Save.

I don’t really care about iphones.

I got an ipod touch when they came out because I left my previous ipod on the roof of my car in a rainstorm (don’t ask). My friend Jamie introduced me to ‘apps’, I downloaded a guitar you can strum, a lightsabre simulator and some remote control thing for itunes which Ive never really used because who needs a remote control for a laptop. It’s on your lap. This was all a year ago. The novelty wore off quickly. I use my ipod now for listening to music. Which is why I bought it.

In the last few months, the proliferation of iphones has become obscene and I’ve watched my friends fall one by one into the trap of thinking they hold the key to the fucking universe. Literally, in some cases – on Sunday I almost reversed my car over my friend Ben who, having got out of the car so I could reverse into the tight space outside my house, preceded to stand IN that space, holding his iphone up to the skies to find out the names of the stars he could see.

Every one of my friends is becoming increasingly boring as they live vicariously through their smooth tablet of technology. They’re reading books on them, identifying constellations, playing musical instruments and wittering on endlessly as if – firstly – they’re the only person with one and secondly these experiences are somehow more satisfying than actually reading a fucking book, looking at the fucking stars or playing an actual fucking musical instrument. Apparently experiencing the joys of life through a four inch screen make them even better. I think an iphone is just a way of putting life through a smug filter. I personally don’t need to spend £30 a month on a mobile phone tariff to feel superior whilst actually being homogenized.

These apps are getting more and more sophisticated, though. Some have practical applications, others will offer you things you never would have thought you would need but will change your life. And other peoples. And like so much western consumerism, they might change your life in the most insignificant of ways but change that of someone else to the absolute detriment. You can probably tell, I’m getting specific here. I recently found out about an app which turns your iphone into a scanner. So you go into a shop, you find a product you want to buy, you scan it and then your iphone links you straight to an online price comparison chart where you can instantly order that product through an online seller for the lowest price possible.

I own a completely independent shop that is half dvd rental/half comic shop. This app has the potential to turn my shop into essentially a free physical showroom for amazon.com. I’m sure this is the height of wonderful convenience for Mr Iphone who can save a couple of quid and still have the tactile experience of browsing in a funky shop but it’ll be the end of independent shops. We operate at break-even as is, profit has been an alien concept for a couple of years. If we pay the staff’s wages AND the rent AND the rates of a month and don’t end up owing money, we call that month a successful one. This is not a sob story or a moan, I don’t feel entitled to a living and am aware that business is cutthroat and ultimately you’re responsible for your own success or failure. It’s more an appeal to those of you who might not have given it much thought what such actions can lead to.

I’d imagine anyone reading this is already well aware that any perceived ‘bargains’ you might get are a false economy. If you are saving money, someone else is paying. When you get your fruit and veg cheap at the supermarket, it’s because that multinational chain is putting the squeeze on farmers worldwide. When you get your Primark dress for £2.99, it’s because it is manufactured in a horrible sweatshop somewhere and the £20 you would have had to spend anywhere else is coming out of the paypacket of the person who actually made the garment. I certainly don’t compare my downturn in revenue to the horrors subjected to those people but I think it’s important to shatter the myth of independent business.

The amount of times I’ve been in a corner shop or grocery store and heard people saying things akin to ‘what a rip off” or ‘they just exploit you cos they know you can’t get to the supermarket’. You can’t expect the consumer to know what’s going on behind the scenes but the equation is fairly simple. If a corner shop wants to sell baked beans, they have to go to the cash and carry to buy a tray of tins. That tray probably costs say £3.60 for 12 tins – 30p a tin. Now the retailer has to make a profit on that tin and a profit that will contribute to covering all of his overheads – the rent, bills and wages. So, if he puts 30p on that tin and sells it for 60p, he’ll probably be making, at most, 5p of pure profit.

Meanwhile, because the supermarkets are buying their beans nationally, for all of their stores in huge bulk, they can buy that same tray of 12 tins for maybe £1.50. In fact, as with the milk scandal fairly recently, sometimes the big supermarket chains collude with each other and drive down the prices even lower. They can essentially hold the manufacturers to ransom. And clever business dictates that they should and do. So, they can sell that same tin of beans for 30p and still turn a better slice of pure profit. The consumer ‘saves’ 30p – but at the cost of strengthening a multi-national corporation and putting local and independent traders out of business. Which changes the character of an area (some of us remember when every high street in the UK had its own character, now they are identical blends of McDonalds, Starbucks, Carphone Warehouse, HMV, Pret a Manger and Borders) and adds to the utter homogenization of the world and, in my paranoid dreams will lead to us all Metropolis-style eventually being enslaved into working uniformed jobs for one huge corporation. Isn’t that inevitable as independent businesses disappear and corporations strengthen?

I’ve been quite aware for a couple of years of a specific breed of asshole who comes into my shop, walks around looking at the dvds with a pen and paper and writes down titles of the films he wants to see, goes home and orders them from Lovefilm. I have tricks that subtly out them and once outed they are made politely aware that they won’t be welcome back. And now I can look forward to a slew of iphoned wankers literally scanning my shelves and giving their business instantly to other companies whilst still in my shop? Fantastic.

I have one regular customer who I hate (my staff will tell you I probably only have one who I don’t hate – but they exaggerate) He brings a comic up, asks how much it is (‘that one is £2.60’) gives a nervous smile and says ‘really? Are you sure? It’s only £2.20 online’. He’ll also point out that the American price on the cover is $2.99 which, at the current exchange rate comes in at less than £1.90. The subtle implication is that he’s onto my game. He’s aware that I’m swindling him out of as much as 70p. He’s on to me.

Of course what he doesn’t understand is that, firstly, the American price has no bearing on anything. By the time the comics reach me, they’ve had import duties and taxes slapped on them and the wholesaler has to turn a profit too. This means that I’m paying only a shade under that £1.90 cover price myself. The online sellers have far fewer overheads and buy in far greater quantities, meaning they get a bigger bulk discount and can turn a profit easier at £2.20. The pure profit I would make selling a comic at £2.20 would actually be a loss of about 30p. The maths isn’t so hard – say I did make 30p profit on a comic and my rent, staffing and rates comes in at about 6k a month, I’d have to sell about twenty thousand comics a month to cover it. Do you think I’m selling twenty thousand comics a month?

So, to the smart alecs who think we’re buying our product at anywhere near the same price as the online retailers and are gloriously capitalizing on it to exploit the consumer… fuck you. I don’t know an independent retailer who isn’t struggling to even cover the running costs of their business these days and if you’re seriously happy to come in with your iphone and start scanning our stock to look for better online deals, please make sure you first download the app which utilizes GPS to tell you exactly how far up your stupid rectum I have jammed it. Thanks.

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Published in: on October 2, 2009 at 7:27 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t buy comics often any more, but when I did it was always about the shop. The experience of browsing, discovering, chatting and learning was worth paying for. I’ve never ordered a comic online.

    I don’t buy records often any more, but when I did it was always about the shop. The experience of browsing, discovering, chatting and learning was worth paying for. I did order vinyl online, but only Teardrop Explodes records from eBay. I always tried to find them in a shop first.

    I feel your pain, Jon. But I think you’re underestimating people’s love of shopping in independent stores like yours. You’ll always get a few list-makers and barcode-scanners, but only a few.

    Personally, I don’t get it. If what you want to do is browse films, get recommendations, lists and reviews *and* you’re the type of nerd who has a barcode-scanning phone *and* you know you’re going to buy the stuff on the internet anyway, why the hell aren’t you just using the internet? Using a video store as a browsing interface is just weird.

    Unless they are just trying to annoy you in a passive-aggressive attempt to be featured on your blog. 😉

    • Hey Ben,

      It really isn’t as weird as it seems – online stores have yet to find a way of recreating that shop experience where you just walk into a place and let things catch your eye, hold them in your hands, flick through them. I really think in the future people will mourn video shops – sometimes you know you want to watch a film but how do you know which one you want to see unless you can stand in front of a big wall full of hundreds of choices?

      In the back of my mind whilst writing this blog was this article:

      http://www.retail-week.com/in-business/marketing/harrods-attacks-dixons-low-down-ad-campaign/5006520.article

      Which is a pretty horrible development in sdvertising standards, although Harrods clearly came out the classier for it.

      Ben, you have a beautiful and old fashioned attitude which is shared by most of my customers here – the idea that a specialist shop is an asset to an area, a great resource and worth supporting. Unfortunately the vast majority of consumers now feel like you’re pulling a fast one if you can’t match online or supermarket loss-leader prices.

      But you have a corporatised public now. We’re literally across the road from Blockbuster, we’re cheaper and we do better deals and they still take the lion’s share of the business. The current generation have also kind of grown up without expecting good customer service.

      You think most of the Blockbuster staff are film literate? Or that the young posers in HMV could recommend a band you would love just by looking at you? Would you trust anyone behind the fish counter in Sainsburys to tell you exactly where the fish you bought is from and the best way to cook it? Do the staff at Marks and Spencer know how to make a quick alteration to a suit – or give a shit how it looks on you?

      And what are we doing with the handful of pounds and pence we’re saving? We’re spending it in the same shops that purport to be saving us the money on items very cleverly marketed to us as impulse.

      I’ll stop being a misanthrope when people stop being twats.

      If people really want to appear in my blog, I’ll happily mention any of our customers who ask to be mentioned. As long as they spend money. Is that me selling out? Ooops.

  2. I read this on an iPod.  But it doesn’t have a camera!

    I’d be interested in seeing how many people really will start habitually using iPhones etc to scan barcodes when they’re shopping. And as Ben says, why aren’t they on the Internet anyway?  You’re absolutely right about online stores being a poor version of the real thing, and working in that field myself I can tell you it’s going to be a long time before they catch up.  Yes, people are sheep, and they’ll put up with rubbish because they’ve been conned into thinking they’re getting a good deal!

  3. ‘firstly, the American price has no bearing on anything. By the time the comics reach me, they’ve had import duties and taxes slapped on them and the wholesaler has to turn a profit too. This means that I’m paying only a shade under that £1.90 cover price myself. The online sellers have far fewer overheads and buy in far greater quantities, meaning they get a bigger bulk discount and can turn a profit easier at £2.20. The pure profit I would make selling a comic at £2.20 would actually be a loss of about 30p. The maths isn’t so hard – say I did make 30p profit on a comic and my rent, staffing and rates comes in at about 6k a month, I’d have to sell about twenty thousand comics a month to cover it. Do you think I’m selling twenty thousand comics a month?’

    You should say exactly that to him next time, perhaps with a few ‘fuckings’ thrown in for good measure.


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