Slavery in the Modern Commercial World

June 2, 2011

Slave – a person legally owned by another and having no freedom of action, according to the DeliveryDemon’s dictionary. The slave formed part of the wealth of the master, and was often used to generate more wealth. Supposedly slavery has been outlawed in most areas of the modern world, but is this true, or has it been replaced by a more subtle equivalent?

Suppose a company is sold in its entirety, or decides to sell some or all of its book of business. You, the customer, can be sold as part of that deal irrespective of whether you would choose to deal with the buying company. If you have a long term contract for a service such as utility supply, it is highly unlikely that any such sale will trigger a get-out clause in your contract. But the selling company is making money by selling you.

If your employer is sold, again you have no freedom of action. Some roles may be made redundant, others retained. If you occupy a retained role which is unchanged by the takeover you have no right to redundancy, not even if the new employer is one you might never have chosen to work for. Again the seller makes money by selling you.

The bureaucracy collects data on its citizens. Should you be born, or marry, divorce, or die, it becomes a matter of record and those personal details can be sold. Should you become a company director, your details may be sold. Should you decide to exercise your right to vote, your details will be sold unless you opt out, and that doesn’t provide a 100% guarantee. If you require hospital treatment, the consent form hides a proviso that your details will be passed on to a commercial benchmarking organisation called Dr Foster. Yes, our bureaucracy is selling our personal information.

Try being economically active, and it’s no longer a matter of exchanging currency for goods. The seller will move heaven and earth to acquire as much data as they can about you in order to boost their profits. We have become so used to loyalty cards we no longer think of how these little plastic objects are used to capture our likes and dislikes so that we can be targeted with marketing. Buying car insurance? Try doing that without giving away details of your house insurance. Buy a one-off gift online from Mothercare for a friend’s new baby and you have to set up an account which demands a much wider range of details than are needed for the transaction. Set up an Amazon account and every time you log in your transaction history is used to try and make you buy Amazon’s own products and that of the many organisations which use Amazon as a trading platform. Buy an iPhone and you give Apple a record of your movements.

Organisations tend to justify the commercial extraction of your data by saying it is used to give you a better shopping experience. In the DeliveryDemon’s experience, most people are capable of making their own shopping decisions. And targeted marketing models are usually based on such unsophisticated assumptions that random recommendations may well be as effective as their targeted suggestions. The only exception the DeliveryDemon has noticed is in the case of small specialist organisations whose principals have a great deal in common with their customer base.

So who’s making money out of you? And are they paying you for the value they get from you?

Delivering Food in the Internet Age

September 23, 2009

The DeliveryDemon hates shopping. Walk round the supermarket spending money on stuff to eat, and you only have to do the same thing a week later. It’s SUCH a chore!! So it came as a bit of a surprise, returning from a holiday in the Lake District, to have a reasonably enjoyable shopping experience. Which, of course lead the DeliveryDemon to wonder why she doesn’t mind picking up foodstuff at Booths in Keswick, while she absolutely hates trudging round each and every one of the local supermarkets in her home area.

And before anyone suggests that the DeliveryDemon shop online to avoid the supermarket experience, think about trust. On a visit to a supermarket you can form an opinion about how the goods are handled when customers can see what’s going on. If an online order is packed in some distant warehouse, that discipline has gone. If you don’t see respect for food in a store, how is food being handled behind the scenes? If, when you come to unpack your order and cook dinner, the veg are unappetisingly wilted or bashed, what do you do? You can complain and return items but by then your meal has been spoiled, and often people find it too much hassle to return stuff. It’s you who has to deal with the quality problem.

So why does Booths deliver a shopping experience which is so different? Certainly the layout is a bit more spacious, reducing the frustration caused by shoppers who stop for an extended chat, trolleys carefully parked to block the aisle. The excellent selection of beers on offer is an attraction, as is the carefully chosen range of local products, but the range doesn’t dictate the shopping experience. The secret is in the way the goods are handled and displayed, something long known to every market trader with a layer of shiny polished apples hiding a stock of poorer quality fruit.

Compare and contrast:

  • A freshly picked carrot with a glazed looking item from near-zero storage,  in its brief orange period between frozen lump and black slime
  • The tight white curds of a trimmed new cauliflower with the brown-splodged, limp-leaf-hidden face of one which has survived a lengthy trip along the supply chain
  • Tomatos with the sharp green smell of the plant, and the green-red, rock hard spheres, picked long before ripeness to prevent bruising in transit
  • A choice of breads from various bakers, each with their own baking method, and a choice of breadshapes all made to the same process and with zero taste variation
  • Glittering fish you need to get up early for because it comes in fresh every day and sells out every day, and dull-eyed specimens dragged from the freezer
  • Large packs of perky-leaved herbs, and niggardly sachets bulked out with parsley stalks and leaf fragments.

When the Delivery Demon stops at Booths she usually heads back south with a full shopping bag. Lakeland plum bread, Morecambe Bay prawns, rye loaf, ‘Cornish’ pasties, fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolates, artisan crisps and some interesting local beers. When she shops in her home area, she comes back with a bad temper and a list of items which were out of stock.

What’s this got to do with the internet age? In the old days, word of a poor shopping experience would circulate in a local community, but lack of convenient options would to some extent protect a poor quality shop from wholesale customer defection. The internet has widened the options. Supermarkets think they have addressed the internet age by offering online shopping and web-based information. Many have still to realise that the web has created a window into the quality of their entire operation.