Bargain Basement


I didn’t expect to wake up to a feeding frenzy this morning, but that’s pretty much what happened.  Miniature Market, a game store based out of St. Louis with a fairly robust online presence, rolled out its daily sale late last night.  It was seemingly innocuous:  a copy of San Juan, essentially the card game version of gaming stalwart Puerto Rico, for only $15.  Not anything I was particularly excited about, so I didn’t pay much attention to it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the bargain.  Someone pointed out that the new large ship for X-Wing, normally $70 or $80, was priced at $15.  Someone else noticed that some really expensive board games were also going for $15.  It soon became apparent that almost everything that cost more than $15 had been marked down to $15.

Now the head-scratching began.  Was this a legitimate, crazy good sale?  Or was it a glitch, a coding mistake when marking down the one item that affected hundreds of others?  And if it was a mistake, would Miniature Market still honor the price?  Well, only one way to find out, right?  I took a cautious approach, buying some new X-Wing expansions, but some people were buying five or six copies of normally $100 items, most likely in the hopes of turning them around for a profit thanks to the low price.  Items soon began selling out.

Then the interesting debate began. Most of us were sure Miniature Market would wake up, shake its head, regret the night before, and call the whole thing off.  Which we’d be fine with; we just didn’t want to miss out in case this was real.  But a rather vocal contingent proclaimed that we were little better than looters, taking advantage of the corner store that accidentally left its doors unlocked at night.  We were taking advantage of a business, one that would have to spend what they assumed were untold work hours undoing all these errant orders, and who we would inundate with angry calls about our missed windfalls.  Even we accepted the cancelled orders with good humor and courtesy, we still shouldn’t have put Miniature Market to the trouble of having to cancel them in the first place.  We should have known this was a mistake and simply walked away.  In short, we were greedy bastards who should be ashamed of ourselves.

And while that was an overly harsh way of looking at it, the truth was we were looking to save money.  We were hoping to take advantage of a bargain.  We didn’t hack the site ourselves or resort to any over chicanery, but we didn’t hesitate to jump on something that looked too good to be true.  But we also were legitimately paying money to purchase goods at an advertised price.  Everything was in the open and aboveboard.  This wasn’t rushing into a Target because we heard they’d accidentally marked some TVs $19.99 instead of $199.  Nothing had left the shelves and the whole thing would be easily remedied by a polite email and a few clicks of an interface.

Which is exactly what happened.  By mid-morning, our order statuses started changing to “Refund pending,” and before long we were getting emails informing us of the problem and that our orders were being cancelled. And everyone just nodded and went on with their day.  Oh, I’m sure there are a few malcontents who will be rattling the customer service lines demanding their orders be fulfilled, but they’re also probably the people who complain that the stupid sun came up again.

The whole thing though was an interesting display of our baser instincts.  We saw blood on the water and we went for it.  We may have had the noblest of intentions, and we may have accepted our denial with good graces, but for even the briefest of moments, our lizard brains kicked in and we were all shouting, “Mine!  Mine!  Mine!” to ourselves.  We’ve just evolved enough to know when to tell ourselves to shut up.

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