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A Conversion

For over forty years I was in the consumer products/consumer electronics industry at various levels, primarily in the sales and marketing segment. I joke about the fact that I worked for every company in these industries at one time or another. While I did not, I gave it a good run in trying.

One of the things I always held firm on was that I would not give my personal business to retailers that were intent on destroying the landscape by destroying their competition. I felt I owed it to my customers to buy from them when I needed to make a purchase, regardless if I paid a little more with them.

I was so much younger then, I'm older than that now.

Back in the day, Sears was the 800 pound gorilla of retail. There was a Sears store in almost every town in America, even if it was a simple catalog order store. The thing about Sears was that they believed there was room for others, and, while they were the clear number one retailer in America, they welcomed the competition of other national, regional, and local stores.

Everybody got along with each other. Of course a law called "The Fair Trade" law helped in that it allowed manufacturers to maintain a retail price while avoiding the Robinson-Patman Act. Once the Fair Trade Law was abolished retail went completely insane and we are left with the mine field we have today.

Anyway, my point here, to get back on track, is that once Sears lost the number one slot to Walmart, retail as we knew it, was doomed. Walmart has one goal and that is to come into a market and destroy all competition. They have been responsible for putting more retailers out of business than any other retailer in history.

Before Wally World got so big, there were others that had a run at creating pricing insanity. Service Merchandise was one of the first to offer same brands, at much lower prices, than brick and mortar. They had a good five year run, and had retailers hopping mad at them, until a new form of price shaving appeared.

Suddenly every retailer was up in arms with any brand that dared to allow QVC, HSN, and other TV retailers to sell their products. "They are killing my business!" they would cry. Of course life went on for everybody, even with these price busters doing well.

Retailers that made it a point to be aware of what these guys were doing, yet stayed focused on their own business, surprisingly, remained profitable and viable. As other price busting big box stores became en-vogue, like Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot, etc., smaller retailers struggled to keep up and eventually they succumbed.

The list of retailers, around the country, who are now gone, that were in business in 1980, is staggering and would take too much space to list. I was lucky enough to be in a unique position of having national responsibility, at a young age, so that I likely did business with many of them over the years. (No, I did not have anything to do with their demise.)

For many years now things have settled themselves and the retail landscape has been fairly steady. Of course every year a few places are gone but by and large, until Covid quarantine, they have been able to survive. The latest company to be on a seek and destroy mission against brick and mortar has literally come out of nowhere in the past ten or so years to dominate retail.

If Sears was the 800 pound gorilla, then Amazon is the 30 trillion pound elephant. While they were founded in 1994, it really has only been in the past ten years that they have dominated. Like Service Merchandise, QVC, and Walmart, traditional retailers complain bitterly about the way Amazon goes about their business. And you know what, rightly so.

As a consumer, who has refused to buy anything from these market destroyers all my adult life, I must confess that I have found myself buying more and more things from Amazon in the past year. I rationalize it by saying it isn't really safe to go out to the stores right now, or, I'm on a fixed income so I need to watch my money a little closer now than I used to.

The reality is that I have found them to be reliable, easy to shop, they have a huge assortment to select from, and their prices are outstanding. I have, effectively, gone through a conversion. And you know what? I don't hate myself like I thought I would. Well not because of this anyway, I have plenty of other things to work on as it is.

As a quick aside. In 1977 I worked as a buyer for Spiegel catalog, prior to getting into sales. Our CEO was a brilliant man named Henry Johnson. His vision of what Spiegel could become, and eventually did, was beautiful to see and to be a part of. But, I will always remember a casual meeting he had with the buying team one day, where he made a point, as an aside, that one day we would all be sitting in front of our televisions, with a personal computing device, and buying things from it and having it shipped to our front door.

I remember thinking, at the time, that he must have had a three martini lunch because that was crazy talk. A personal computing device that you could have in your living room. Insane. Another missed opportunity for me to add to the long list.

As I continue to struggle with long held principles regarding shopping, I am coming to grips with my conversion to Amazon as my go to retail outlet. I'm sure there will be a newer, better, cheaper form of buying stuff just down the road, there always is, and I will likely complain about them, before giving in and trying them.

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