Entry 220: Retail Rebellion

Probably very few of you remember this, but before there was Best Buy…before anybody TheWiz[1]tried to beat the Wiz…even before Eddie went crazy, there was something called JGE Electronics.

You may not remember the name of the store, but if you lived in New York in the early 70’s, you probably remember the commercials. (Sadly, I can only find a single example of a radio spot online.*) In the spots, the store’s owner, Jerry, usually wearing a hardhat, strolled across the screen as off camera voices yelled “What’s the story, Jerry?” He would then tell the story, which was that his store was only open to government workers and union members, who could get tremendous discounts on appliances and jewelry. He would then spread his arms out wide and end with his catchphrase: “That’s the story!”

The whole thing about the government or union ID was sort of a scam to get around Fair crazy-eddie[1]Trade Laws that were in effect at the time. These laws kept prices high by limiting how much retailers could discount them. By ostensibly requiring IDs, Jerry was creating a kind of private shopping club, sort of a prehistoric Costco.

It was the first instance I can remember of a retailer trying to grow a business by keeping people out of it.

This “growth-by-exclusion” was a pioneering retail strategy that can still be seen today in stores like Staples, although, in that case, the stores keep people out unintentionally simply by making sure that every employee is completely incompetent and that, at any given time, nothing that you want is in stock.

Of course, the aforementioned Costco, as well as Sam’s Club and BJs Wholesale Club, carried the idea of exclusivity to the extreme by actually charging people to shop there. Personally, I have a problem with paying for the privilege of patronizing a store. (I don’t even think malls should make you pay for parking.) I never thought these membership operations would last.

I also thought it was a good idea to sell my Apple stock at $20.

I mean, I always thought the mission of a store was to be inviting, to say “Welcome, please come in and shop with us.” I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when shoppers had to sneak into a store on someone else’s ID just to buy a year’s supply of toilet paper, not that I know anyone who does that.

I have to admit, though, that you don’t need a bouncer by the door to keep me out of a retail establishment.  I’ve never really liked going into stores. In my entire life, the only category of any kind in which I was an “early adapter” was online shopping. Before that, I used to order everything from catalogues, but then I sometimes had to talk to a person on the phone. With online shopping, I could buy stuff without having any interaction whatsoever with another human being!

How great was that!

I was such an early Amazon customer, my password only has 5 digits. For the first year or two, they actually sent me a Christmas gift. No kidding! I think Jeff Bezos may have once hand-delivered something.

I bring up Jerry and Jeff (but not Jerry Jeff Walker**) because of a recent news story out of Australia, where a specialty grocery store called Celiac Supplies has begun charging a $5 fee “just for looking.”

Yes, that’s right. It’s a grocery store with a cover charge.

Celiac Supplies, which sells gluten-free food, claims that it has to institute this entry fee because too many people come in, look around, and then buy less expensively elsewhere. They are trying to solve this problem, evidently, by ensuring that people don’t come in at all.

I don’t knowsign about you, but I find this highly offensive. I mean, here I’ve spent all that money and about a week and a half to get to Australia just to buy gluten-free whole wheat bread or something, and I have to pay $5 just to get in? And, by the way, that’s $5 AU, which is $5.19 in real, U.S. currency, which makes it even worse.

To be fair, the $5 is credited toward your purchase, provided you make one, which I suppose is the point. You think, “Well, I could buy it for $3 less online, but I’ve already spent this $5, so…”

In other words, they’ve somehow reduced the pricing advantage of their competition by charging an extra $5.

I’m probably totally wrong about this being a bad idea, and soon people will be lining up to pay to get into Whole Foods.

And we used to think Eddie was crazy!

See you soon.live-from-dixies-bar-bus-stop-jerry-jeff-walker-cd-cover-art[1]

*Jerry did, however, go on to own a disco in Queens, for which he did a very similar commercial.

**He wrote “Mr. Bojangles.” He might even have danced a lick.

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