Monday, February 11, 2008

Always get a reality check

A funny thing happened to me at the store the other day. I was looking to buy socks for my son in the aftermath of what appeared to be a shopping free-for-all. Nothing was left on the shelves and everything remaining was in disarray. Finally, desperate, I located a ripped-open bag of socks with only 5 of 6 pairs remaining. Thinking that no one else would buy such an item – and that I might be able to get a good deal – I asked the sales clerk how much of a discount I could expect.

"Ten percent," came her prompt reply.

I stared at her. Ten percent? I thought. That’s only 1/10 off the original price. One-sixth of the socks, or more than 15% of the merchandise, is missing!

Needless to say, I took a pass on her offer. But the take-home lesson when solving equations – and this is true for science as well as math – is to always check your answers to make sure that they are practical.

Let’s say you are trying to figure out how fast an object is going and you are solving for speed. Don’t wind up with a negative number! (Or, as happened in one of my husband’s economics classes, don’t solve a pricing equation and give a negative number. It’s rare that a store will pay you to take their stuff!) John Hawley, of NEWTON’s Ask a Scientist presents a nice post - Negative Velocity - on this topic.

Learning complex concepts in science and math can seem daunting, but always remember to use that reality check! (It could even save you some money.)


Denise Gaskins said...

I had a similar experience, only more so. I found an old calendar, one month left on it, but I like the case it was in. Surely on something like that, I could get a great discount, right? Nope. 10%, just like yours.

Must be a standard policy, but it seems like a weird one. Seems like they are losing money on things like that by not selling them when they have the chance. For your socks, they could tape them up and put them in the bargain aisle---but last year's calendar? Useless.

I think the store management needs a reality check.

Came to your article via the math carnival. You have a nice blog. I'll be back to browse more later...

jublke said...

Yes, your story sounds even crazier than mine! I agree with you, that store policy just doesn't make any sense. I think that giving each clerk the ability to over-ride the 10% rule would save stores money in the long run.

Thanks for stopping by, denise! I think I'll go and take a peek at your blog now ...