It feels like 9-11 hasn’t hit Malibu quite as we expected. Rather than a local downturn, things appear to be holding steady, perhaps even up ticking a bit because people seem to be sticking closer to home and spending locally. Everyone I know is avoiding flying, unless it’s absolutely necessary, and that includes me. It’s not that I’m afraid of flying, it’s just that it’s become such a hassle, or at least such an uncertainty, that it’s not worth the trouble. Although I must admit the hardest thing to resist is airfares like I’ve haven’t seen in years. But we’re not the only ones not flying. For sure, between the recession and 9-11, we haven’t seen foreign tourists this year, and that hurts a great deal of local businesses.
Holiday shopping, online
For the last few years I’ve watched Karen pour through catalogues and then shop online. Frankly, like many men, I don’t particularly like to shop, whether in person or online. There is also something about giving your credit card information to someone online or over the phone that makes me very nervous. It’s really kind of stupid when you think about it, because how many times have you just handed over your credit card to a waiter who hardly spoke English, in some hole in the wall restaurant, and never gave it a second thought. For all you know he’s out the back door and on his way back to Latin America or Asia. But, somehow online felt different. However, I finally decided to give it a try, at least for journalistic reasons, I rationalized.
First I went digital camera shopping at Bel-Air Camera and Sammy’s Camera, did some price shopping, spoke to some salesman who didn’t know anymore about the product than I did, and then I got online at Yahoo.com and into its shopping sites. There is a breathtaking world of information out there on any product including customer reviews, reviews by professionals and manufacturers specifications. If anything, there is too much information, but I soldiered on through.
What is staggering is the difference in prices for name brand products. A $1,000 retail camera might sell for $650 – $700 online, from companies that have been around for a long time and are well rated by their customers. The Web sites rate their merchants, or at least their customers rate the merchants, and although some of it is probably manipulated, some of it is genuine. I watched one camera company go from a 5-star service rating to a 3-star service rating in only a couple of days. It didn’t surprise me because when I tried to get them on the phone, all I could get was their voice mail and that wonderful refrain, “All of our agents are busy. Your call is very important to us. Please hold.” After you’ve heard that 10 or 15 times, you begin to wonder why if your call is so important to them, all they have is some little old lady in New Jersey handling all their phone traffic.
But with a click of a button you’re in another online store, and you’re making another phone call. Well, I got my order by UPS and it was almost right. But if they fix it quickly, I’ll forgive them and I’ll officially be a 21st century shopper. I suspect some of this is going to hurt retail stores, but many are going to go into what they call the “clicks and mortar” business and hop on the Internet bandwagon.
The other side of the information revolution
For all the wonders of the information revolution there is an entire other side of the technical revolution they don’t tell you about, at least not at first.
Chris Hasselquist, The Malibu Times tech-guru, told us when he first came to us, he was here for life. I thought he was kidding. He was, but he wasn’t. If it’s not a network problem, it’s a software problem or an operator problem. Then there’s that wonderful new software that does everything, or at least does it at the factory but not on your computers that are five years old, etc., etc., etc.
Well, what I’ve found is that you can teach old dogs new tricks, but the problem is that you just teach them fast enough before it changes again. There are times you just feel like saying, “I want the old world back.”