Well, hereʼs something you almost never see: an error message from the B&H web site.
B&H takes its web presence very seriously, and is among the planetʼs biggest targets for criminals. But somehow the boffins on 9th Avenue manage to keep the fraudsters at bay, while maintaining a web site that is fast, complex, and fairly easy to use.
This error message didnʼt last long. Only a few seconds. Perhaps today is a good day to buy a lottery ticket.
It seems strange to me that when filling in your personal information on the Fortnum and Mason web site that the default telephone country code is +229. Thatʼs Benin, all the way in Africa.
It would make sense for the default country code to be +44, since itʼs a British department store. Or maybe the country codes could be sorted numerically, so itʼs easier to find the one youʼre looking for. Or perhaps use the country code of the customers who generate the most revenue for the store, whatever number that may be.
But I doubt that the people of Benin buy more F&M stuff than any other country.
…Until today. Today I noticed that the check-out people at H.E.B. ask shoppers if they want paper or plastic bags. Itʼs like Iʼm in the 1980ʼs!
Itʼs nice that H.E.B. gives you a choice. If you have a pet and need poop bags, you can choose plastic, and re-use a plastic bag instead of buying new bags. Or, if you donʼt want to kill sea turtles, you can choose paper, since theyʼre made from trees, which we can make more of.
Itʼs possible to make moisture-resistant paper bags. Perhaps that should be the default so we can both bag pet nuggets and save the planet.
I spend too much time pointing out the shortcomings of modern technology. Thereʼs a reason that Tech and Fail are among my most populated blathr tags.
Today, however, Iʼd like to point out what, on the surface, looks like a tech success story. But at a deeper level is the success of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer to adapt to changes in society in order to — literally — deliver better than a tech company did.
It started a couple of days ago, when I ordered something medical from Amazon.com. In general, I donʼt buy anything that goes on or in a living being from Amazon. Between counterfeits, people selling used items as new, and a constantly-growing list of other reasons, relying on Amazon just isnʼt safe anymore. When your company canʼt even prevent selling bogus copies of books, you have a problem.
In this case, however, I ordered from Amazon because the medical thing I needed was not available from any of the CVS or Walgreens stores that I can reach, and purchasing from Walmart meant waiting two to three weeks for delivery. Walmart used to be safer than Amazon, but has recently decided to trod the same road to unreliability by embracing unknown, unverified, and dubious independent sellers.
What Amazon delivered was clearly not suitable. Instead of being in branded packaging, the item was in a Zip-Loc bag. Legitimate medical items arenʼt packaged in consumer baggies. Legitimate medical items are also not labeled by hand in ball-point pen. And they also donʼt spill their contents during shipping, unless they are seriously mishandled. The box that the item arrived in was in fine shape, and the medical item sufficiently padded.
Exasperated, I went to the CVS web site to see if perhaps the item was back in stock my local store. The CVS web site would not function. So I tried Walgreens. Except, this time instead of specifying a store that I can get to easily by train, I let the Walgreens web site pick one. And it did a splendid job.
The item I needed was in stock at a Walgreens in an area I would never think to travel to. So I put two in my cart, selected “Same day delivery” and went back to reading my New York Times.
Before I could finish the International section, there was a guy dropping a paper bag on my doorstep.
I checked my e-mail and found that the time from when I placed my order online until Walgreens notified me that my order was ready to be delivered was four minutes. Four minutes. It was picked up minutes after that, and delivered to me straight away.
The total time from when I placed the order to when I received my Walgreens order was 22 minutes. For an item that I couldn't get at a drug store near me, and that Amazon sent a counterfeit of.
Yes, I had to pay $3.99 for the delivery. But the item was a dollar cheaper at Walgreens than at Amazon, and I ordered two of them. So the cost difference was $1.99. More importantly — I got what I paid for.
Walgreens is better than Amazon. Man bites dog. The sky is green. Everything the tech bubble has been preaching about the death of brick-and-mortar is wrong.
I was surprised to learn recently that a good number of people in Chicago donʼt know what this is. And many people donʼt even notice that theyʼre there.
Iʼm old enough to remember when these underground kiosks thrived at CTA stations all over Chicago. Some were newsstands. Some were Dunkinʼ Donuts shops. Some sold other kinds of food to passengers. I always thought that was funny, because at the time, you werenʼt allowed to eat or drink on a CTA train. But the CTA was happy to sell you both inside its own stations.
I remember lines at the Dunkinʼ Donuts kiosks would sometimes be long enough to block the turnstiles.
Today, theyʼre all boarded up with stainless steel plates. Some, like this one, are decorated. As if to pretend that they never existed at all.
I know that Mayor Lightfoot put a lot of work into the retail experience at Chicagoʼs airports. One of her big successes was populating them almost exclusively with local restaurants. Great idea. But you can't highlight local businesses, if those businesses aren't open.
This photo was taken at on a Tuesday at 5:37pm. It does a pretty good job of illustrating the retail situation at Midway Airport. Even though this was prime time for travelers, very few of the shops were open.
First impressions count. And millions of people will have this as their first impression of Chicago when arriving at Midway.
The Eighth District police station in New Orleans has an unusual feature. Iʼve seen lots of police stations with gift shops and museums before. But inside the gift shop in this police station is a vending machine that spits out swag.
I slid my credit card through the reader, punched a button, and out popped a New Orleans Police Department ball cap. Very cool.
I think that many people donʼt know that the New Orleans P.D. sells hats, shirts, tote bags, and other branded items. At least it seems like the people who live in the Eighth District donʼt.
Early the next morning, I went to a bodega near Esplanade to get a newspaper. It was raining, so I wore my rain jacket, which is kinda-sorta safety yellow, and my new N.O.P.D. hat. There were some locals sitting around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. The store was out of newspapers, so I asked if anyone knew where I could get one because none of the stores near my hotel had any.
“Near my hotel” let them know I was a tourist. But until then, they said they thought I was a cop. When I told them I got the hat out of a vending machine at the police station, they were not happy.
I can understand why they were upset. If I can unintentionally make people think Iʼm a police officer, imagine what someone could accomplish if they were actually trying.
My apartment building has a Stockwell vending machine in the basement.
Unlike the vending machines of yore, this one is just an open cabinet with a camera that watches what you take off the shelves and uses magic A.I. fairies to send you a bill. That is, if it works. Which it doesnʼt.
I canʼt even get the Stockwell app to acknowledge that the Stockwell machine in my building exists.
I guess Iʼll spend my snack money at the convenience store across the street, instead. Where I can pay by cash, or credit card, or Apple Pay, or even food stamps if I had them. And if something goes wrong, there are intermittently friendly people to help me out, and not some Silicon Valley robot barking, “object has no attribute.”
I understand that most of the planetʼs stores are closed because of COVID. But youʼd think they could at least leave the vending machines on for us. Itʼs not like the cogs and gears are going to get sick.
Trading posts are still the one of the primary means of commerce and communication on the Navajo Nation. The tribal government operates some of them, but most are owned by white people, like the one Darcie is standing in front of. It's been operating since 1878.
The trading posts still exist because the companies you and I shop with aren't interested in opening stores on the reservations. Indians still actually trade jewelry, rugs, pottery, and other things for food, clothing, and even iPads at the trading posts.