In looking to finish my wicking beds I’ve needed to go and buy some stuff that has neccessitated me going to a larger hardware store than usual. This shopping task has taken me through two very different experiences. The first was at a medium-sized local hardware store where one of the staff asked straight away whether I needed any help and then, after my mandatory ‘male walking around pretending I know what I’m looking for’ I accepted his offer. Within 5 minutes I was loaded up with two armfuls of bits and pieces for the beds. We got to talking about what I was making and I explained the purpose of the various components. He seemed honestly interested in what I was doing and ducked out the back to retrieve a roll of off-cut shade cloth that he gave me for next to nothing before wishing me all the best.
Now we’re trying to avoid commercialism and consumerism but I’ve got to say that I left with only what I needed and was under no pressure to buy anything else. There was no ridiculous, “but you can get another one for just $1” or “would you like to upsize your weedmatting sir?” No it was just a transaction and I left feeling okay with the world.
As if to offer counterpoint my next stop was a ‘hardware warehouse’ type store. Now I’ve sworn since this particular behemoth opened that I wouldn’t set foot in it. This is partly due to the fact that the almost identical one of the competing brand (that is just across the street) stocks pretty much identical versions of the same cheap, poor quality goods that are invariably manufactured and imported from somewhere in the 3rd world. It’s also partly because as a friend of mine explained, these two stores did not open across the road to take each other’s business as much as to ensure that the smaller players (the local stores) went out of business. But mostly, and this may sound shallow, it’s because I’m sick of standing in the middle of a wide concrete aisle surrounded by boxes of poorly organised goods just trying to catch the eye of an employee who may or may not be walking past the end of the row some 10 or 20 metres away. I am not a meerkat and I don’t want to pretend to be one surrounded by nuts, bolts and screws. Clearly this is lowest common denominator shopping so staff are thin on the ground at the best of times and most times totally disinterested because, and I’m going out on a limb here, they are poorly treated, poorly paid and have very little loyalty to the ethics of their employer.
As bad as the original hardware giant is, I have to say the new store takes consumption to a whole new level. It is enormous! I walked into the garden section (which has its own entrance) to find the rack of sentinel like pot plants overflowing with water that was happily running down the drain (probably worth noting it hasn’t rained in about 2 months). As I ventured further in to the shop I just became more and more despondent. Pallet storage towered 5 metres into the air, everything had vague, unhelpful labelling and titles that are designed to get you to buy stuff and think about it later. Bags of ‘Happy Play’ sand sat next to ‘lush crop’ soil conditioner without any suggestion of what either of these things actually are unless you brought your own magnifying glass. Imagine the ‘Brazil’ (the film not the country) of hardware. All I wanted was to get the cost of sand which I eventually found sitting stacked on a pallet in the middle of the concrete walkway. The top three bags had been ripped open and had leaked sand into a messy pile with a multitude of footprints and trolley tracks to attest to the time it had sat there. It also appears that nobody had thought that maybe a price-tag would be useful so off I went to find someone. To say I had to ‘meerkat’ is inaccurate. I actually had to stalk an employee. The employee not only didn’t know but somehow couldn’t find out and suggested I ask someone else. Well that was me done, I had lost interest in any further exploration. But I wasn’t going to get out that easy, the store still had one more joy for me to experience. One would have thought that at the very least, taking your money away from you would be a fairly high priority, but no. The 8 or so checkouts in the garden area were abandoned. One even had a phone ringing in the vain hope that someone might actually answer it, which they didn’t. So I traversed from ‘Garden’ To ‘Hardware’ to find a rack of self service checkouts. Finally I crossed paths with a single employee wandering around looking bored and disinterested, whose sole purpose it was to wish you a good day after you left.
Well enough. If this is progress then I don’t want any. How is it that we have let the big chains get away with making us the checkout workers so they can increase profits? But it’s up to us. If we want to see fewer and fewer people employed, less and less competition and less services all in the name of convenience and ‘lower prices everyday’, then let’s just keep quietly accepting this sort of rubbish until we no longer have a choice and we have to shop at their store, buy the product they choose and watch as people, conversation and interaction are priced out of the market.
Or, if you think this just isn’t okay then shop local, pay the extra to support your local small distributer and make a point of telling them why. If you do go to the big chains; boycott those self service tills and line up behind the one that actually employs someone. If there’s too many people then make a fuss and demand they open another aisle and when the smiling person suggests that you could always use self checkout suggest to them that they could try teaching their own children, doing their own dental work or immunising themselves prior to their next overseas jaunt.
Or if you’re sick of a products in the big stores being wrapped in shiny triple layered kiddiephillic colours, then emulate the (alleged) story from a colleague who was rumoured to have taken all the needless packaging off as his items were scanned and leaving them in a pile at the checkout.
It’s up to us people, cause silent acceptance is consent for this to keep happening.