Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Start your own revolution and cut out the middleman."

The Song: "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards," Billy Bragg. Words & music by Billy Bragg. Track 11 of Workers Playtime, 1988.
When/how acquired: Gift cassette, 1989.
Listen/watch here.

This is Billy Bragg's theme song, and it's different every time he sings it. I've seen him live a couple of times and on TV quite a few times, and he updates the lyrics according to whatever's on his mind.

As revolution breaks out at home and abroad, both civil and uncivil, I notice how we've lost the middlemen in so many aspects of our lives. I'm not sure that's always a good thing.

Today I went to the Sears in Augusta, looking for a replacement part for my vacuum cleaner. Of course they didn't have it, but rather than offer to order it for me, they directed me to order it myself at Which I've just done, paying $8.99 in shipping on top of the $16.79 the vacuum piece cost.

Let's look at this transaction for a moment, and consider the implications for our economy as a whole. Undoubtedly it saves Sears money not to keep parts in stock at the store, and it certainly saves them money to have me do the ordering instead of an employee. It certainly saves them money to be able to pass on shipping costs to me.

But what did they lose? I went to the store prepared to spend some money. If they'd had the part, I'd probably have spent more time in the store, and I might have bought something besides. If they ordered the part for me and I needed to return to the store to pick it up, that would be a second visit, with a second opportunity for me to shop and buy something. And those might have been employment opportunities for the clerks helping me shop and doing the ordering. But that's not how they do it any more, so they missed those sales opportunities, and they definitely don't have as many clerks as they used to.

Is this progress? Is this better? Sears, which meant retail shopping for generations of the American heartland, is surviving by delegating customer service to the customers themselves. This is the new model of retail. And I hate it.

I want a little mediation, dammit. I want helpers. I want guides. It's a complicated enough world out there, without my having to figure out the !@$% model number for a vacuum hose.


Anonymous said...

In a depresing bit of ironic synchronicity, I just spent all day updating part descriptions on the Sear Web site.

I am the cog in the machine that crushed department retail as you knew it.

-- Ed

AnswerGirl said...

That's where I bought this nozzle! Sign.

Richard said...

Odd that Customer Service is the first to go, starting a downward spiral