, I would have left already to eat, and possibly decided against following through on the order.

And their food prices are deliberately underpriced so you'll generalize the perceived savings onto their furniture.

It's worked on me. I hate shopping and sometimes the only reason my wife gets me to IKEA is with the promise of a pre-shopping meal + beer at their restaurant.

this is also why I like going to Costco.

The other stores should have given out coolers...

And nobody gamed it by visiting the competitors first...?

First-time customers probably don't know about it, and even repeat customers may not remember. It's not really a "checkmate" move, just a little bit of strategy.

The percentage of people who actively try to game these situations is probably negligible.

A genius idea, did it work for him?

I’d say so! Our family just celebrated 50 years in business.


Wow that is absolutely genius, call that an analog growth hack.

Are you sure it was so they didn't go to the competitor? What was the point? They already left his store, surely not being able to go to the competitor the same day won't change anything? They probably appreciated the gesture though.

It's fairly common with furniture shopping to visit a bunch of stores on the same day. Even if his isn't the first store visited, if he prevents customers from visiting other stores, he probably boosts sales by at least some amount. More than the cost of the ice cream I would guess. Plus, good will!

Similar to why car dealerships put up bounce castles and do free bqq. Kids will ask parents to go, parents see free food. Even if they don't make a sale it leaves a good impression.

In Australia and New Zealand, hardware stores let schools and other groups do bbqs for fundraisers outside their stores.

It works exactly the same way. There have been several times that I have gone to Bunnings for a hangover snag, and ended up buying something.

Conversely there were a whole bunch of times I went to Bunnings a bit hungover but needing some home supplies, and found the sausage-sizzle a blessed addition :)

A visit to Bunnings isn't a visit to Bunnings without a snag in white bread (with onions).

Sadly, Bunnings effort to open up in the UK has fallen flat on its face and so I won't get to enjoy the Saturday morning Bunnings snag unless I go back to Australia.

> Sadly, Bunnings effort to open up in the UK has fallen flat on its face and so I won't get to enjoy the Saturday morning Bunnings snag unless I go back to Australia.

I was just about to say the same! I only lived in Aus for a few years and came back to the UK; the news that we were getting Bunnings made me happy but it's all gone South now. I was really looking forward to those charity snags!

It's amazing how free hotdogs and snacks will 'guilt' people into buying a $40,000 car

I guess that furniture isn't always bought on the first visit?

> Home Depot had ... associates who are knowledgeable about the products, says Langone. "These people learned their business and, to this day, the heart and soul of the Home Depot are these 400,000 people that work in the stores," Langone says.

That is not at all my experience. They frequently don't even know inventory or where to find products in the store, and even less often do they know much about the products. Generally they are unmotivated, even relative to retail sales employees.

EDIT: I want to be clear that I'm not at all criticizing the employees. It's obviously a systemic problem; they are poorly paid, and my impression is they are poorly trained and poorly treated, all for minimum age. I'm criticizing management for creating this system and for making the BS claim in the quote, and CNBC for letting it pass unchallenged.

I am a licensed electrician in a few states. When the whole 2008 economy collapse thing happened a lot of us tradies went to work for Home Depot. The pay was shit but it payed the rent and helped with food.

There are actually a fair amount of skilled people working there.. Even today. But if you ask where you can find a light switch they will point you in the right direction. They won't dig deeper unless you ask.

Here is what terrified me. I started around four years after youtube. Now everyone was a electrician because wanglover76 posted a video of how to install a ceiling fan and tie it into a dimmer.

It is pretty hard to convince a person shopping at home depot that their weekend project will probably kill their children.

Honest question: How to decide wether or not you can do something yourself?

Like, it's technically required to get an electrican to change a light bulb - but who does this? So what is ok? Where is the line between setting up a desk lamp and stealing electricity from your neighbour with a screwdriver?

Experience. Start with the simplest of things: replacing a standard (non-GFCI) receptacle. Buy a book that tells you how, or learn from someone who knows. (Both is best.)

Don't guess at anything. If the book doesn't say exactly what to do in the situation you're in, hire an electrician. (This sounds overly cautious but really – if you're doing something even slightly "novel" then there's either going to be code issues you aren't qualified to judge, or actual electrical issues you aren't familiar with and don't even know to think about, like grounding issues.) Thankfully, most situations a homeowner will encounter aren't left up to interpretation by code, and are therefore covered in a good book.

Move on to similar things (say, replacing a simple switch or GFCI receptacle) when you feel you have enough experience.

When I was young (< 14yo) I bought a book at Lowe's called "The Complete Guide to Home Wiring". Of course, this was abnormal but I had an extreme curiosity about electricity. (I still do which is why I'm an EE now)

Here (Norway) it's whenever it involves the work on the mains panel or on unterminated power wire. You can change ceiling fixture if it has a clip in power socket, you can of course change lightbulbs (doubt it's licensed anywhere in the world), you can even install electric flooring that clicks to connect. You can't do anything that requires tying or soldering power wire together, and you can't install hidden cabling/channels and fixtures yourself (fire safety reasons).

I find that hard to believe. In the US you can't market yourself as an electrician/handyman unless you are licensed.

But you can fix you or your neighbors outlets all you want.

The distinction is drawn at being a business vs yourself. But, we still have that individualist spirit, so I could be wrong about other places.

In some cities you would need a permit to replace an outlet. And only licensed electricians are allowed to get permits. In some cities bad wiring jobs don’t just burn you own house down, it’ll take the neighbors house with it. So it’s not just your butt on the line if you screw up.

People do that anyway, just that you'll have tough luck if it comes up in an insurance case. Or worse if you are in a condo and other people suffer.

Wiring and outlets are simple enough, but you wouldn't believe peoples' capacity to botch things up. They'd connect a ground pin socket in place of non grounded one without changing the wiring, or use incorrect section wire, or with incorrect insulation type for in-wall application, or they'd replace a charred outlet without trimming the sooted part of wire. Enough nuances to avoid amateur work.

So can you change an electric outlet? That means turning off the individual circuit (or mains if you are paranoid) then opening, disconnecting, connecting a new one.

What about installing a ceiling fan? Assuming the wiring is already there.

No you can't change an outlet yourself, legally. And ceiling fans are really uncommon in Norway.

But am sure plenty of people do small fixes anyway.

Does that include running Ethernet or HDMI and other low power cables?

You can put exterior signal cables yourself. The wall conducts for such cables still have to be put in place by electricians I believe, but not 100% sure.

Most likely you can freely do the installation yourself but it has to be connected or maybe just cross-checked and then signed off by a certified electrician to become a legal installation. That's what homeowners commonly do to save money.

Even for cat5/6 installs ?

That cat5 cable seems like a safe enough thing but it’ll wreck your day if it shorts something else carrying more juice.

You don't need wall conduits for low voltage cables. The 'boxes' for them are just meant to hold a cover in front.

Modern safety features shut it down if current goes into the earth, so the most dangerous is if you touch both wires and are well isolated from the earth. This makes you look like a light bulb to the safety features. The other danger is that it sets your house on fire a week after you've "fixed" something.

That said, as a kid I played with 230v electrolysis (stupid I know) because my 30v version was too slow. This is basically the worst case scenario: electrodes close to each other + water + combustible gas + potential for sparks + deadly voltage, but the safety system shut the power down immediately when something went wrong.

> Modern safety features shut it down if current goes into the earth

What? No, that's only true for GFCI circuits, which are not the norm in the US (typically only found in bathrooms and kitchens, though the NEC has been slowly expanding the requirements). Touching hot can kill you and the breaker box won't care.

Actual safety advice:

1. Buy a current sensor. They're like $5 from Home Depot (speaking of).

2. Turn off the breaker, and make sure it's the right one by using the current sensor.

3. If you're in a situation where you cannot turn off the breaker, wear rubber-soled shoes, and work with one hand and place the other behind your back. (This prevents current from traversing your chest cavity.)

4. Buy a receptacle tester (again, $5) and use it to test your work.

5. If any of the above is not obvious to you, hire an electrician.

And, like red, green refactor, make sure the current sensor correctly detects current before you turn off the breaker. Then make sure it detects no current after you turn off the breaker.

Oh, where I live they were made mandatory something like 50 years ago so I assumed they were standard in every developed country because they cost $30 a piece so why not? Much better life extension value for money than a medical checkup. I wouldn't want to live in a house where every appliance is a potential death trap. They might even pay for themselves purely in cash if they save you an appliance. Mine activated just last week when someone dropped water over the power extender contact and still proceeded to turn it on.

Ya the US is somewhat behind other countries electrical-safety wise. Another weird thing – all our receptacles are flush, not recessed, so the prongs are still exposed after they've made contact, when the plug is halfway in.

This is compounded by the problem that Home Depot still sells, e.g., non-tamper-resistant receptacles. They are no longer code compliant, but they're by far the cheapest and I've no doubt they end up in the homes of tons of DIYers.

I get a permit for my work, and the inspector comes to verify that I do it right. I sometimes make small mistakes, but the inspector gets me to correct them before something goes wrong.

I have also read several books; watched several videos; and watched other people do this work. Over time I've picked up a number of things, and the different sources helps ensure I can pick up on what is correct vs what looks like it works but is wrong.

Has there been an epidemic of dead children since YouTube came around?

I've had such terrible advice that I've quit going to Home Depot altogether; I spend the extra 3 minutes to drive to Lowe's. And it's from the exact opposite of what you describe.

I needed to run a bit of low-voltage wiring from the house to a sprinkler controller. I knew to use the dark grey PVC-like conduit (is it actually PVC? I have no idea). I had everything I needed except the glue. I've seen electricians run the same stuff and I knew the glue they use was clear, not blue like it is for water pipes, but I couldn't find that glue near the conduit.

I asked the guy in the electrical department with a thing on his apron with "ask me about electrical stuff" written on it. He spent the next 5 minutes trying to talk me out of using the correct glue, and instead he told me to go get some 2-part epoxy and use that. The kind of epoxy that expands, and would crack the rigid pipe, and has zero guarantee of standing up to water.

In the rare cases I do have to go to Home Depot I either ignore anything anyone there tells me, or I tell them I rent (because that way they won't try to sell me solar).

> dark grey PVC-like conduit (is it actually PVC? I have no idea)

It is.

> I've seen electricians run the same stuff and I knew the glue they use was clear

The solvent ("glue") is more typically grey than clear IME for PVC electrical conduit. For PVC electrical conduit, it's a one-step process (no primer needed).

For PVC water or DWV pipe, it's a two-step (primer and solvent-glue) process; it's the primer that is typically colored and the solvent typically clear. The color in the primer is to facilitate inspection afterwards and the pipes are typically hidden. Electrical conduit is often visible where installed, and there's less tolerance to have the staining from the primer step used in water piping.

That's somewhat incorrect. 90% of PVC pipe is buried in the ground because it can't be in an exposed area "subject to physical damage" which basically limits you to underground or in the ceiling (usually interpreted as over 8 feet above the finished grade). In addition, the NEC requires PVC to be supported every 3 feet whereas EMT only requires support every 10 feet. You'll also see a lot of bending PVC with heat boxes (which often leaves dark patches). As an added bonus, PVC sun rots. PVC pipe and boxes (esp schedule 40) become extremely fragile after a few years in the sun (you can break it by accidentally bumping it).

Running PVC looks unprofessional. It's generally true that if an electrical installation looks good, it is good. If you're running PVC everywhere above ground rather than EMT, you'll be in for a very difficult time when the inspectors arrive.

The glue is not for water-proofing (it's to keep the pipe from breaking apart -- esp during wire pulls). If it's underground, you'll be using THWN (waterproof), so the water doesn't matter. For that reason, no primer is needed. The reason for "electrical glue" is that it's much lower quality and much cheaper (you'll see contractors use whichever glue is cheapest regardless of color).

> [PVC rigid conduit] can't be in an exposed area "subject to physical damage" which basically limits you to underground or in the ceiling (usually interpreted as over 8 feet above the finished grade).

NEC citation for that, please? I see it used outside all the time, including in utility service entrance usage (which I cite because I suspect is overwhelmingly likely to be inspected) and many landscaping applications where it doesn't corrode like EMT. I believe it is suitable for use in such locations where the conduit is identified for that use.

Completely agree that buried PVC is a wet location; that's clear from code and I never argued otherwise nor argued that PVC solvent was for water-tightness in electrical application.

I looked it up (I read the code a lot when working in that field, but that was well over a decade ago now). Physical damage is in 352.10 (F) and 352.20 (C). Support distance is in 352.30.

To be more complete, Schedule 80 is permitted in areas subject to physical damage, but not schedule 40 (much more common). Likewise the AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) has ultimate say. In the area I worked (and in most jurisdictions from what I was told), you had better have a very good reason for exposed PVC outside of service entrances or similar.

EDIT: for sake of thoroughness, At a service entrance, you have overhead and underground. Overhead will be using RMC (rigid metallic conduit) to the meter. You can usually get permission to use PVC from the meter to the outside shutoff (required for non back-to-back panel installations) and can usually run a couple feet of PVC from there to turn under the house. I saw someone run an outside exposed PVC from the panel to the HVAC and it got called immediately (bury, put in the wall, or switch to EMT). With trailer installs, I've seen them permit a jump from the pole to the trailer above ground if a box was built around the PVC at the crossing.

It's worth remembering that the NEC is both a minimum requirement and a suggestion at the same time. The AHJ is given a lot of leeway because the minimum requirement doesn't fit every situation. Likewise, loads of districts use outdated versions of the code (that may not sound big, but things like AFCI (arc fault breakers) in bedrooms still isn't required in a lot of districts because they are on the 199x or early 200x code).

Section 352.12(C) prohibits PVC for installations where “subject to physical damage” unless identified for such use.

However, the meaning of "subject to physical damage" is supposedly a little loose, and most documents/training I've seen calls a typical vertical outdoor electrical service entry allowed.

You can get clear primer for water PVC. If the inspector trusts you he will let you use it. However if the inspector has any doubts about your abilities he will demand you use the purple stuff (including rip out all your work that is probably perfectly good just so e can see you used the primer). The purple is just a dye, it serves no purpose other than to inform the inspector that you used it.

The reason you don't need primer on electrical is the connection is only required to be mechanically strong - water leaks are just fine. If there is any possibility of water getting into pipe you are required to use wires that have a waterproof insulation.

Im from Atlanta..head quarter of Home Depot and have a few colleagues who were long time Home Depot employees. From what I was told, after the founder retired one of the new CEO (I think they've had a few and I forget who made the decision) decided that they didn't need to pay for knowledgeable employees and instead hired regular stock person, employees, rather than those who have experience in construction world. This is why your experience there sucks now.

Go to ACE if you want someone that knows something.

Edit:It was former CEO Nardelli.

From Wikipedia "Nardelli was notably criticized for cutting back on knowledgeable full-time employees with experience in the trades and replacing them with part-time help with little relevant experience"

Honestly I'd be fine with that if they admitted it. I have way more respect for someone who says "I don't know" than someone who doesn't know but tries to pretend they do.

I've had good experience at ACE, but they are typically smaller so I get less selection if they even have what I want, and in my area they tend to be more expensive. I trend towards Lowe's because the staff will give me the "I don't know" answer.

The solar! Obviously Home Depot gets a cut of this. It's amazing to me that they think it's a good idea to have people prowling their stores to harass their customers. Every time I have to tell these people to leave me alone.

> It's amazing to me that they think it's a good idea to have people prowling their stores to harass their customers. Every time I have to tell these people to leave me alone.

I think the trick is to convince yourself you want to see one of them - I find with the regular staff the minute I break down and go "ok, I'll ask where to find it" is the minute the orange aprons all disappear, like a gang of fluorescent batmen.

Never go to one late on a weeknight. The places are ghost towns.

Unless of course you want to not be bothered. Then it's a great time to go.

I have the same experience. I've had these annoying people chase me around the store until I've had enough and have to rudely tell them to stop harrassing me. I've complained to store management several times, but I guess Home Depot doesn't care about customers all that much.

I tell them, "Sorry, but I rent." Gets them off my back immediately.

I've noticed that most Home Depot employees use a specific question they ask to overcome the fact they don't know anything about their inventory or home improvement.

If you're looking for a specific product, they'll ask this:

"What are you using it for?"

To someone who rarely goes to Home Depot, this may come off as if the employee actually knows something about home improvement and wants to help you by understanding your nuanced situation.

What it really means is that they are clueless, so if you reply with "I'm looking for Jasco paint thinner", they'll either point you to the paint aisle(even though you've probably already been there) or they'll drag you there and fumble around until you find the product before they do. If you're really unlucky, they'll bring you to the wrong aisle or flag down another clueless employee.

Going to Home Depot is an aggravating experience. Every time they ask me what I'm looking for, I get this deer in the headlights expression for even the most basic of things. Unless you're buying lumber, the employees don't seem to understand concepts like "I'm looking for some little pieces of felt or rubber to prevent my cabinets from being loud when they slam."

These are minimum wage employees that would only really know the major categories at best. What are you expecting? If you already know what you're looking then why bother with them at all?

>What are you expecting? If you already know what you're looking then why bother with them at all?

What I'd expect is what Mr. Langone, 82-year old co-founder of Home Depot and subject of the CNBC story linked here, claims about Home Depot's associates, as related in ancestor post:

> Home Depot had ... associates who are knowledgeable about the products, says Langone. "These people learned their business and, to this day, the heart and soul of the Home Depot are these 400,000 people that work in the stores," Langone says.

Sure, I know exactly what I'm looking for. But I don't know where to find it. I'd expect the heart and soul of Home Depot to know this.

If they can't help customers find products their store sells, why hire them at all?

A salient HN post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17260911

Who says they cant help customers at all? Clearly there are levels of knowledge and I'm sure they can aid most people who don't have the in-depth knowledge of the commentators in this thread.

The complaint isn't about in-depth knowledge of "little pieces of felt or rubber to prevent my cabinets from being loud when they slam" or advice paint stripper suitable for particular wood types but simply being able to point the customer to paint stripper or pieces of rubber. And that, in many large DIY shops, is what the employees seem fail really well at.

If I wanted in depth knowledge of how to do a particular job, I wouldn't be asking in a large DIY shop, I'd be asking someone who knows, such as someone at a small DIY shop who has earned their stripes or a professional tradie.

And if I had in depth knowledge of how to do a particular job, I wouldn't be working at a large DIY shop pointing customers (or not, as the case often is) to where they can find M4 wood screws.

> Who says they cant help customers at all?

Nobody. You're mischaracterizing my point of view.

As others have pointed out, I'm not expecting that minimum wage Home Depot employees have in-depth knowledge; rather, I'd expect them to have enough knowledge of their own inventory to be able to point my in the right direction for specific(and often common) products in their massive store. Sure, I could always just go to a certain department, and I usually do, but there are often products that are on a shelf in a different department than one might think.

Yes, I have the expectation that the employees reduce the friction in customers spending money. At Home Depot, this rarely happens in my experience. Yet Orchard Supply Hardware, ACE, and even Lowes are a very different story.

By the way, I'm not blaming the employees. I'm blaming the company.

My issue is that is that expecting them to be a human inventory catalog is a bit much considering the scope of the store and how much is exactly in there.

And yes, you do need to have some in-depth knowledge to even know what something is before you know where to find it. I guess the question is what do you expect them to lookup information by? Product names? That's pretty hard. Product type? Well anything beyond a simple category like "bathroom" is going to require knowledge, and it quickly crosses over the line of capabilities they're paid for.

You're essentially proving my point; why even have these people when they're, by your admission, walking talking aisle signs?

There's certainly validity to your argument, and my point is that employees do need surface-level knowledge about general product categories in their store, which we both agree upon. In my previous posts, part of my gripe with Home Depot is their employees often fail to be helpful in finding basic items that aren't of specific brands. For instance, those stick-on felt nubs used on cabinets can be in any upwards of 3 aisles dedicated to cabinets, drawers, shelves, etc. It would save me time for an employee to remember where the shelf space is for those type of products.

I'd be happy if they could do this even 50% of the time. I'm not expecting perfection. At any given Home Depot I've been to, I've only gotten actual help about 5% of the time. Contrast that with almost any other hardware store, including ones of equivalent size, and it's a different story. Even the employees of Lowes are of better assistance. Orchard Supply Hardware is even better, although their stores are smaller. This doesn't even stop at grocery stores; employees at Target, Walmart, and various grocery stores are more helpful in my experience and know about their inventory to a greater extent than those at Home Depot.

I don't know exactly how other stores like Lowes manages to improve this customer-employee interaction, but if I were running Home Depot in optimal conditions, I would create incentives for employees to familiarize themselves with products and various product categories. If they could make it to optional trainings, watch short videos, be of help to pretend customers, pass quizzes, all of which are voluntary and are not included on an employee's performance record, they could see raises and other benefits. But I've never been an employer, so I don't know how well that would work in practice. I also have no idea if Home Depot doesn't already do these things to any meaningful degree.

It may seem like I'm ranting and raving about Home Depot, but that's only because I don't think my expectation that employees should be paid to do something kinda hard isn't an unreasonable one. Unless they're stocking shelves or helping me cut wood, I can't see their presence to be of value. Better signage and promotion of their mobile app(which I only learned of today) could easily replace these employees, and probably will once the next economic downturn hits.

> If you already know what you're looking then why bother with them at all?

Well in their examples it's about actually finding the item in the store, rather than working out what to buy.

Use your phone to search for the item on the Home Depot website. On the product detail page, there is a section that lists the Aisle and Bay where the product is located in the particular store you're visiting. Huge timesaver IME.

That doesn't help if you can't find the product on the web site or don't know what to use, but if you just want to know where 1/2" copper elbows are, the site will get you within 6 feet of them.

Huge thumbs up to this.

I basically shop at Home Depot from home and then go to the store and pick the items from the bins. The mobile app works well if you're already in the store.

The only reason I don't just buy stuff from Amazon is because I happen to live close to a Home Depot, and a) I want the items now, b) I want to see the items before I buy them, especially because c) there is a high probability I'll want to return at least one thing I buy, and that's way easier at a brick-and-mortar.

That and their stores are massive. In theory, it'd save me time to ask someone who's spent months working hours on end in the store. In practice, however...


Easiest way to find anything in Home Depot is to use their web site. Their site shows the isle and bay containing the item at your local store (for everything that is in stock). Amazingly it seems to be accurate too!

Usually helpful but my homedepot for whatever reason has the bays out of order so you still end up having to hunt them down. Probably a space thing and it was easier for them to move bay tags than shift products around.

For Lowe's and home Depot, just find the product on their website and it tells you exactly which aisle and bay it's in.

>>"What are you using it for?"

Its called a XY problem : https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-x...

Funny, I get the same impression about the Home Depot equivalents in my own country (Praktiker and Dedeman). Over half the staff walking around is nearly retirement-age women who know bugger-all about most of the products on sale. Ask them where something is, and they have no idea, they will either claim not to have it (when they do), or they will go look for one of the few technically competent workers and ask them.

You start to wonder if these stores' hiring choices are just some kind of gigantic makework project for needy widows, like Walmart greeters in the US. Or: someone knowledgeable about retail might be able to say whether these people walking around, even if they cannot really help customers, somehow pay for themselves because they discourage shoplifting.

I don't know, this has been my experience with employees of all ages at many different large retailers in the US. You'll get the old "we don't have that" at many places. It's not the employees' fault. Employers don't want to pay for their staff to study up on the store layout, or to pay enough to retain people for a long enough tenure that they'd learn it themselves. And the inventory is huge and constantly changing. Meanwhile these people have constant work to do in the shop moving and re-organizing things. Helping customers find things is just one part of it.

It's not the employer's fault either. Customers will choose the store that sells for $1 less, so how can an employer invest in smart, knowledgeable employees when they would lose business to one that uses minimum wage labor?

I went into a Walgreens in San Francisco and asked for an Allen wrench, and nobody on the staff knew what that was. They didn't speak fluent English.

But hey, Walgreens is exactly the type of store your comment applies to. I went into the Macy's flagship store on Union Square to ask for long underwear, and the salesman... didn't know what that was. He didn't speak fluent English either. He did eventually guess "do you mean... thermal?"

At that point I'm pretty comfortable saying it's the employer's fault. A tourist-attracting flagship is not in a cutthroat pricing competition with everyone nearby.

I don't see how that claim can be made unless you know the ins and outs of Macy's cost and revenue structures. Also, from various articles, flagship stores famously lose money due to exorbitant rent and are actually marketing expenses.

Considering the fact that retail store equity prices aren't high growth and they shut more stores than they open, I would bet that they are under considerable pressure to contain costs as people will just shop online or another department store.

The only retail that can afford to pay their employees a professional wage is probably the super high end like Zegna or Hugo and the like.

Found an article talking about Macy's financials: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/11/business/dealbook/retail-...

There's no way commodity retail that caters to middle and lower class can be profitable with highly paid employees, you just won't move enough product. The fact that there isn't a chain that exists with that model is proof.

> flagship stores famously lose money due to exorbitant rent and are actually marketing expenses

That makes Macy's look much worse; show me the store commercial where a customer walks into the store only to be stymied by the staff's inability to understand the local language.

Not sure what the age and gender of the workers has to do with it?!

Older women working at the cash registers typically don't have the strength to move items around in a trolley full of lumber and giant boxes full of nails or other heavy items which those stores are full of.

One of the local HD's has primarily older women working the registers. Trying to find an SKU so a worker can scan it is a frustrating experience when they are unable to assist.

This is a failure of management. If the women at my local supermarket can get a dedicated bagger, then these stores can have capable employees assisting the cashiers with their duties.

My country is what it is, a place where that demographic of old and female does not have much technical knowledge because society has traditionally discouraged it. So when you see a store with aisles full of tools and building materials overwhelmingly hiring that demographic -- and workers who are indeed unable to help customers much -- it does seem strange and one wonders at the reasons that the company's management has in mind. Are wages so low that only this demographic would accept them? Is it merely an anti-shrink measure? Are profit margins higher on the products (e.g. gardening) that they do know much about?

He explicitly stated it: his observation that people of that particular age and gender make up a large portion of the employees at his local hardware store, and those same workers know "bugger-all" about most of the products on sale.

Also, where do you live where there is a large population of retirement-age women who know lots about home improvement?

Would it have bothered you if he had said "teen-aged males" instead?

Perhaps it's irrelevant to the parent comment, but there is something interesting here about age. In America, lots of retired tradesmen and contractors end up working for Home Depot, and they're the best employee's you'll find there.

I've had several positive experiences in electrical and plumbing, where I was looking for a specific part and they were able to find it in a fraction of the time it would take me.

I've also gone in with "I need a fitting to go from (size and type of thread) to (other material pipe)" and had someone enthusiastically figure out a couple ways to do it, trying to find the cheapest/simplest way based on parts.

I know one of the people I had this experience with was a retired electrician, but I would bet that finding and keeping people with that type of experience is difficult.

Funny, that is exactly my experience at Home Depot. I'd say 8 or 9 times out of 10, if I asked someone where something was, they knew or were able to quickly cross-check from their hand-held. And yet in other cases, employees could recommend something about a particular product or explain how it would be used for my specific situation. Or if they didn't know, they knew exactly who did and went and got them.

So perhaps it's possible to chalk it up to some stores being better and worse at it.

One nice thing is now the Home Depot mobile app will let you search for items in the store's inventory and will show you visually where exactly in the store the item is. Saves you from having to flag down an employee as sometimes they may be busy helping someone else.

I know some people who have worked there. They report having their schedule continuously janked around and being moved departments often. Hardly conducive to becoming knowledgeable about any one department. Apparently some of the older (seniority, not age) full-timers are allowed to stay in their departments permanently.

I'm guessing which of the two you get will have a big effect on your experience as a customer.

I worked at Lowe's one summer 18 years ago when I was on summer break during college. From what I can tell, little has changed, so I have some insight here. The schedule for workers constantly changes; very often, people that worked there would call in sick or just not come in. The managers move you to where they need you. I was hired strictly as a cashier, but I would often be moved from Tool World to the outdoor section to the main cash registers - all during one shift. Each of these areas has a very different customer type. Being a young college kid who never owned my own place, I didn't know much about any particular area. I tried to be as helpful as possible though. Some customers understood this; others were just plain rude.

Funny story: Management often put me on the cash register guarding the entrance/exit to Tool World because I was very thorough in checking customers as they exited; there was a big problem back then with customers stealing small high-value tools by putting them inside other, less-expensive products. So, it was my job to prevent that. Anyways, I didn't know much about tools, but there was a girl about my age who was very knowledgeable in that area. She was the Tool World expert who roamed around the section. One day, a contractor came up to me at the cash register and asked me some very specific tool-related questions. I had no idea; I said, "I'll call the expert in to help." He said okay and waited. When he saw this young girl with glasses walk up, he looked at me and said, "you've got to be kidding me?"...then he walked away and left! Funny thing is that she probably could have helped him!

I have observed competency & morale of associates are tightly correlated w/ the individual store's management. Some stores' associates avoid eye contact, shy away from customers & do not interact well w/ other associates. While at other locations associates actively engage customers & co-workers, and even have fun doing their jobs. The early signs of management competency is if cart corrals are full/empty, how/if you are received on entering building and if inventory is littered in aisles on pallets/carts or if it is properly shelved. The bummer for management is, if they put together a working team & environment their reward often is to be transferred to a miserable store to "turn it around". Having worked on 500+/stores over the last decade, the stark differences are apparent as soon as I pull into the parking lot before they open for business.

This month I had the same thing happen at 4 different stores (Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, and Ace Hardware): I ask where can I find product-X and the store attendant pulls out his/her smartphone to look it up on the internet, either to find out what department that is or what it is (when it's something they ought to know). I have a smartphone too, I could have looked it up. I'm not asking to see the web page for it, I want to know where it is physically. They hire people who do not even have basic knowledge of their own department, and apparently do not train them either. But this thing of acting as though them looking up the same thing I already researched on the web before I came in the store is something that I need help with is new.

The website tells you where it's physically located, it's like "aisle 12 bay 16."

As a former Home Depot employee they actually have pretty good training material. A lot of staff probably don’t pay attention or utilize it. We were required to do a certain amount, but just like school it’s easy to barely pay attention, pass the test, and then forget it all. But the training material was actually pretty good if you wanted to learn from it.

Home Depot is hit or miss. Either you get someone who's really passionate that knows their entire part of the store inside or out, or you get someone who moans and has to call someone else for assistance. It's rather satisfying to go in there, ask about something like a lawnmower and end up spending 20 minutes discussing lawnmower things with a knowledgeable employee.

It depends on the store. In my experience it's kind of a reflection of the local community.

It's primarily a reflection on the store manager's desire and ability to run a store well. There are two Lowe's in my area. Same demographics. One has lethargic employees and is poorly stocked and in disarray. The other one is neat as a pin.

I try and stick to the small local shops even if they cost more.

i agree with this, sometimes you find the one guy that knows a lot about one aisle ( out of 50-100 ), but that is maybe 1 in 5 trips.

i had a boss battle with a home depot employee once. i was looking to have a small piece of wood cut, really nothing fancy, and it’s a service they offer or at least i thought they offered. i found the wood i needed and was over in the lumber section looking at the front counters. no one to be found, i browsed the lumber some more to see if i had missed a size that would be more preferable. i came back to the front counters and realized that this section must be closed (maybe i finally saw a sign or something). anyway, i look back at the very back of the store and notice an employee watching me. he was standing with his legs positioned wide and his hands in his overalls (kind of like a chicken wing) facing me square on. it was kind of a weird feeling the way he was just watching me. he never budged to come help. so i kind of started walking to the other aisle but then thought, no, i am going back there and asking. so i snake my way back to the very back. of course, home depot is massive. as i do that i have noticed the guy has disappeared, maybe behind one of the aisle ends. it was clear afterward he intentionally moved there to hide, and i snaked the two aisles to see if i would catch him moving more inwards into the store. when i finally got back there, he was just standing there at the aisle end, even looking my direction as i turned the corner. it startled me a little, as i didn’t expect him to be just...there. i said i was looking for someone to cut the lumber i had picked out. he said he knew and that he had saw me. so i said, well, can you cut it? he said no, the aisle adjacent to his had a forklift moving stuff, and that we couldn’t use his aisle which had the equipment to cut due to some safety protocol. i recall the forklift not being in use and not being anywhere close to the equipment. there was some other curt responses by him when asked could he not just make this extremely simole cut, so i finally just said forget it and walked off. he muttered some stuff as i walked away.

that’s not exciting really, but this moment sticks out in my mind so much. he just was doing everything he could to avoid customers, and in a pretty weird, awkward way. i eventually found a self-serve hand-cutting station in the store and cut the wood myself with a hacksaw.

Next time contact management and let them know. That would probably be more productive then bottling it up and posting it on a random forum months/years later.

hacker news is so serious. downvoted for just telling a story in fun.

it isn’t “bottled up”. i think it’s funny.

so yea, i’ll go complain to management next time. thanks.

You're being downvoted because Hacker News really isn't the place to tell rambling, vaguely related anecdotes just for fun. Try Reddit for that. Otherwise, welcome!

it isn't vaguely related. it may be poorly written, but it was meant to be an example of the surrealness of bad customer service in stores like home depot.

anecdotes are certainly part of this site. just look this thread. they are plastered over every thread in general.

and why are you welcoming me? i have been here.

the hubris one encounters here is suffocating.

Most people here are discussing employee knowledge, not actions. What you described is just showcasing a bad employee, not necessarily one that doesn't know their stuff. To a small extent, the not capitalizing anything hit some peoples peeves I'm sure.

I like the part where he paid people $1 to enter his stores. I just paid to publish my first small book at a local print shop, and gave all the books away at the Maker Faire. It gave me hope that in the future people might know me well enough to want to buy them. Very much a fluff article, but it was a cute story and I appreciate it.

Next time don't give it. Lend it. Get their email address to send them a return label or reminder or something. Or better have, them ship it to the next person and create a cult or sharing for your work within your community.

Why? That seems terribly complicated for very limited benefit. (And it takes a lot more than that to start a cult)

Printing out a bunch of return labels and a sheet that says "please return me! Here's my story" is complicated?

yes. it is. I don't mail anything anymore. I'm not going to bother with this.

PayPal originally paid a $5 bounty for new account referrals.

Circle are currently doing this (well, £5 in the UK)

the trick was used for music in the 50-60s, I don't really remember what was paid for, radio time or fake buyers, probably fake buyers but it created a positive feedback loop that made radio play more of the 'hot disc' which made more people like it and buy some more

"payola". radio/air time was paid for.

I guess the equivalent today is called “performance marketing”. However, I like the idea to give the money directly to the consumer.

Coinbase used to give $10 in bitcoin for new signups a few years ago.

Even though this was just a fluff PR piece, there is a hint of the kind of entrepreneurial creativity story that first drew me to HN.

I for one appreciate when an article's title is good enough that I don't need to read the article.

For you and anyone else that didn't read the full article, there was another single line that was interesting:

> To get customers to come into the first Home Depot store, Marcus gave away cash.

Golly gee, seems't the ancient hardware startups aren't so different from today's computer startups!

> ancient hardware startups aren't so different from today's computer startups

It reminds me of the grossly fabricated download numbers some open-source software products boast of to give the impression of a large user base. Not sure if it really works when they add four zeroes.

I used to live about 7 minutes from a Home Depot. Now my closest hardware store is a small chain.

Home Depot's hours were much better. I could run out after dinner.

Last night I accidentally showed up at the local hardware store right after they closed, and there was a steady stream of people checking the door. If there was a Home Depot close by, they'd go out of business immediately just because of their hours.

The local place near me closes at 5:00, which is quite unusual for the United States. It makes it impossible to get there on a weekday.

This is the kind of "breaking rules" which startups should (and often must) do; not the kind of stuff Theranos did.

Why should deceiving be some kind of desirable conduct ? Either for start-ups or the larger firms they become, trying to squash competition of startups, do away with regulations etc. Of course many will do it and the more you get away with the more edge you have - unless the customers vote with their wallets for a fairer society.

You're not deceiving the customer. The problem is the customer depends on other inputs to make a decision. 99% of the time the decision has no rationale except social proof.

For example: If you went to buy 2 products next to each other at a store. They both do the same thing and same price, which do you take? The one that your neighbor bought or a random one?

For me whenever this happens, I most likely don't buy either unless I have a very specific need to get it.

> Why should deceiving be some kind of desirable conduct ?

I don't find it deceitful. Is it deceitful if a restaurant has several separate rooms instead of one big room? If they have one big room and most of the room is empty it sends a negative message to a diner. If they have several rooms but don't open up additional rooms unless needed then there is no negative in the patron's mind.

In the case of Home Depot they had the merchandise if someone wanted to buy it. Having empty boxes is a marketing ploy. Is it deceitful if a store gets slotting fees from vendors for better shelf placement? Where does this thinking end? Malls cover up empty stores in creative ways. They don't have a window where you can see the store is empty. They create a front or some other creative way to handle the vacancy. (There are many examples of this behavior which is considered acceptable and clever in business.)

Numerous software companies (I'm not referring to typical SaaS startups here) advertise niche products or services that don't exist yet but can be created from the current product portfolio.

Fake it till you make it :)

Theranos knew about this trick, but they took it too far!

Inspired by this thread, I just posted Ask HN: What’s the least ethical thing you’ve done for your startup?

Look forward to hearing people’s experiences.


Surprised to see this getting downvotes. I purposely created a new discussion to avoid taking this thread further off-topic. And that post quickly became very popular and even made the front page. Is it just not kosher to link to relevant discussions that you posted? If so, sorry! I figured it would be ok since the linked post is not in any way self-promotional.

It is popular with Chinese manufacturers doing "factory tours."

To make an impression of a "serious business," they stuff warehouses with empty boxes. I once was a part of such factory tour where an impressed buyer from a American big box retailer said "wow, there must be at least $10m of stuff there" to giggles of people who were more knowledgeable in the trade.

Interesting stuff. Similar to founders of Reddit filling up their site with links to get some traffic going.

I guess every business has some sort of a story like this when it first started.

Fake it until you make it.

True in all aspects of life; even business.

as an engine mechanic for a midsize automotive repair chain, I catch my management pulling stunts like this all the time. A few that come to mind:

- The Michelin inflatable that actually cost us business because it was too big for our mid-town location and consumed all available parking.

- advertising that we inflate tires with Nitrogen for performance with every new set of tires installed. Management runs us out of shield gas for welding and has to cancel a major mechanical job for a fleet customer. Management furious to learn shield gas is much more expensive than air.

- on site oil recycling which was basically how we tried to spin managements asinine decision to not pay the state oil recycling fee. Fined by the state EPA, fined by the federal EPA, forced to pay six figures to a haz-mat disposal company.

- Free battery testing and AC testing cant fully be expensed in the system because its too old, and results in an accounting imbalance that gets our owners audited by both fed and state.

When I started my first business (out of college) I got my first big contract (that made the business and allowed me to hire real employees) by getting people (who I knew) to act like they were working in the business when the potential customer wanted to come by to 'inspect the operation'. It worked, we got the contract (over a much much larger established vendor) and kept it for many many years.

It kinda makes me recall Sun Tzu's, and might not be the exact phrasing, "when weak, appear strong; when strong, appear weak".

Similar ideas:



Fake it till you make it is still a thing. It works. But don't deceive users by cheating them or lying.

Sadly it has come to the point of fake it even if people are exploited, hurt or even die. [1][2][3]

[1] https://arstechnica.com/cars/2018/06/ntsb-autopilot-steered-...

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2018/03/14/sec-el...

[3] http://www.uberscandals.org/all/

> "has come to the point"

It always was. Just look at the miracle medicine of the past.

Just the other day I was reading about retailers that would do this with perishable goods, just to give the impression of choice and there being plenty to choose from. Home Depot doing this doesn't surprise me at all.

The comment linked here and one a few down: http://www.thedepartmentstoremuseum.org/2010/05/foley-brothe...

The Price Club, now part of CostCo, had employees park their car in the lot to make the warehouse look popular and busy. Fake it till you make it in 1976.

> "So we put all over the store — all these shelves 20-foot high — we had these boxes and everybody thought, 'Oh my God! Look at all this merchandise!' But there was air in the boxes. There was no products”

This would not have struck me as unethical a few years ago, but with all the brouhaha around tech companies and faking it until you making it (Theranos), seems more concerning now.

I've heard of this being done in other, smaller, hardware stores.

For instance, Harvey's Hardware in Needham, MA started off packing its shelves with empty boxes to make the store look like it had more inventory: https://www.inc.com/magazine/19970701/1277.html

This reminds me of inflatable dummy tanks used in wars to deceive the enemy.


I did this, too, with my own drug store. I used to stock shelves with empty cartons for different brand-name drugs because I didn’t have money to buy enough of these and the store was not doing well.

This is just another form of 'fake it till you make it', similar to Reddit's founders submitting stories until the site got off the ground, &c.

Today it wouldn't matter; as you can't seem to find an associate to help you with all the empty boxes up above.

It's great because this is the type of quick-thinking hustle that is so useful when building a startup.

It was a standard practice to have empty boxes shops in the communist block. The reason was the same, but it was a structural and permanent one.

"Fake it until you make it"

One word: LEAN


Why on earth was this downvoted? Reddit started by creating fake users and fake content - much like stocking shelves with empty boxes.

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