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Retail, gods and goggles.

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Traditional, brick and mortar, small-sized retailers in Australia are an amusing crowd. 

Competitive ranges of products, pricing strategy, fierce competition do not exists here: instead, a great many of those small retail shops are actually a cult. 

I have a strong suspicion that many of those guys and gals believe that by opening a retail store they PLEASE THE GODS! After that holy deed, they just seem to sit on their arses waiting for miracles in form of customers entering and buying something from their sorry ass range. And indeed they are granted this miracle,  since those stores continue to exist and their owners look well-fed. 


Truth is, those retailers are like goggles: they do nothing. 

Last saturday I went into a tobacconist shop in with a simple desire to buy some pipe tobacco. One would think that the tobacco store next to the supermarket which already carries most of conventional smoking products would have to do something and offer extended range or service to its customers, but no. They don't need to: The Gods are already pleased, and from that point on all that a shopkeeper has to do is to stare through the dirty window at well-legged females strutting by. There is no need to sell anything even slightly specialised: "people in this area are not interested in those products" he says. 

No shit, Sherlock. People in this area do not need another useless shop with a clueless shopkeeper either. And the first reason these people travel 10+km to the nearest worthy tobacco store in the city is because they know precisely, that local shops aren't here for them. They are here to please The Gods of retail. 

And this is why I do welcome online stores. The Gods seems to be much less pleased by those, so anyone selling anything over the internet actually has to work his or her (i prefer her) arse off in order to survive, and this includes better range, better prices and probably blackjack with hookers too. It also usually means that there is no low wage, clueless shopkeeper from funny country inside, and no one will fearfully eye me, expecting potential anal trauma I could deliver for having a lamantine instead of sales assistant. 

I'm not sure, why did the situation became so dire. Maybe it's because in Australia, the market outside major brands and mainstream goods is so scarce that any crap you stock will eventually be sold for twice its normal price, simply because it's better than nothing. 

Or maybe it's local councils which are to blame: they do have a say in what shops will be around and where. Those guys can be blamed for anything odd going in the urban area anyway: the only thing they good at is to fill coffins with themselves (only parking inspectors best them in this job), yet somehow they get a say in almost anything. 

Truth is, it doesn't really matter. There is a place there, without councils (yet), bored brain-dead shopkeepers who are as attractive as herpes, and with blackjack and hookers indeed. So screw you brick and mortar specialized stores, I'll buy my stuff on-line. 

Australian websites and usability.

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Clearly, most people who are responsible for usability in Australian web-design are thinking of web browsing as of luxury. According to them, you are supposed to dip yourself in some sort of excessively comfortable chair, light a cigar and, having most of a day ahead of you, start browsing some retail chain website. 

Either that, or a war against fast and effective access to information is raging on, and we, semi-normal people, are losing. 

One particular pet peeve of mine are store catalogs. Those monstrosities are made entirely in flash, and the only way to browse through them is to flip their kinetic pages with mouse. By holding and dragging. Of course, all normal benefits of flash, like broken browser navigation, inability to bookmark or link anything and necessity to have flash in the first place come with it.  Just to make process more lengthy and doubtfully entertaining, to extract any information from this catalog one usually has to zoom in (and zoom out later to flip it by dragging your mouse). 

I'm literally lost at telling on how many levels it is wrong, yet most retail chains are incredibly persistent in creating slow to browse, awkward copies of their paper mailbox spam on their websites. 

This is worrying.

This is as if we hit some usability threshold and rebounded into the need for some traditional and really ineffective metaphors for getting access to information. I do not want traditional metaphors, they never work well on computers and I do not want to delete my files by dragging them to some sort of mouth that will chew them, digest and poop them to trash 8 hours later. Garbage bins in most OSes are as far as I agree to go. 

Hence, I really hope that things like this come from some sort of flash-peddlers who approach CEOs with ideas like "Our customers will flip the pages just like they do with paper catalog". Or maybe it is a good time for me to process myself through huge meat grinder. 


June 2011

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