Living as we do, in the back of beyond, what most people consider “shopping” is more than an hour away. So if I can’t get it locally, I find what we want online, and let it arrive via a Big Brown Truck which is coming to town anyway. There’s the key to a vast energy saving solution.
Bring back delivery.
When you look at how many things used to be delivered, you realize just how much companies have outsourced what used to be a part of their service. Instead of one truck from each store going around, dropping off the milk, the produce, all the myriad things we need every day, the stores have persuaded us, all of us, thousands of us, to get in our cars and go out and get it.
They did it by cutting their price by a little, and persuading us the bargain was worth it. But is it? We’re not paying delivery fees, but then again, we are. In more gas, more rubber worn from our tires, more time taken from our busy days to go to the store, drive around to a parking spot, drag our stuff back to our cars and drive them home again. We’ve become such reflexive bargain hunters we’ve lost sight of our own bottom line.
A while back I helped keep Wal-Mart out of our little town. As I researched Wal-Mart, I discovered how deeply they have committed to this delivery outsourcing concept. They open a store with lowered prices to drive all the competition under. Ah, the rejoicing. Such low prices! Once all other stores are ground under, they raise the prices, because where are you going to go? Less rejoicing, but at least we have all this selection! When that has gone on for a while, the third stage is to close the store, forcing everyone to drive further away to reach another Wal-Mart. Too late, Wal-Mart reappraisal begins. But where are you going to go?
In a ruthless, capitalistic, sold-my-soul-to-the-company-store sort of way, it’s brilliant.
It’s not just Wal-Mart. It’s the very Big Box concept. Any purchase, from home entertainment to lumber, big things to little things, becomes An Expedition. You are driving more miles to a huge place and waiting in long lines just to buy a screw. And boy, are you.
To quote a favorite movie, Galaxy Quest, “By Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings.”
Segments of our society, mired in the Wal-Mart concept of “low prices,” has lost a vital part of the math involved in not just acquisition, but also satisfaction. A few years ago, I needed something to lug around all my Daily Stuff, from a laptop to a cell phone. I could have looked for a bargain by driving around to a dozen stores, trying to find something I’d like and settling for something that wasn’t quite right, then getting exasperated a few months later and repeating the search, hoping they were now stocking something that would work better for me. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Instead, I went to Build a Bag on the Timbuk2 website. I customized a bag, from colors to handles to accessories. It’s made in San Francisco, by people who make a living doing artisan labor, and they made me a bag just the way I wanted it. Now I have a sturdy, well made object that will serve me for years to come, and is so obviously useful two friends have gotten their own custom bag. A bargain? Yes, indeed.
The equations have changed. Carbon footprint is going to be the new cost multiplier in the way we shop. The whole economic structure will be shaken up as countless spreadsheets burn through the shortest distance between two points. And that is simply: the right goods-the right people. There won’t be money or energy left over to make things people will wind up not wanting. The middleman must fall.
Our circumstances, so unusual in the modern world, have paradoxically made us much more aware of the cost/benefit tradeoff. Between taking us to where the goods are, and bringing certain goods to where we are. Those big buildings, full of a buyers best guess of what people might want, all heated and cooled and lighted and staffed and populated with people who all drive cars to get there; obsolete.
When it comes to Internet shopping, this is only the guns of April, 1775. The real revolution is yet to come. The end of actual stores, and the beginning of virtual ones. The fall of the Big Box, and the rise of Vast Choice.
In the back of beyond, far from where you might find the cutting edge, I have already made the leap. Into the future of shopping.