Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Weighty Matters

I had a rather disturbing dream last night. I dreamt that I had become massively fat. Now before you all cruelly think "you are already", I am not talking about my normal state of borderline obesity, but a future scenario in which I had achieved truly gargantuan proportions. So much so that at one point I squeezed myself into a lift, and the sign on the wall read - "Maximum Load 8 Persons - or 500kg - or Jason Ayres".

Anyway thankfully I awoke to find that I was merely my usual cuddly self. Perhaps it was a subconcious warning from my brain of the consequences of what might happen if I keep up my excessive late night crisp consumption. Who knows?

Anyway, Lynda and Duncan came round this morning for coffee around the kitchen table. How very civilised I am becoming. Fortunately Duncan is a man after my own heart and I was most pleased to see that I am not the only person who eats their biscuit in one go. As usual we were able to relate a few food related anecdotes, which included me showing off my pet, Andrew James, the meat slicer, then we moved on to discussing possible blog topics. After much consideration I have settled upon the subject of shopping.

Before you all groan, this will be a new angle on an old theme. It will not be a lot of dewy-eyed reminiscing about the time that Mini Cheddars were on Buy One Get TWO free in Somerfield, or a lot of complaining about the evils of Tesco destroying the town centre. I tried that one before you may remember, on facebook, with my Save Bicester Town Centre page and it just got filled full of ads. No, today I am pondering the future of retail, particularly in how the high street will measure up against the internet in the future.

My target today is some of our long establised national chains. The likes of Argos, WHSmith, and other names that have been with us all our lives. Will they be around forever? Well I wonder. There was a time when who could imagine a world without Woolworths? But we all know what happened to them.

When the internet first burst on to the scene some 15 years ago now, with internet shopping soon following, many confidently predicted the end for retail as we know it. Who would go into HMV or Waterstones and buy something that could be bought for half the price on Amazon? Very true - who indeed? But those chains are still with us. I have a theory as to why - and also a theory as to why they won't be much longer.

It's because that first great internet wave was eagerly adopted by "Generation X" and younger people very quickly. I was 25 in 1995 when I got the internet. But they did not capture the cash rich "grey market" so quickly. I can remember a number of comments from more senior relatives who didn't get this "new-fangled t' internet", I don't need to say more, I think Peter Kay did a whole routine about it.

Retailers fought back against the likes of Amazon and Play.com by developing their own competetively priced websites, whilst keeping prices in their shops artificially high. How they must have laughed at the poor old sods, slow to adapt to the new technology as they paid £34.99 in the shop for something freely available on their own website for £19.99 and for even less at Amazon.

But that market is shrinking. My mother is now using a Kindle and buying her books and DVD's on Amazon, and my dad has been using the internet for some time. They are both in their 70s and by no means atypical, so the theory that the older generation doesn't get the internet no longer holds up. There are still plenty of people around who aren't so tech savvy but the pool is shrinking every day.

The price discrepancies are still there though. Here's a few examples. I wanted to buy a little accessory for the PS3 this week and went into Argos in Bicester to see if they had it. They did - and it was £29.99. I then came home and looked on Amazon. It was £11.70. How can Argos justify such a high price? I guess up until now they have figured that well, there must be some idiot who will buy it. Maybe there is, but one day there won't be.

Another example. I used those 9V batteries for my karaoke mics. You know the ones you used to dare people to put on their tongue at school. Anyway these are about £3.99 for one in the shops. On eBay I buy them in boxes of 10 for £7.

Ink Cartridges - how anyone can let themselves be ripped off by WHSmith and PC World for these is beyond me.

It does seem that anything electronic has the greatest savings online.

The last credit crunch saw many retailers go to the wall. It looks as if we may be heading for another, 3 years later. I would not be at all surprised to see another culling of dinosaurs on the high street this winter. The likes of Argos will probably survive - they sell enough different stuff to get by, but some of the more specialist retailers look very vulnerable.

If it's not the internet that will kill them it will be the Supermarkets. So here I present to you my endangered species list of overpriced retail chains from a variety of different sectors. Don't buy shares in these if you know what's good for you.

1) HMV
2) Clinton Cards
3) Jessops
4) JJB Sports
5) Thorntons

If I was going to invest any money in a retailer - which I am not - then I would invest it in Majestic Wine - a company I highly admire. They sell a fantastic range of wine, are competitively priced compared to the supermarkets, have no major internet opposition, and are run by specialist people who know what they are talking about. An example of how to do it right.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason x x

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Choosing a paper

I am becoming rather promiscuous in my choice of newspaper lately. Now over the years, I have chopped and changed a few times, but never really found one paper to stick to. So I often find myself at the newspaper counter thinking “which one will I buy today” as I cast my eye over the front pages.

One I definitely will not be buying is “The Sun”. How I detest that mindless publication. It just about sums up everything that is wrong with this country. I don’t need to go into why – if you’re on my wavelength you’ll know. Suffice to say that one glance at the front page for the latest headline about some twattish celebrity e.g. Jordan/ Kerry Katona/ Cheryl Cole (delete as appropriate) or some mindless TV programme Big Brother/ X-Factor/ Dancing On Shite etc says all that needs to be said.

I don’t have to worry about offending any Sun readers whilst writing this as they are not part of my target audience so shouldn’t be reading this anyway. If you are, congratulations on coming this far, I will try not to use too many long words for the remainder of the article as I'd hate to lose you.

I do not buy any of the other red-tops either, though I don’t reserve the same level of hatred for them as I do for “The Scum”.

At the other end of the scale, most of the high brow papers are out too. Why? Well for starters I have never been able to cope with broadsheets. Who can? You need the sort of breakfast table you would find in a stately home to spread the thing out and then some sort of telescope to read the text at the top of the page. So what – try and fold it, maybe? Hold it up while you read it? I always get in a total mess. I can’t be doing with all that pissing about anyway, and it’s not practical while I’m trying to wolf down my bacon and eggs. Tell me if you have worked out an easier method, because I’m stumped!

Now helpfully, most of the broadsheets are aware of this issue and now publish in a tabloid format, so for a while I became quite loyal to The Times. Unfortunately, there is just too much of it. It was alright when I was at the probation office. There my daily tasks were simplistic to put it mildly compared to the challenges of the corporate world, and I could do what was required of me each day in an hour, leaving me plenty of time to read the paper. As long as I produced a few interesting looking graphs on offender rates and spurious recommendations for the big bosses I was pretty much free to enjoy my time as I liked.

Now I am at home all day I have far better things to do with my time than reading the paper. On an employers time – yes. On my time – no.  Anyway, I am trying to run my own business, run a house and look after two small children which is far more like hard work than some cosy office job. In the immortal words of Basil Fawlty “Do you have any idea how much there is to do?”

So there’s not much point me spending a quid a day on a paper I am going to read one quarter of at best. Plus I am annoyed with them at having the cheek to charge for access to the Times website – all the others are free, so I generally only buy it on Saturday now, as it has an excellent sports section.

That leaves the middle ground papers. Now the Daily Mail is not a bad paper but a little too reactionary for my liking. You know the sort of thing I am talking about, retired Generals writing letters to the letter page recommending bringing back flogging/ National Service/ Hanging etc as a cure to the nations ills. That leaves the Express which I do like – though I have been told it is a woman’s paper apparently. But there is one thing about the Express that infuriates me and that is the front page. Which is even more irritating than the Sun’s.
Reason being – that there are basically three stock subjects they use for the headlines, always with a sensationalist headline in order to try and get people to buy the paper. These are a) Health, b) House Prices and c) Weather.

In terms of health – there will be at least one headline a week screaming out “Miracle Cure For Heart Disease”, which in fact will on further reading just be an article about something that everyone already knows, e.g. that an aspirin a day is good for you. Either that or it will be the latest food scare or cure – which contradicts itself on a weekly basis – so this week coffee will cure cancer! But next week it’s bad for you again.

Then there is house prices. At least once a week there will be a headline along the lines of “New House Price Crash”. Followed a few days later by a completely contradictory one announcing “House prices going up £100 a week”. Further reading usually reveals these are complete non-stories based on some very ropey figures brought out by someone to further their own interests.

And finally the worst of all, bullshit weather headlines. Every year at the same times the same stuff is trotted out. In April and May we are going to have a heatwave summer. This week they had a headline screaming out about a big freeze next month. What a load of absolute bullshit. Surely they cannot think that Joe Public really thinks that it’s possible to accurately make such long term predictions. Anyone who thinks they can pinpoint the weather so far away is merely indulging in idle speculation. It’s cheap journalism at its worst and the Express does it year in year out.

Now I have my own views on long term weather trends, and there definitely does seem to be a pattern at the moment towards cooler summers and colder winters in the UK, but this is merely part of a long term cycle. If you look back at the history of weather in this country you will see that there are decades with colder, snowy winters, (the 40s, 60s and 80s) and then mild decades when it didn’t snow for years on end, (mid 90’s – mid 00’s) – there’s nothing more unusual about this than runs favouring red and black on a roulette wheel. But to use the fact that we’ve just had two cold winters to indulge in speculation of a freezing October is just nonsense. If it does happen it will be all down to random factors, not any clever predictions by the paper.

So here is my prediction – 100% accurate. Generally from October onwards it will get colder, the nights will grow longer. There will be some wet spells and some drier frosty ones. There will probably be a couple of cold snaps, maybe a bit of snow, maybe not. From about late February it will start to warm up a bit. There. That’s all you need to know.

So much for the Express then.  Just as I am about to despair ever finding the paper for me, suddenly along comes a new paper “i”. At last – a scaled down version of one of the decent papers, small enough to read in a day and at the table, no celebrity bullshit, quality journalism – and all for just 20p. Even if I don’t get to read it all, well, it’s only 20p isn’t it?

If any Sun readers have got this far – congratulations, I am impressed, and here's a pair of tits.

Jason x x