Triple window at the Casa Royale

14 May 2007
5:20 PM

I wrote before about Chile’s beloved triple-window system in stores. In a nutshell it’s this: you pick something out here, you pay for it there, and you pick it up over there. This applies to everything; I once made the triple-window circuit to buy $0.45 worth of nails. But I had only experienced my slow-lane, countryside version of the triple window. Last week I got a taste of the big-city version when I did some electronics shopping in downtown Santiago.

I don’t do much electronics shopping here in Santiago, partly because I don’t need anything, but mostly because I barely make enough each month to buy a blank CD-R. This time wasn’t for me. One of the Holy Cross sisters here asked me to buy a few things for her: a wireless router, an extension cord, and a TV antenna. I made my way to her recommended locale, Casa Royale, which despite a passing resemblance to Casino Royale, shares nothing with the glitzy Bond flick.

At Casa Royale, I picked out a wireless router. The salesperson printed out my receipt and directed me across the store to the second window. I snaked through the crowd, eventually making my way to a line in the back where I exchanged money for a stamp on my receipt that said “PAID.” Then I joined a herd of customers at a third location awaiting the delivery of their purchases.

The delivery system was especially ludicrous. The three men working the counter had specialization of labor down pat. One man madly stuffed purchases into plastic bags and taped receipts to the side. This man is the bag stuffer. The other two men took customers’ stamped receipts, seemingly at random, and proceeded to search all the plastic bags for the one with the corresponding receipt. “That one’s mine! That one’s mine!” the man next to me shouted as he saw the bag stuffer package his purchase. No luck—the bag stuffer cannot be responsible for delivery. Everyone waits his turn, buddy.

Eventually I got my package, and that would be the end of the story were I a smart man. But the Casa Royale is a much more extensive electronics store than I had bothered to imagine. They also sell extension cords. I walked to that section of the store, talked with a salesperson, and repeated the whole process for my second purchase. Just as I was about to leave, I spotted TV antennas. For some inexplicable reason—maybe I was particularly off my electronics-purchasing game that day—I hadn’t even thought to look for the antenna when I went back for the extension cord.

I dragged my embarrassed self to the salesperson managing the antenna department. As the salesperson was printing out my pre-receipt, I thought about lowering my voice and bargaining with him in hushed tones. Look, you’ve got that antenna, right? And there’s the price tag right there. Now don’t tell anybody, but I got some money right here in my pocket. And it’s just enough to pay for that antenna. How abouts I give you the money and you give me the antenna? I mean, nothing wrong going on here. Me just giving you some money, you just giving me the goods. Waddaya say?

But I didn’t want to be kicked out of the store. Instead, I made my way through the system for the third time. Triple-window, you win this round.