Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So long, Sam's.


I turned in my Sam's Club card on Monday.

There could be many reasons to do that, of course, but the straw that broke this camel's back was pure business- I have lost faith in the management of Sam's Club.  They are doing business according to known failed practices.  Which, incidentally, are stupid on the face, and even stupider in today's business climate.

Is all the business world contracting at the moment?  Yes.  Then why, pray tell, would you want to actively insult and drive away customers who have a long record of always paying bills on time?  Hm?  

The answer to the obvious "What ARE they thinking??"  is: they're not thinking at all.

Here's the whole story.  I signed up as a Sam's Club member years ago, as soon as one opened where I could sensibly reach it.  It's a "Business Membership"- because, duh, I have a business, and we intended to actually use some of the price breaks that are possible there.

The whole fantasy that Sam's sells "wholesale" is a big fib, of course; they do sell some stuff aimed at small businesses, but mostly they make money by selling great big packages of stuff; at a slightly lower price per pound or whatever; but you have to buy four times as much- so they still come out ahead.  If you can buy carefully from them, and have storage space- you can save some pennies.  But you also have to keep your brain turned on- some things, like engine oil, are always much cheaper somewhere else.  Very hard to beat their prices on tires or car batteries, though- and we use golf-cart batteries for the power here.  Saved money there.

By and large, we managed to save a few pennies shopping there, and it was probably actually useful.  Though always a little marginal.  Lots of things could have been had cheaper through actual wholesalers, but it would have required more time and effort on our part; some of the benefit was just convenience.

After a couple of years, they expanded their enterprise, and got into providing business credit.  It was easy, though not cheap, and- convenient.  So we signed up for a $5k credit line, as soon as it was offered.  And have used it, over the years-probably ran it up to 4k once or twice; but always paid it back down in a month or two.

Our business here is plant based- which  means cash flow highly seasonal- some times there isn't any.  Which makes credit very useful.  And of course totally standard for any business; if you go to a bank or business advisor, and tell them you aren't using credit lines to even out cash availability, they will scream at you.  Not just shake a finger, naughty naughty- they'll say you're an incompetent manager.

It seemed to make sense (at the time...).  Never any problems with it; they were providing a service.  Credit.  We bought it, and paid for it.  On time, always.
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Monday, we were in town celebrating a birthday, with a little lunch at the Chinese buffet, and stopped at Sam's to do a little stocking up.  Combine trips, of course.

As a matter of convenience, I said "leave it on the card", as we were checking out- and my Sam's Club business credit card was declined.  By Sam's.

Um.  What?

I knew, having paid the bill the week before, that the account was more than paid up, nowhere near the limit, and totally in good standing.

We also know that credit card companies are pulling in their credit lines- to cover their own sorry butts; even for customers who have nary a black mark against them.  We've bellyached about that here before.  Everyone in the community says this is a really, really bad idea; particularly right now.  Besides being dishonest.  But the credit companies are doing it anyway; bailouts or not.

I was - ok, incensed.  I'd expected this nonsense from Citi, and Chase.  But not from Sam's, whose business credit is handled internally.  They're really free to act as they choose.  And they're choosing stupid.

I gave them a chance to straighten it out.  Went to the "Membership Services" desk, and explained it (somewhat loudly, so everyone within 50 feet heard just fine).  They were well trained, and sympathetic.  The girl called up "the number", and actually tried to convince the poor woman answering the credit number to change it.  She, of course "doesn't have the authorization".  Eventually I talked to the credit person myself.  Laid it all out.

"Are you looking at my record there?"  
"Yes I am."  

"Ever late?"  

"No."  

"Over limit?"

"No."

"I know this isn't YOUR doing- but part of your job is to pass on the customers' responses to your bosses; so I want you to really pass this on."

sigh "They really don't listen to us very much..."

"Tell them they need to remember.  This is a BUSINESS.  You are doing BUSINESS - with me.  And incidentally - I have been CHOOSING to DO BUSINESS - with you.  You can change the terms of our agreements without reason or notice?  Guess what.  So can I.  Business by definition has two participants- and the entire credit industry has forgotten that."

And I hung up; and handed my member's card to the Membership girl.  "Keep it.  I'm done here.  Cancel my membership."

I got nothing but understanding grim smiles from the other customers; and actual applause, from one.

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In reality, I'm not giving up much- if anything.  Sam's is far from green, and as part of the Walmart empire, has some pretty questionable economic behavior, anyway.  I'm giving up some convenience, and cheap tortillas.  We have no similar stores here, no Costco, etc.  But now my dollars are going a little more locally, which is good.  And I have credit elsewhere.

So I'm not feeling all that noble.  But it did feel good.  And loud.

And I no longer have to feel slightly sleazy shopping there.

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Oh, and.  Abbie's comment made me think of this little addition.

Abbie- yeah, the banks claim lots of "rights". Got a new one in my current American Express statement.  In extremely fine print:

"Your credit card agreement is hereby amended to include this sentence, in the section on "In the event of disagreements regarding payments" paragraph 3, after the last sentence: "You authorize us, or our agent, to access your bank account and withdraw the contested amount."

Oh, I do?

Hey, American Express; back atcha; our agreement is hereby amended to include; "YOU authorize me, the cardholder, to make any payment I want, whenever I want, and under no circumstances will any additional fees be charged for anything.  In the event of disagreement, I, or my agents, may access your bank account, and withdraw double the disputed amount."

I think that has exactly the same force of law, don't you?

sheesh.

19 comments:

MeadowLark said...

apropos of nothing, have you ever seen the movie Humboldt County? I giggled a little bit when you said a "plant based business". Great movie by the way.

And I hope you left whatever you were shopping for right there in the middle of the aisle. This is such a sign of things to come.

Peace to you.

Abbie said...

Good for you. I hate big businesses that try to push us around. I've done my fair share of "Speaking loudly so everyone can hear" when I know that what they're doing is wrong.

My dad once had his debit card denied a few days after he had deposited a big check (25% of the total cost of the house he was building), so he knew the bank was in the wrong. When he spoke to the manager of the bank, they said they had the right to hold the check for a certain number of days to verify that it was good, all the while they're earning the interest on the money. From the bank, my dad called the Dr. he was building a house for, who was mortified that his check was questioned, called and blasted the people at his bank and threatened to take his millions elsewhere, and within 5 minutes the money was in my dad's account.

The unfortunate thing is that the banks don't listen to regular people like us, just millionaires.

Greenpa said...

MeadowLark- :-) nope, haven't seen it; got a few concepts there I'd rather Smidgen not be introduced to just yet.

Kaci said...

Well, that does sound like a total pain the in rear, but you're absolutely right... it's a business relationship between two parties. I don't know why that hasn't ever really occurred to me before.

(I know it sucks), but congratulations on getting out of Wal-mart's grasp. I applaud you!

MeadowLark said...

I actually don't have any involvement with the movie's theme, but it was about family and living lightly upon this earth and the laws that sometimes exist to keep people under control, rather than actually accomplish anything.

Worth seeing when you can. :)

Leila said...

Cheap tortillas? Haven't you been reading Sharon Astyk? You're supposed buy a hand cranked grain grinder, or better yet a stone mortar and pestle, grind your own corn flour, and make your own tortillas!

Failing that, buying masa harina aint' so hard.

I know, I don't make my tortillas either. But if we really really got tight for cash I would try it.

Anna M said...

good for you! I wish more people would stop just accepting the crap that banks/credit companies are handing down. Maybe we could go back to local banking where you did everything with someone who actually knows you and what you are doing instead of faceless entities who outsource everything to service centers where I can't understand one word in three. That's a whole 'nother rant.

Greenpa said...

Leila- I know, I'm scum! :-) I told you I felt sleazy.

knutty knitter said...

I'm hoping to get us out of credit cards altogether by Christmas. Debit cards are safer for us poor peeps and it will be through the local bank too.

They are promising more snow, gale force wind etc. We have had more winter weather this spring than we did when it was winter! And just to confuse things, it was over 30 and stifling hot three days back. I have 2 piles of clothing - one for winter days and one for summer days and sometimes they both get worn the same day!

viv in nz

risa said...

Ya done right, GP.

Young Snowbird said...

You tell 'em, greenpa!

I got my letter from the credit card provider saying they're upping my interest rate. I can cancel my card or not, but its going higher. Leaches!

So much for bailing out the banks so credit can be loosened. For whom?

I'm going to look into credit union membership. They're locally controlled, but historically more strict with credit. Sigh.

Liz said...

I found your blog from Green As a Thistle. I have just embarked on a challenge---to eat only whole, unprocessed foods (not an easy feat in Toronto...especially during the winter). I really appreciate your common sense approach to thing. I think you might enjoy my blog--and I know I would help.
Cheers, Liz

--
www.dietrehab.wordpress.com

Hank Roberts said...

01 Caution about debit cards -- don't ever leave one connected to an account with more in it than you can afford to lose. Unlike credit cards, debit cards are immediate withdrawals and you are not protected by Truth in Lending regulations if someone drains your account. Credit cards have some protection against fraud.

02 Keep money in a separate account that's not accessed remotely by a computer, and 'top up' the debit account by phone or personal contact.

03 Don't rely on computer banking, period. It's not secure.
http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2008/06/beware_of_error_messages_at_ba_1.html?nav=rss_blog

Cynthia said...

Amex just sent me an email informing me that they were lowering the limit on my credit card. Thought I had missed a payment or something... usually they're sending me letters that they've upped my limit because of my credit history.

Kinda glad I'm not the only one. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think you are seeing the tip of the iceberg of credit related crunches that are rippling across the business and consumer credit world.

I worry that some banks will use this as an excuse to pass along even worse practices under the guise of "fine print." After all, we know how many folks read the fine print on their balloon mortgages....

Mrs. Prudent Classroom
http://prudentclassroom.wordpress.com/


http://prudentclassroom.wordpress.com/

jewishfarmer said...

Like others here, I think this is just the beginning - and a lot of us rely on credit, one way or another. But good for you!

And Leila's right - you should be grinding your own masa. Nixtamelizing it too. And I assume you grow and save seed from your own heirloom strain. And did you carve your own tortilla press?

;-).

Sharon

mnultraguy said...

Cynthia,
I had the same letter from AMEX. I wish I could cut the ties, but am working on paying it down, although to slow for my tastes.
Namaste,
Devin

Pangolin said...

I tore up all credit cards ten years ago when I realized that Wachovia was delaying the deposit of payments and charging late fees. Because Wells Fargo was sending the checks out we could prove they were doing it.

Your credit card agreement couldn't pass a playground fraud test. Any "agreement" for fee where one party retains the right to unilaterally change the terms is/should-be defined as fraud. Financial agreements that require a specialist lawyer to understand are probably fraud too.

We will know that the US is back on track when these fraudulant practices are outlawed. Until then, look to continued decline.

RC said...

So, if there was a Costco nearby, Greenpa, would you join? I also would like some wintry news on the guineas. Hope you catch up on all the behindery before the Spring happenings happen.