Dear God

As we near the end of 2020, the prognosis for the American department store is grimmer than it’s ever been. The reasons extend far beyond Covid-19 or even the continued rise of online shopping, and have more to do with trends in the American economy that have been shrinking the middle class while enriching the already wealthy. That’s why the decline of these retail giants is something to pay attention to. They employ hundreds of thousands of people and occupy an outsize space in our communities; their gradual disappearance, as well as what is replacing them, tells us something about where we’re headed.

—Samantha Oltman, editor of Recode

This is from Recode. You know, people talking about technological change? Technological change being the thing killing the department store. We don’t need nor desire generalist retailers as a specialist is only a mouse click away….

19 thoughts on “Dear God”

  1. What are these

    ‘trends in the American economy that have been shrinking the middle class while enriching the already wealthy.’?

    Surely the vast majority of people can do Internet shopping?

  2. Having read it, I can’t see anything to complain about. I could have made those observations myself; apart from I would have differentiated between the public sector middle class – who’ve continued uninterrupted sucking on the public teat – and the private sector copped all the pain. The future does look grim for department stores. And we do need to be aware that we are going through a period of great change and the consequences will be adverse for many affected. This is what happens with change, isn’t it? Winners & losers? And people with abundant capital are better placed to take advantage of change and be amongst the winners.
    The surprise is seeing it on Vox. One would have expected a bleat.

  3. Personally, I’m looking forward to Strong AI. And watching all that distributed processing currently performed by middle class office bods being done quicker & cheaper on silicone. Going to be thoroughly amusing.

  4. Last Xmas we decided to buy a new TV. We went to John Lewis and saw one we liked at a reasonable price. That branch had no stock and no other branch nearby had one in stock. But we could put ourselves on a list and get an email when it returned to stock.

    We went online and trawled the other local stores. A shop 20 miles away had the TV in stock. So we did click and collect. The process was far from transparent when we got there. First up, the disavowal of any knowledge of the order. But we did leave with the TV, eventually.

    And they protest about ordering goods and getting the goods that you ordered delivered. We went to the shop just to see the screen in action, check the ports etc. The fact they had no stock to sell verges on fraud, in my book. The email has not yet arrived

  5. Off topic but if someone is stuck for something to watch on TV, how about this….

    I Still Breathe
    A short film from London based director Alfred George Bailey
    Intertwining sound, movement and and interviews to form a powerful response to the death of George Floyd and racial injustice.

    Sounds. Fucking. Brilliant. Not.

  6. @Diogenese
    I’ve just had very much the same experience. Went to buy a new printer.I want to print cardstock so I need a printer will handle it. As far as our all singing all dancing electronics stores concerned’, if the information’s not on the outside of the box, they don’t know. Once you’ve looked it up on Amazon,read the specs & the customer reviews, what’s the point of returning to the store? I was with the carriers two hours after I placed the order. Be here Monday

  7. Good luck with that BIS! A few years ago I ordered a camera battery in Seville… It took 5 days to get to the post office.. An ordeal for a battery!

  8. Amazon.ES sellers seem generally pretty good. I can’t help wonder if they’ve reputation concious Amazon behind, them kicking Dago arse. (Of course a lot of Amazon ES sellers are actually UK) Dealing with Spanish companies direct can be very…mañana.
    Post office? Correos! I have a PO box, which is common in Spain where a lot of properties don’t get deliveries. And I get a lot of parcels. Correos seems to have three totally separate but parallel systems for handling parcels. I get a notice of receipt in the box. I may or may not have got an SMS to tell me it’s there. Roulette on that one. I queue for a server & they scan the barcode on the receipt advice & go find the parcel. Then they manually type in the details off the receipt advice, give it to me to fill in the ID information that’s already printed across the top of it & sign. Then I sign the electronic pad. If there isn’t a hitch, the process takes about 5 minutes. Sometimes I have 5 parcels or more to collect. Maybe your battery guy died in the queue. This is a country where changing the registered ownership of a car requires multiple appointments in person at the traffic office & can take a week.

  9. Must agree BIS. Amazon seems to do a good job.

    Here in Oz, light bulbs all used to have bayonet fittings, as God intended. Alas some foul fiend in the bureaucracy has now allowed the sale of screw fittings, devised by the arch-fiend Edison. As you’ve guessed, the bloody bulbs do not have a nice big sign on them saying screw fittings.

    After a couple of incidents, I gave in and admitted Satan had won. So I found Amazon sold bayonet to screw conversions. A simple order of bayonet to screw converters arrived within a few days of it being submitted. God had outsmarted the devil.

  10. Bloke in North Dorset

    Personally, I’m looking forward to Strong AI. And watching all that distributed processing currently performed by middle class office bods being done quicker & cheaper on silicone. Going to be thoroughly amusing.

    I’m betting it all goes tits-up.

  11. For 50 years we’ve been told that the middle class is shrinking, which is somewhat true, but only because they’ve been getting richer. OK, right now we’re in the shit due to the worst pandemic in 100 years but prior to that the middle class was doing just great.
    There’s a joke about Joe & Mary Average reading a story about how bad the middles have it – on their iPhones at the airport waiting to fly to Europe.

  12. BIS,

    “Personally, I’m looking forward to Strong AI. And watching all that distributed processing currently performed by middle class office bods being done quicker & cheaper on silicone. Going to be thoroughly amusing.”

    AI doesn’t really work like that. AI is more about possible matches. So, for example, credit card companies use AI to compare recent patterns with normal patterns and detect fraud. You book a holiday, buy a PC, spend £500 on clothes in a weekend, the AI sees this as abnormal spending if you aren’t generally doing that. But that still means a person has to call the cardholder and check. Most cases are false positives, but it’s good enough, finds enough fraud that they do it.

    The media have jumped all over this because of machines playing chess and a few demos of self-driving cars on a dry straight road with nothing around, but your average “tech correspondent” knows jack shit about their subject.

    Most office jobs are destroyed by the stuff I do, just regular software. You give people a website to change their Sky package and they aren’t phoning the call centre.

  13. In the US at least, the Mall is where the department stores are. The Mall is still a major part of social life. People go to browse the shops, to eat in the food court, to go to the movies and whatever. Little of this depends on the department stores getting custom. The mall needs a couple or more of good anchors to attract the customers but it is not essential that those shops get business. As it is, the good malls survive and the bad or mediocre or just plain not-special malls die. One reason being that if you have to get in the car to go shopping, you are going to drive right past the crap malls to get to the best one. As our host has remarked often, this is not the time to be investing in commercial retail space.

  14. My wife has retired from, but still works part time at, a US women’s clothing retailer. Business is down, but still going, though with a reduced number of face-to-face sales. As many as 50 orders are filled each morning from store stock to meet internet orders that had been sent to the HQ, but ordered out of her store’s stock. Many orders are rather large, but turn into large returns at the nearest store, with only a small part of the order kept by the buyer. Very little new stock has been received since Covid began.

    Wife and I wanted a chest freezer. Plenty to choose from on the web, but ALL of them were not in stock and had availability dates months in the future. Same with a replacement dish washer — no one has stock.

    Very hard to make money selling what you do not have.

  15. Bloke in North Dorset

    Wife and I wanted a chest freezer. Plenty to choose from on the web, but ALL of them were not in stock and had availability dates months in the future.

    That was one of the panic buys at the start of Covid lockdowns that didn’t really make the press. A friend reported trying to buy one at PC World in March and was told no chance, none left for in the country.

  16. Esteban says: “OK, right now we’re in the shit due to the worst pandemic in 100 years….”
    I think you’ll find that, rather than due to the poor old virus, we’re in the shit due to our fucking useless government and its machinations, Esteban!

  17. I don’t know – this is not my field – but surely the demise of shops makes us all wealthier? After all the general cost of retail cathedrals are reflected in the price we pay for stuff, and t’internet drives those costs down, to the enrichment of all of us? It might make Bezos wealthier (on paper) but surely that is because not many others have worked out how to do it yet!

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