Sunday, November 16, 2008

The state of American retailing.

There are large, bundled-up black men standing on various corners throughout my neighborhood holding day-glo yellow signs that are emblazoned with a Circuit City logo. The signs say "30% off," "closing this store" and, predictably "everything must go." (When must everything NOT go? The idea that some things may stay is an affront to both capitalism and the natural order of things.)

I decided to head to Circuit City---which I call Circuitous City--to check out all bargains great and small. There's a fevered frenzy that hits all of us in America when we hear something is on sale. The hopped-up bender of over-consumption takes over--we must go, we must shop, we must buy!

Circuit City was one of those stores where you could never get either sales help or a straight answer. Ask for information about a product and you got surliness in return. Still, the heroin-tinged rush of a bargain was pulsing through my veins. Maybe I can buy a new portable hard-drive, I calculated, or a new laptop, or a new Flip, or a flat-screen TV. I found, once inside the fluorescent big-box cellar every DCV and every CD on sale. I quickly scooped up five second-rate flicks I will never watch. No hard-drives--all sold out. No Flips. So I wrestled my way to the flat-screens. Ah, my built-ins permit a TV that is 35.8-inches wide. "Have you a tape-measure?" I asked three sales-people. "No," they answered without the slightest concern. "How do I know if the TV will fit in my home?" I asked. "I dunno," they shrugged and went on with their word-jumble. And so I left that fresh linoleum hell having bought nothing.

I guess from a Macro point of view, this isn't about the state of American retailing at all. It's about the state of everything. After all, who in government, health- care, education, work, gives you answers to what should be simple questions? Who gives you help? Who has a spiritual tape-measure? Who serves? Who makes things better?

No, as a nation, as a society we are enmeshed in a giant world-wide Inventory Clearance sale. We have turned into a "Shrugocracy." If there's a problem, a question that requires thought--shrug.


Tore Claesson said...

Many years ago, when I lived in Europe and visited NY or LA, I loved the US for its stores. People were trained to know stuff. You needed a suitcase; they showed you alternatives, they told you about pros and cons, warranties, etc. They told you about material and knew what bag would fit into the overhead storage on different airplanes. In Europe we weren't used to that sort of service because however useless, nobody ever got fired. Now, I don't know, is there any pride in doing your job well? Are we all becoming barbarians?
Even though we might not care for the employer or the temporary job, don't we ever care doing our best for the customer?

Laura said...

That's why the few stores like Nordstroms are refreshing where someone actually knows the merchandise. Try asking someone at Barnes and Noble where anything is and they will shrug and then send you to a long line by "information" so someone can just look it up.
Big box = Small mind

Anonymous said...

I've lived in the north-east and the north-west and done a lot of traveling to visit friends and family in the other corners. The situation is not as you describe everywhere in the US. I've found people to be friendly in Atlanta and respectful in Seattle, but I'm familiar with the kind of uselessness you're describing in, for example, most parts of Philadelphia or Detroit.