Walmart Math

Walmart Math

I got into a disagreement with a Walmart manager a couple of weeks ago. Yep – that was me in the camouflage jeggings and American-flag tube top, arguing with the manager. 

Let me start by saying, I would never, ever want to be a Walmart manager.

They are required to provide calm customer service to a person who is trying to return a pumpkin pie after having eaten half of it in the store, or to someone whose children are taking a motorized-cart joy ride, knocking into display cases, and running over untold numbers of Chihuahua service-dogs.

This is the bedlam that the store manager has to control. My hat’s off to them. 

My task was simple. I went to the store to pick up just a couple of items. Half-an-hour later, my cart contained not only those items, but also various holiday items that were marked at 75% off. I pushed my limping, squeaky cart to the checkout line. I watched the price of each item as the cashier scanned to verify that the prices were correct. One of the holiday items rang up at its full price of $12, so I said “I think that is supposed to be 75% off.” 

“I don’t know how to do that,” the cashier said, “I don’t know what that amount would be. I’ll have to call the manager.” 

In my most helpful voice, I said “You can just take the price, divide it in half, and then divide it in half again. That gives you 75%, which is $3.” 

“I can’t do that without a manager,” she said. 

Ok, fine. I’ll be patient and avoid eye contact with the customers in line behind me who started incinerating me with their fiery death stares the moment she flicked on the flashing light beacon at the register. I am suddenly very focused on the gum display. I ponder the staggering varieties of gum, and the cigarette lighters, and the hand sanitizer, and marvel at how wonderful it is to be alive at this time in history. I just start to notice that my ankles are getting chilly, despite the fact that I’m wearing my nicest slippers, when the manager comes over. 

“This isn’t ringing up at 75% off,” said the cashier. 

The manager enters an equation into her calculator, inserts her magical manager key into the computer, enters “$4,” as the final price, and turns to leave. 

“I don’t think that’s right,” I said. “Seventy-five percent off of $12 is $3.” 

She gets out her calculator again and slowly depresses the number keys. “I take $12 and divide it by three. That makes it $4.” 

She turns the face of the calculator toward me as if I was going to accuse her of masterminding some elaborate calculator sleight-of-hand.

Now, math is not my strong suit. I did well enough in school math, and I may have even been a Mathlete because of some Title IX mandate, but I was not gifted enough to, say, formulate a function to rupture the space/time continuum.

I am not faulting the cashier for being a little lax on percentile calculation. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. She’s probably great at a bunch of things that I am not great at, like making realistic shadow puppets, or flawlessly applying a cell-phone screen protector, or knowing when your husband is cheating. The higher-level manager position, however, should require at least some sort of math proficiency, I would think. 

“Why did you divide by three?” I ask. 

“Seventy-five is three 25s, so you take the total original price and divide it by three.” 

I tilt my head like a puppy trying to make sense of a confusing noise. The thought process to reach her conclusion is so much more complicated than the thought process to actually figure out 75%. 

“There are lots of ways to figure out the price of something that’s 75% off,” I say, “but dividing by 3 isn’t one of them. You can divide by four. You can multiply by 0.25. You can multiply by 0.75 and then subtract that result from the original price. Or, you can take the original amount, cut it by 50%, and then cut it by 50% again.” 

Crickets chirp. 

The manager breaks the silence: “Fifty percent off, then fifty percent off? That’s….”  [[Please don’t say it. Please don’t say what I think you’re going to say.]]  “…that’s 100%!”

“We’re not going to give it to you for free!” 

The cashier pipes in, “Yeah, 100% is too much.”  

At this point, the lady behind me angrily blurts out, “YOU TAKE THE ORIGINAL AMOUNT, CUT IT IN HALF, THEN CUT IT IN HALF AGAIN!” The man behind her interjects the helpful “Yeah!” 

Now I start to get uncomfortable, because it seems I have become the leader of some sort of math revolution, and I am ill-equipped to head up such an operation.

After a few more moments of us looking at each other, frozen by our math stalemate, I ask, “How much are you going to charge me for this?” 

“Four dollars,” the manager says, “that’s 75% off.” 

“That’s okay, I’ll pass,” I say, because I will go to my grave before I will pay $4 for a Snoopy Christmas notepad.

I had her ring up my remaining items. Luckily, the pork rinds and Mountain Dew rang up at the correct price. As I left, I heard that same manager haggling with an another lady about “dividing the amount by 3.” This got me thinking, which led to an unexpected meaning-of-life quandary. Do any of us REALLY know what 75% is? Where does the other 25% go? Maybe it’s better if some things are left unanswered.

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