Lost in Translation: Home Depot Edition

So I went back to Home Depot today, to look for some tubes of sealant. I wanted to patch up all the cracks and drafts in my windows, prior to throwing on the saran wrap. There was a temporary/removeable brand that I used before and, unable to find it on my own… I decided to venture over to the Windows and Doors section.

As I approach, I see an Asian couple talking and pointing to a lot of papers. There are two younger employees behind the desk, and they both seem really puzzled. I walk up and decide to wait my turn, checking out some of the various signs and whatnot on the counter.

Next thing I know, the wife walks over to me and starts speaking in Cantonese. She asks for my help, and if I know how to speak. No English at all, mind you – all Canotnese. So I start in a bit, and everyone seems delighted that I can serve as the negotiator in whatever deal is going on.

Here’s what I’ve learned. If you want Home Depot to install a door for you, it’ll cost $15 for them to send someone out and do the measurements. Per door, there’s a $95 installation fee. There’s an additional $15 delivery fee, for them transporting the doors out to your home (this effectively cancels out the original $15 measurement fee, which is refunded once the measurements are done). If they have to get rid of an old door for you… it’s $30 (per door I think, not sure on this part).

This couple was trying to buy two storm doors for their (new) home. As I fielded her questions in Cantonese, I’d then discuss things over with the workers in English, then translate back. My Chinese is average, but there are definitely gaps where I didn’t understand everything. In some cases, I had to ask her to explain things to me a few times. I ended up borrowing some paper and a pen, and drew out various scenarios and prices to show what steps were involved.

The woman asked if there were any price breaks or discounts for purchasing more than 1 door (they wanted 2 storm doors). On asking the Home Depot people, I was told no. But one of the workers told me to mention that, if they signed up for a Home Depot card… they’d have no interest and no payments for a year. I mentioned this to the couple, and told them what they would get if they signed up for a card; they decided against it, as they were just looking for a discount, and had no intentions of going on a payment plan. I jokingly asked the Home Depot people if I could have gotten a commission on the sale, had they gone with the card. They said no.

The woman was really stressed out, and part of the thing was that she was just happy to have someone else to vent to, who could understand her frustration. We go through the whole process, and right when I think they’re all good to go, the woman asks if there’s any way aroun her paying the $15 measurement fee.

At this point, she pulls out some papers from her purse. These were cancelled invoices from *another* Home Depot store. As it turns out, she’s tried to do this some 3 times prior to today, all unsuccessfully. She says that someone already came out and measured the door – so she didn’t feel the need to pay again.

After some more discussion, I find out that the couple had tried to purchase storm doors from another Home Depot, but cancelled at the last minute. There were charges on the invoice they didn’t understand, and the total on the invoices didn’t match what they were told at the store. While there are some charges to be expected (delivery for example), they were also charged for door removal. On inquring further about this, this is how I learned they had just moved into a new home… there were no doors to be removed. They were buying new storm doors, and not throwing anything away.

No wonder she was frustrated.

So here’s the process. Pick out your door(s) and leave your address. You pay your $15, and get the ball rolling. In 2-3 days, a guy will call from Home Depot, and coordinate a time to come out to do the measurements. Once that’s done, there will be another call in 2-3 days. Someome comes by with the paperwork/invoice and, on signoff… the doors are installed.

After talking through the entire process several times with the woman, she’s still resistent to paying the $15. After some repeated attempts however, I finally get her to relent. I explain how, despite the fact that another Home Depot did the measurements… this particular store needed to send someone out and verify things. She agreed to the charge (which really, all told, gets cancelled out later on in the process anyways).

We fall to talking a bit more, and I try to make her feel a bit better by explaining that lots of people find home improvement stuff to be very frustrating. Even people who speak English well, I explain, get headaches trying to work on their home. I also tell her that I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, and also need to get help from the people behind the counter. The guy behind the counter has called his boss over for some computer help and so I think: sweet. Almost done.

The Home Depot people get her address and info, print out the invoice, and present her with a form for $15. On seeing this, the woman shakes her hands and tells me that she wants to pay for the entire amount, all at once.

We talk through the process again, and I keep stressing how this particular store needs to send someone out. After some additional discussion, we determine that it’s the finalization process that’s the problem. She was afraid of getting charged more (and having the final invoice reflect a different price than what she understood today). She wanted the pay the total sum upfront, so that there wouldn’t be any problems or unforeseen charges in the future.

On talking with the Home Depot guy, the best thing we determined was to have the couple have a friend or a translator at their house, when the final invoice would be brought over. All told, it was a language barrier, and if they had someone there to help talk about the charges… that was our recommendation.

When I finally explain that there’s no way for her to pay the total amount up front… she decides not to get the doors. At this point, the husband’s wandered off with their kid, and I haven’t seen him for some 15+ minutes.

Understandably, she’s frustrated and gunshy (having tried this a few times before, and getting burned on things like extra door removal charges when there weren’t doors to be removed). If only they had someone who could speak English better, I’m sure things would have been fine. Hell, even if they had gotten the work done, they could have gone back to the original store and complained about the additional charges.

The woman unfolds her brochure and points to the doors she wants. She asks me to ask the Home Depot people about pricing, and how much each door costs. The guy tells me there are several sizes, hence why they need to do the measurements. But he gives me some numbers, which I then relay to the woman.

At this point, she just wants to buy the doors right here and now, shove them in the car, and find someone else to install them. She’s hesitant to refer to the old invoices in her purse, as she’s convinced the other store totally messed things up. She doesn’t trust their calculations.

By now, I’m trying to talk her out of purchasing the doors here outright. It seems like a lot of hassle, and since I know jack squat about doors… I don’t want to recommend this route to her. After some more back and forth, they decide against buying the doors and go on about their shopping. They’re really nice about everything, and thank everyone (me, as well as the Home Depot folks) for our time.

I feel bad things didn’t work out. There were some unnecessary complications, and we had seemed so close at several points. Really, what it came down to, was them not knowing anyone who could help translate, when it came time for the final invoice.

All told, this lasted for maybe 30 minutes? 45? It was hard to tell how much time passed. What was funny was that, for a good part of the time, the Home Depot folks thought I was with the couple. They were surprised (me too!) that I just happened to walk up and happened to speak Cantonese. Go figure.

The guy behind the counter helped me find the sealant I was looking for. Grabbed two tubes and, a few minutes later, I was out the door.

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