Back in the 1980’s, when I used to work in retail, there was a customer who used to come in to the pharmacy regularly who was well known among team members. She was a little eccentric and she had what you might call a unique sense of fashion, but she was still very sweet and we were always happy to help her.
But we really got to know what she was made of when her world came crashing down at the news that her favourite shade of lipstick was discontinued.
As I understand it, she had her colours done back in the day and was told that this particular shade of orangey-red lipstick was the perfect shade for her. She obviously took this very much to heart as it seemed that every subsequent visit was punctuated by a question about her non-negotiable shade of lipstick.
I don’t think we ever knew her name, but through her relentless search, she became known to us as the “Orange Lipstick Lady.”
At first, she bought up all the remaining lipsticks in that shade. Then in the months that followed, she asked our head cosmetician to order some for her until the distributor couldn’t supply us with any more.
When she had tapped out our supply chain, she still came in at regular intervals to check EVERY lipstick on our shelves to make sure that there wasn’t one that was missed.
I’ll never forget that lady. And I often think I have turned into her when a company discontinues my favourite product… which seems to be happening regularly lately.
I understand that companies sometimes need to freshen up their product lines. I understand that companies sometimes need to tweak products to keep them profitable. I also understand that companies sometimes drop products that don’t sell well. I understand it can also be a situation with the licensing rights to sell a name-brand product in Canada.
These reasons all make perfect sense… except when it’s YOUR favourite product. It can be disruptive and it can be upsetting.
And it makes even less sense when there doesn’t seem to be a comparable product out there to replace it, or the alternatives are not of the same quality.
As humans, we really are creatures of habit and it’s strange what scarcity will make us do. After a lifetime of being told to never give up and to not admit defeat, it seems that when something like this happens, we go into “tactical shopping” mode.
The first step is to Google the product to confirm whether or not that is the end of the line. Even if the company’s web site doesn’t confirm it, chances are, there are probably other unhappy shoppers venting their frustration online.
This move gives us key information in terms of how long has it been known that the product is discontinued and how hard it will be to scoop up what’s left.
If the product is confirmed as discontinued, an email to the company is at the top of the list, declaring one’s disappointment.
The mission then follows in the stores, in the hope that the “discontinued” news has not reached the ears of other shoppers, with the goal of capturing a few additional units based on remaining availability.
The next step is to mobilize the forces and email any friend or family member asking if they could be on the lookout for any remaining inventory, and if they do, to relay a message to base camp. A subsequent tour of duty may be planned to increase the arsenal of product.
Meanwhile, research is underway to reach out to allied forces, such as on eBay, to see if anyone else in the world can ship product before it runs out, while paying close attention to shipping fees, duties, taxes and potential brokerage fees.
Then there’s the detail of making sure that if it’s a product with an expiry date, a proper filing system must be implemented to ensure product is used up in the order of expiry dates.
Finally, the last step of the mission is rationing the remaining product, to stretch it out until the inevitable happens.
Sadly, when the supply runs out, that is it… it is time to start adapting to life without the product.
To the company, it may not be a big deal, but for an individual, there could be a cascading effect of consequences in the absence of a suitable replacement.
To keep things in perspective, of course there are more serious things going on in the world. But, when a favourite product is discontinued, a product that makes life easier and is a solution to a problem, the transition to a world without a viable alternative can be a challenging one. No matter what anyone says, change and progress aren’t always easy.
Could there be other different products out there worth auditioning as potential replacements? Certainly, but that takes time, money and patience through the trial and error phase.
Why wouldn’t anyone go to these lengths to keep a sure-thing solution in place for as long as they can?
In retrospect, if I was Orange Lipstick Lady, I would have done the same thing… and frankly, with other products, I have!
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Have a great day,