Tag Archives: merchandising

Really Dumb Olympic Trinkets

I wasn’t sure what I would write about today but then I received, with my bank statement, a little blurb about winning some Olympic art, sort of. My bank is VanCity, a local, good reputation bank. But in the statement was this double-sided pamphlet from Citizens Bank. It says, “You could win 1 of 12 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games edition Visa prepaid card collector sets.” Phew.

Okay, so first Citizens Bank in my VanCity statement? It makes me wonder what my bank is getting out of it. Then I thought, okay, so I enter to win and then get 12 Visa cards with a prepaid amount, maybe $100 on each. That would be a nice prize, $1200 maybe to spend on the Olympics.

But no, as I read, it turns out that these are prepaid Visa cards, as in you don’t have to buy them. Okay, when have I ever had to buy a Visa card except off of the shady guy on the street corner in Paraguay when I was on the run from the black ops CIA? Never. It turns out that there isn’t a prepaid amount, nor can you put funds on them, but this super duper Olympic art is prepaid, as in you don’t have to pay for it. If you go out to buy them it will cost you $25, $50 or $100. WTF? So what I’m getting is 12 little pieces of plastic that say Visa and have (for the most part) paintings of headless athletes.

These are such great pieces of art that the pamphlet doesn’t bother to mention the artist’s name. And really, if it’s not original the best it can be is a limited edition and there is no comment on how many pieces of plastic have been printed. So whoopdeedoo, if I go to citizensbank website so that they can start spamming me with Visa applications, and I enter to win this “‘prize” I get 12 Visa cards that can’t be used with pictures of headless and generic athletes on them. Wow. That’s impressive collector’s hoopla for the Olympics. Don’t forget this said it was also Paralympics. I can’t see one image that looks like it shows an athlete who would fit in the Paralympic category. No crutch, no wheelchair, no amputee. Okay, there might be one on there but it’s unclear from the pamphlet.

But yes, if I want any piece of so-called Olympic art sanctioned by the official committee then I will indeed rush out and buy these pieces of worthless plastic. I’ll mount them in a frame worth more than they are and put the “collection” next to Bubba’s beer cap collection and the plastic beads from Mardi Gras in New Orleans. People may want a souvenir or a piece to remember the Olympics by but a mass merchandised shirt or stuff mascot is probably going to be more useful than the supposed collectors edition of Visa cards that are in fact as mass produced as these other items. Why not just mass produced fake paintings? Because then Visa couldn’t plaster their branding everywhere. Personally I’d rather take pictures but these days that could you get you arrested.

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The Demise of Bookstores

I spent many many years working as a book buyer in a bookstore. It was a bookstore specializing in science fiction and fantasy, as well as books to do with cartoons, animation, fantasy art and genre films. I used to know every book coming out. The bookstore was mostly a comic book store that had the book area as well as the gaming area, which had started with Dungeons & Dragons.

The comics branched into all sorts of merchandise, made hugely popular by Todd McFarlane and his toys and of course his Spawn comic creation. Dungeons & Dragonsexpanded into numerous other roleplaying games and became predominated by Warhammer. The books, well they went the way of the dinosaurs when the owner decided they weren’t profitable.

Of course the reasoning was faulty because most bookstores keep their regular customers coming in by buying the new monthly releases. All publishers have new releases and most of the major ones have both paperback and hardcovers, with the larger and more popular selections coming out before the seasonal holidays and the second largest for the ending of the school year (usually the college year but coinciding with summer as well).

The owner didn’t pay his bills on time, which meant the mass market monthly releases didn’t come out and though some people were always buying the older books (series) too, many shoppers read all the new books every month. It was a flawed logic but it still killed the book aspect of the store, except for the art books.

Over those years there were fights by many independent booksellers to protect their rights. The megastores like Chapters came along and got super deep discounts from the publisher, which meant they could lower the price of their books. Whereas the small independent bookstore would buy maybe 25 instead of 2500 of a book and couldn’t lower the price. The difference in the two types of store is that the bigger chain stores often had staff who knew nothing about books and a new book remained on the shelf for two weeks only, then was stripped and sent back. (stripping is where the cover is removed from the paperback and returned for credit since returning the cheaply printed books is not economically feasible).

The small bookstore would tend to keep a larger variety of titles on the shelf for longer, perhaps specializing in genres (antiquarian, fantasy/sf, crime/mystery, religious), and the staff would be highly knowledgeable, as well as lovers of reading themselves. But how does a little mom and pop operation compete against a corporation with business men drawing up plans for increasing revenues? They can’t and most bookstore owners do it for love, hoping they can survive, pay the rent and maybe live off the proceeds. You don’t get rich running a bookstore.

The independent booksellers had to band together across Canada to keep themselves from sinking. It worked…to a degree. In Vancouver, of the three bookstores that specialized in science fiction and fantasy (The Comicshop, Granville Books, and White Dwarf Books) only one survives, White Dwarf. Chapters expanded their sections somewhat but you’ll be hard pressed to find something really odd or obscure, or an older series but an other than top list author, unless you go to White Dwarf.

It is a constant threat and on top of the big box stores these days, there is Amazon, with their big discounts. Unfortunately people are looking more for the discounts and saving a buck or two (that they may then pay in shipping) and foregoing service and knowledgeable staff. I’ll always be a champion of the little independent store whether it’s selling pet food or books. To me, the homogenization of our society into sameness and banality will kill individual thought and creativity.

Maybe we are heading toward a completely electronic society, but not yet. With the economic crunch, it will be the demise of some bookstores and this article is worrying. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2009/02/02/bookexpo-cancelled.html This happens again and again and will happen yet again, but a plus note is that booksellers are tenacious and hopefully book lovers will survive. Here’s to the little guy, the underdog and a search for the unique shopping experience in the world of mass merchandising.

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The Idiocy of Retail

On one of the writers’ lists, we ended up discussing shopping experiences this week. It began with someone going into Chapters and being asked no less than twelve times in as many minutes if he was finding what he wanted. Most people decided they’d rather have no service than service that killed any joy in shopping, or more in a bookstore, browsing.

I had the reverse experience in Future Shop where the CDs were so mixed up I could find nothing. The store wasn’t that busy but when I looked for a clerk, he was watching TV. I didn’t buy anything there.

Service has always had its ups and downs. You either have overly helpful clerks who don’t know when to give you space (like the overattentive waiter) to those that are too busy chatting to each other or fixing makeup or watching TV to actually do their jobs. And then there are the ones too clueless to hold the job: they don’t know their stock or as was the case in Calgary at a restaurant, the waitress didn’t know what alcohol was besides beer.

There are the clerks who are truly helpful. They’re visible but they don’t crowd you. They stay alert and notice when you start to look around for help or have that bewildered deer in the headlights look. It seems rarer these days. I’m more likely to go back to a store that has good service and have walked out of stores with no service or bad service.

Like at The Bay. I was looking for skirts and carrying a couple on hangers as I walked around. It seems one was touching the floor and this clerk with no manners came up and said, “You’re dragging the skirts. You’ll ruin them,” and wrenched them out of my hand. Where was the mud? She could have said, “Can I put those in a room for you,” but she didn’t. I turned around and walked out. When I tried to find The Bay’s address/email online so I could write a letter of complaint, could I find anything pertinent or even a customer service line? Nothing. This way The Bay is assured of only having good reports. I didn’t shop there for many months because of the rude behavior. After all, there are plenty of stores.

I might just be a crank but I do expect to be treated with the same attentiveness I would give someone if I had those jobs. And I have, in the past. I’ve been a waitress. I’ve been a store monkey.

Another aspect of idiot retailing is the lengths stores will go to help perpetuate a myth. The myth of the ideal body. Women are supposed to be caricatures of the ideal female. We’re supposed to have large puffy lips, large but not pendulous breasts, narrow waists and boylike hips. Botox will give you the lips and implants will give you the breasts. But should you want the cheaper way of getting the larger bustline, the stores have helped. I’ve not changed in inches but I now wear a C cup because it is far more desirable than a B cup. Bras are also padded in a variety of ways to increase the illusion of bustiness.

Le Chateau has taken sizing to ridiculous heights where no one wants to be seen as wearing large. You’ll be lucky if you find a large in the store but you’ll find medium, small, extra small, extra extra small and extra extra extra small. WTF? I’ve bought an extra small and still found it too big. Petite is better in their books where a small would probably equate to a size 10. Even stores that have numbered sizing have changed it. A size 8 is now larger than it once was. I find that depending where I shop, I can wear anything from a small (or extra extra small) to a large, or a size 3 to a size 12. Perhaps everything should just be a free size these days because the numbers don’t matter.

Starbucks takes this in the other direction. No one wants to pay five bucks for a small coffee so the small is a tall, the medium is a grande and when they ran out of words in common English usage for large, they went to venti. What’s that, Italian? So there is a small English, a medium French and a large Italian. When it comes to food we want grande, super size, mega large, but when it comes to fitting ourselves into clothes we want petite and super extra mini small. Unless you’re a man. Maybe shoulder widths on jackets have expanded as well for those manly, super hero broad shoulders.

But as one person pointed out on the list, there is a plethora of interesting names for condoms including iron grip and super strength. The sizing is hidden but there is never a small.

May all your shopping experiences have medium attention from the clerks and the prices be super extra extra cheap and the bargains be mega uber mondo grande.

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