Saturday, July 29, 2017

Take A Seat

My grandfather was in retail. My father was in retail. My sister was in retail. Even I was in in retail. While not exactly the family business, we have what you might call history. So much so that I can recall my sister fighting with my father over merchandising when they both worked at competing department stores on opposite sides of the street in Boston. So I guess if you can say something like farming can run in your blood, employee discounts run in mine.

And yet I can't say I understand it. On the surface it seems simple: a company makes or acquires something for a given price, then sells it at a higher one and makes a profit. Except it's never that easy. Ask Macy's. There are loss leaders, discounts, trade-outs, partnering deals, and markdowns. There's franchising and owned-and-operated and direct sales. And then there's the 8000 pound gorilla of it all, Amazon.

To say that Jeff Bezos has changed the face of the business is to understate the situation. In the way that goods are priced, displayed, promoted, advertised, warehoused, reviewed, fulfilled, handled – the list goes on and on – the company named for the longest river in the world has the longest tail in the world, whipping around and rearranging everything it smacks.

Take delivery. Before Amazon, if you wanted something and a store didn't have it, you were more or less out of luck. Sure, they might offer to call another branch for you, or tell you when it might be back in stock. Beyond that, you chose an alternative whatever, or decided you really didn't need a blue and white checked tablecloth.

Then came Amazon Prime. For $99 bucks a year, just about anything in the world can be yours inside of 48 hours. If you decide on Monday that you absolutely must have a left-handed putter with a short shaft and head weight of 350 grams, simply click your mouse, and on Wednesday it will be sitting outside your front door. How can anyone compete with that?

But try they do, though with mixed success. We needed some chairs to replace the Adirondack ones we had that were decaying on our little side patio. In looking online, we found some plastic models, though we wanted to see them in person. Lo and behold, as we drove past the local TruValue hardware store on our way to a movie, they had a stack of 20 or so sitting outside. We pulled in quickly, and agreed they would do the job, especially at a cost of around $22 each. I figured I would swing by later in the week to pick them up.

When we got home, I punched them up again on my computer. Interestingly, I guess to compete with Amazon, the TruValue website had them for five bucks cheaper than what we saw, and you could have them delivered to the store for free. Not quite as good, but not bad. So I bought them and quickly got a confirmation email. But then came a second note, indicating that they would ship, well, soon. Not as good. Being used to 2-day gratification, I called the local store, the one with the stack of 20 sitting outside. I asked if we could come by and pick up the two from their stock, and they keep the two that we being sent to them for us. After all, it was all the same stuff, same company, same delivery truck, same location, no?.

No. Those COMING were ours. Those STACKED were theirs. Never mind they were exactly the same, and you wouldn't be able to tell them apart in a line-up. They said they weren't giving up what they had for what was coming. After all, someone might suddenly decide to have a massive Bar-B Que, need seating, run in to buy 20 green Adirondack chairs, and they would come up 2 short. Could happen.

So we stuck it out. It took a little longer than immediately to make it happen, but all is fine. The chairs look good, are comfy and will standup to the weather. And we somehow survived 2 weeks without them. Who needs Amazon? Then again, if that company's promised delivery drones will bring margaritas, I could be convinced to become Prime for life.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to sit outside on the patio and read the paper. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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