Instead of going to the pub on Friday night, how about I deliver a couple of pints of freshly poured beer to your front door? Save you the trouble of getting dressed, getting down there, fighting your way to the bar, fumbling for your card and having to endure the inane ping pong of ‘how you doin’ and how chilly it’s been. Sound like a deal?
Of course not. Because it’s the ping pong, those awkward little back and forths, the messy fripperies of life, that maintain and lubricate our social status. But small talk nonsense is no inconvenient by-product. It’s absolutely integral to the overall pub experience. (My teetotalist readers can simply exchange the p word for coffee shop. Very similar, only with more annoying customers)
Picture someone sitting at home with a cup of coffee: absolutely normal. Now picture someone sitting at home with a pint of beer: that’s just weird. In fact, if you boiled down the entire pub experience, distilled it right to its absolute essence then beer molecules probably wouldn’t figure at all. That’s because ultimately, pubs sell community, a funny intangible thing that’s stitched together by all those awkward inconveniences.
Ridiculous as my offer to deliver that tray of beers is, it’s precisely what we’re doing when we order our groceries online. We’re busy, we’re agitated and we’d rather be trapped overnight in a lift with Therese Coffey than patiently queue for the Sainsbury checkout experience. But it’s our fault. Our relentless quest for convenience has slowly but surely sculpted our supermarkets to the point that we’d rather not visit them at all.
Quite rightly Tesco is closing all its food service counters and hot delis. It only took us a quarter of a century to realise that the whole thing was a charade: Fake fresh produce that’s just an unwrapped version of the shelved stuff, served to you by a nylon hatted gen-zedder with as much interest in fine food as I have in musical theatre. The burly baker was already banished to the backroom ‘parbakery’ where qualifications require no more than the artisan dexterity of Peter Griffin. In fact, the decline in the number of counter shoppers has been so marked most supermarkets removed those charming HMRC style ticket machines many moons ago.
You see, it’s all customer driven: install a few thousand pretend service counters; unwrap the food so it looks fresh; employ the genetically disinterested…and then close them all to save money! That old adage springs to mind: “Build it and they will come. Build it shit and they won’t.”
Of course, it was bad supermarket service that gave Jeff the inspiration for his “Just Walk Out” staff-free concept. His wish came true. We just walked out because, it turns out, we prefer rude staff to none at all.
Perhaps it’s time that our ubiquitous labour saving devices deserve a little more scrutiny in terms of actual convenience. Granted, you’d have to be a luddite activist to prefer the washboard over the washing machine, although I’m sure a posse from Extinction Washing Machine is scheming to blockade the Whirlpool factory as we speak. Mind you, when the activists from ED (Extinction Dishwasher) turn up at my door I just might let them take the damn thing. I’m sure I spend more time rinsing, stacking and painstakingly salting than I would by simply ‘doing the dishes’ in the first place.
The rush for convenience seems to drive everything as if it’s some sort of divine strategy never to be questioned. I blame the Americans. After WW2 the US teased the world with its ingenuity for technological innovation. They could play golf on the moon, put jacuzzis in the back of limousines and build fridges the size of a terraced house. And boy, we took the bait. Dishwashers, toasters, TVs, blenders and microwaves weren’t just natty tools to lubricate life, they were symbols of the free West!
Eighty years later as the train of progress hurtles along at an ever more perilous pace, we’re left wondering if our only purpose in life is to consume at that same ridiculous rate. The digital age brings us Payface, Facial Recognition Software and CBDCs that silently and invisibly worm their way into our lives as if reaching for a purse was such a terrible inconvenience. Soon a painless retina scan is all we’ll need to pay for the food from the giant vending machine our town centres have become. How convenient!
We all wish Godspeed to the train of progress, of course we do. Technological innovation will solve problems and unlock potential we cannot yet imagine. But the problem with the train of progress is that it’s so obsessed with hurtling towards the horizon it often forgets to pick up human passengers along the way.
Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily rants and light hearted banter