Who’s Gonna Patronize the Big Box Store Any More?

My riff on the weekend topic.

With humble gratitude for Meredith Wilson’s en-chant-ing opening to The Music Man.

PROGRAMMER 1:
Plastic for the orders.
Plastic for the downloads.
PROGRAMMER 2:
Visa for online.
Visa on the phone.
PROGRAMMER 1:
Credit for the software.
Credit for the hardware.
PROGRAMMER 2:
Credit for the needs, and the wants, and the bibelots.
PROGRAMMER 3:
Amazon for the hogs feet, cakes and longjohns.
Amazon for the crackers, and the pickles, and the computer paper.
PROGRAMMER 4:
Look, what do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
PROGRAMMER 5:
Where do you get it?
PROGRAMMER 4:
What do you twitter?
PROGRAMMER 2:
You can script, you can program, you can script,
You can chat. You can twitter, twitter, twitter, you can chat.
You can chat. You can chat, chat, chat, chat, twitter, twitter, twitter.
You can twitter all you wanna, but it’s different than it was.
ANALYST:
No it ain’t, no it ain’t, but you gotta know the database!
PROGRAMMER 3:
Well, it’s Jeff Bezos made the trouble,
Made the people wanna buy, wanna get, wanna get, wanna get it in a box.
7,8,9,10,12,14, 22, 23 orders to the front porch.
PROGRAMMER 1:
Yes, sir, yes, sir!
PROGRAMMER 3:
Who’s gonna patronize a big box store anymore?
PROGRAMMER 4:
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
NEWSPAPER READER 1:
Where do you get it?
ANALYST:
It’s not Amazon alone.
Take a gander at big box stores,
At the postmodern store,
At the out-of-date store
At the passe, postmodern,
Departmentalized big box store.
PROGRAMMER 4:
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
CONSULTANT:
Where do you get it?
PROGRAMMER 4:
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
CONSULTANT:
Where do you get it?
PROGRAMMER 1:
You can chat, you can twitter.
You can chat, you can twitter.
You can twitter, twitter, twitter
You can chat, chat, chat.
You can twitter all you wanna,
But it’s different than it was.
ANALYST:
No, it ain’t, but you gotta know the database.
PROGRAMMER 3:
Why, it’s I-need-it-easy thinking
Made the trouble
Need it easy, need it easy.
Put the order in a box, in a box,
What I-need-easy
In a box with a smile
Made the big box store obsolete.
ANALYST:
Obsolete, obsolete, obsolete
SALESMAN 4:
Malls out the window.
The smiling box
Takes the job of the sales clerk.
Closing all the stores.
ANALYST:
Who’s gonna patronize the big box store any more?
PROGRAMMER 3:
Gone, Gone
PROGRAMMER 1:
Gone with the mall and the outlet and the discount store.
Gone with the chain and the retail store with clothes on a rack.
ALL
Who’s gonna patronize a bog box store any more.
Big box store.

What are the long-term implications for America and the world, assuming  I dare worry about the world? 

What follows the Amazon era?

 

52 thoughts on “Who’s Gonna Patronize the Big Box Store Any More?”

  1. Brilliant! I hope that performance signals you are feeling a little better.

    I can foresee that “shopping,” as they used to call it, will become more diffuse and less location specific, not only in a local and regional sense but internationally. More production of goods will be automated and less reliant on third world workers and substandard wages.

    3-D printers will become more sophisticated and compact and a certain amount of new acquisitions will be fabricated at home on demand.

    AR (augmented reality) applications will let you virtually try on clothing at home. Programmable universal clothing will indicate the fit and feel.

    New methods of delivery (drones?) will make it possible to receive goods anywhere, anytime.

    Just about any item will be customizable.

    Trump notwithstanding, borders will become less relevant and more porous as the design and specification of goods can happen in one place and the physical realization of them in another.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Aaarrgggh. You beat me to the 3-D printer comment! I actually wonder how close we will get to transforming energy into matter like the replicators on Star Trek. And even if we can’t ever quite make everything we need at home, drones and robots will be delivering everything from warehouses, so no need for stores.

      Like

      1. Put large screen smart TVs or 3D goggles together with sophisticated AR programming and you could virtually shop from home, if a retail experience were what you wanted. No need to actually build the stores and they would be infinitely changeable.

        Like

        1. Something I would love to know more about is the modern warehouse–how they are designed and how they work. They are apparently astonishing in design and efficiency.

          I used to be amused by the contradiction represented by Schwans. They deliver pies and ice cream to rural families throughout the midwest, and it is hard to imagine a more traditional company. But their warehouses are amazingly computerized and automated.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant versiflying. No more shopping as entertainment. We’re too busy reading FB and Twitter comments about cats, dogs, and food (all the important stuff).

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I know this is a bit of overkill from the weekend,but I have had this bouncing around in my head for 3 months. Having once played Charlie Crowell the anvil salesman, I can hear the original complete in my head, the only way to do the scene is for everyone to memorize all of it. I figured it was now or never. It is ironic how easily it fits the moment to adapt it.
    Bill, I am waiting for next week and the radio frequency treatment. It was a struggle to do this and had to turn it over to VS to add the image and the video. It could have been better, but I did get this much done. Now Sandy’s shoulders and neck are bad.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Language is slow to reflect new realities. We continue to talk about “dialing” someone’s telephone although rotary dials disappeared from phones late in the 1980s. In that sense we will continue to talk about “shopping” although that activity, in the original sense, is disappearing.

    Shopping refers to a style of purchasing objects that arose in medieval times, a time that saw the creation of shops (stalls, huts, buildings) that stored goods and made them available for purchase. The “shopper” moved to one or more shops, examined the goods, purchased some and transported them home. Several revolutions are changing everything about this process.

    Three days ago I purchased a book, although it abuses language to say I “shopped” for it. After I developed an interest in a book, my computer contacted Amazon’s computers and authorized them to send me a copy. In return I authorized Amazon to diminish my bank account by a small amount. I never left my bedroom (where my computer lives). By the time I’d gotten a cup of coffee the book was in my Kindle tablet.

    We could debate the losses and gains of this new way of acquiring things. There is no denying the charm of visiting a good shop, especially a good book shop. But the debate is pointless. Before shops existed people had different ways of acquiring things. Shops are now going out of business because people appreciate newer ways of acquiring things. I used to hate shopping malls, but some folks now are nostalgic about them. Shopping malls and big box stores had their moment and it is now fading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OT: the book I just got (and am enjoying immensely) is Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? She was a scheduler for Barack Obama. The book is funny and delightful, although it occasionally hurts to remember when we had a thoughtful, articulate and adult president. It’s a sweet read.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. My sense, Renee, is that the same processes are working, but not with the same speed. My erstwife, now living in Belgium, orders things from Amazon. But the prices aren’t as good and I don’t think the service is as quick. European cities were built on the assumption that people would walk a lot (and later, mass transportation was layered over cities designed to be walked). American cities were mostly built on the assumption people would drive atutomobiles. I can’t imagine the revolution in “shopping” happening nearly as abruptly in Europe as here.

      Like

  5. This is brilliant! As someone who earns her keep working for one of the big boxes, I can tell you that we are all looking at what comes next. People are buying different stuff, and they are most assuredly making those purchases differently than they did 10-20 years ago. I think there will come a point where most non-perishables will not be purchased in a store the way we do now – some craftsman work will remain, available at smaller localized locations, but I think Bill is likely spot on. What I am more curious about, though, is what happens to those things that can’t be 3D printed or stored in an entirely automated warehouse? Do we eventually return to a world where the fruits and vegetables we eat are only those grown locally? With Nextdoor telling me on a relatively frequent basis that chickens are loose in my neighborhood, do eggs become something we source from our own flock again? Do neighborhoods buy into a chicken-share for their eggs?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Anna speaks to changes in non-perishable consumption. What fascinates me is changes in grocery shopping. They keep trying to find the new model for this. Despite poor results in early attempts, they go on struggling to find the next model. It seems the markups are so low in food that it isn’t possible to throw delivery of groceries in as a freebie. I wish we could shop for groceries on computers and then pick up the orders in a drive-through line. That exists already, and could be the right sort of compromise. But it won’t come to Port Huron in my lifetime.

      Meanwhile, I love Anna’s suggestion that all the new patterns evolving could improve access to locally produced food. As much as I adore farmers’ market produce I don’t like driving to those markets, parking and shopping. Nor can I handle the walking now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our building with several old farts has the Hy-Vee delivery van, or even two, out front very often. But a delivery guy told me many of the orders go to college kids.
        The Hy-Vee near us needs to redesign space because they have so many carts of food waiting to be picked up. It is that popular here.
        Want to try to do a post of several vignettes related to this and similar issues.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I can certainly imagine a future where fruits and vegetables are produced more locally and in controlled-environment “warehouses,” especially as climate change and water shortages affect our current produce growing regions. That may ultimately mean better quality fruits and vegetables, picked ripe on demand and shipped only short distances.

      I expect that the big boxes—the Walmarts, the Targets, the department stores that try to be everything for everybody will take the biggest hit because Amazon does that so much more efficiently and maintaining a physical store is a huge drag on profitability. There will still be a place for small specialty shops, locally grounded ones and faux-local chains, perhaps, that are able to provide information and an authentic experience along with the transaction.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I am not fond of term big box store, although it does encode a complex range of similar stores. But big box store, big box store fits the train rhythm so well.
    Off to first of two rounds of pt today.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Land’s End had a promotion a number of years ago where they did a 3-D scan of the customer and then kept the info to assist you with an online purchase. You could enter your user name and try the clothes on a virtual model, which was theoretically just your size. I had the scan done, but I never bought any clothes. I’m more of a used clothing shopper. We live in a country that is awash in nice quality used clothing, so why spend extra to get something new?

    I still think there will be places to buy clothing in stores for the foreseeable future. People like to test the feel of the fabric. You don’t get much of a sense of that when you’re looking online.

    I also think there are many products that sell better when consumers are actually handling them in person. Impulse buying is driven by picking something up and not wanting to put it back down.

    The Target store nearest me is undergoing a huge expansion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points, Linda, but remember that people who prefer handling things before purchasing them are relying on old habits in addition to preferences. We used to buy everything personally in shops, and that sure seemed like the normal way of shopping. Millenials might not have much experience with that kind of shopping. And who knows about the future?

      Another pattern that might catch on: Amazon just pioneered a store with no clerks or cash machines. You walk in, grab the stuff you need and then walk out. Sensors know what you took, and they debit your account without any contact with humans. That sounds weird, but it could be common a decade or two from now.

      I remember downtown “business districts” when I was a kid. Stores were tiny, with very limited inventory, and there were always clerks around. The classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starts with scenes that exactly reflect the look of downtown shopping districts in the 1940s and 1950s.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was in the Patina store in Highland last weekend, and it was packed with millennials. The Patina web site has information about where its stores are located, and a few pictures of some selected merchandise, but there is no online shopping option. No cart, no checkout, no payment options; just here’s where you can go look at our stuff.

        This is a store where they use the term “curated” to describe the selection of merchandise. Although I consider the term “curated” sort of overused and pretentious, I can see what niche they’re going for. There is some furniture, kitchen stuff, clothing, games, kids’ toys, and home decor. You might find something like a cutting board with a leather strap to hang it up with. The cutting board has rounded edges and layers and layers and layers of some kind of beeswax/mineral oil finish that gives it a rich sheen. If you saw it online, you would probably think, A cutting board. I already have a cutting board. If you see it in the store, you find your hand reaching toward it, and you pick it up, and it feels smooth and silky and you suddenly find yourself considering where you might place it or who you might gift it to.

        I think there will always be some place in the world for such stores.

        Liked by 4 people

  8. What I was wondering about in the global ramifications has more to do with third world economy and employment. Maybe not at all but so many changes impact badly in the poorest places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This may be overly optimistic on my part but in the long run (maybe the very long run), I see the decentralization and equalization of wealth trending. Think about the countries that used to represent the sources of cheap manufacturing: Japan, China, and Korea among them. Some of those places have attained a standard of living that makes them too expensive,relatively speaking, to provide cheap enough labor. There is at least a component of the new means of production that is not capital-investment heavy and independent of location and that offers new modes of significant employment. Think of India and how segments of that population have been able to secure a place in global business.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Fantastic versifying! I’ve always loved that opening in Music Man and it’s hard to do well. I think Bill nailed the question pretty well. The only thing I would add is that in a few years or a decade or so, there will be a backlash and people will revert to hometown, smallish stores with locally produced foods and goods. Buying locally will be easier and more convenient even in rural areas as technology evolves and everything is more accessible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joanne you imply that different marketing models compete, with only one possible victor. But how about this instead: multiple models for shopping. There are some wonderful things about shopping on the internet. If internet shopping gets stronger and more comfortable, perhaps little downtown stores selling clarinets or what Renee charmingly calls “undies” can do well, too. The existence of an internet-based market might make possible some smaller operations that celebrate customization and customer service, like bakeries that make cakes tailored for particular events.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Just saw image of a sign somewhere in the snow. On of those retail boards outside a store to which you attach letters.
    “Trump says Russian in election fake news. Boris and Natsha say its squirrel and moose”

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This question is quite relevant right now because my son, who runs four businesses, is being squeezed by Amazon more by the day. He spent two years researching and forming a partnership with a Chinese manufacturer to produce high end heating coils. These coils are five times the quality as any made here because they regulate temps and turn off when not needed to keep ice from forming on roofs. Coils sold here just stay on 24/7 and drive up electric bills considerably.

    Steve then started a new company, paid for thousands of feet of the coils, marketed, and advertised the product. The business was quickly off the charts successful in its first year until it suddenly dropped off. He wondered who his competitor was. Amazon had not only started using his Chinese factory, but offered the coils at a much lower cost.

    Amazon, he explained, is destroying the supply chain which all American businesses need in order to stay running. Its gargantuan size, the convenience of delivery, and its ability, due to its size, to offer all of its products at a price well below market all add up to small businesses going under. It’s Goliath; he’s David. He said that Amazon is sending teams of business trainers to China to teach them how to deal directly with them, and that soon, all products will bear “Made by Amazon” tags. They can offer cut rate prices due to the sheer bulk they order and warehouse the products.

    Businesses here cannot survive without the “middle man”, and this is what Amazon is cutting out. In the meantime, Steve sits here with 200,000 feet of heating coils collecting dust. His way of saying what’s happening is that we’re becoming the United States of Amazon.

    Like

  12. One thing I have always really liked is shopping for groceries. I remember once talking about this to a coworker when I was in my 30’s. She said “That’s so sad.”

    But around the 1980’s there was such a wide variety of foods available in stores, it was really rather exciting. I’d find some kind of bottled sauce I’d never tried before, and then go get some chicken and some fresh broccoli and prepare it with the sauce. I always went shopping hungry, which is what they tell you you should never do. I always loved to buy food when I was hungry.

    Now I am less enthused about cooking. Mostly too tired, and I’d rather have prepared stuff. But I still don’t want to just have food dropped at my doorstep. I like to see what’s there. Consider the possibilities. Meander around the produce aisle. Go to the farmers’ market.

    Amazon won’t feed me, at least not in the near future.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Since I have such limited mobility I like shopping amazon but I want to shop local. So I limit my amazon shopping to what I cannot find locally. I buy most of my electronics at Target or Best Buy. I used to hate Best Buy. At least here it was sleazy salesmen and not customer oriented. That has all changed here.
    I think overall this threatens to be terrible, but I see things through misery-colored glasses. Speaking of glasses Sandy has made cheap old glasses from junk shops a design element. I suggested false teeth next.

    Liked by 2 people

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