Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Robinson In Cyberspace

It's ironic that my attempt to purchase Robinson In Space on DVD (along with London) should turn into a commentary on modern consumerism. The BFI released this DVD on the same day that Optimum re-issued Last Year In Marienbad, and it so happened that I had a £5 off voucher from HMV that had to be used by end of May. Synchronicity! So off to Oxford Street I went. Hmmm, they had Last Year In Marienbad, and they had a space in the racks for London/Robinson In Space, but no actual copies of the DVD. Oh well, obviously not in stock yet.

I had a look on the HMV web site. Now it had Robinson In Space but not Last Year In Marienbad. Besides I couldn't use my voucher there anyway. I popped into the Oxford Street HMV again at the end of the week (look, I genuinely just happened to be passing), but it was still not in the racks. I noticed that HMV was flaunting an award from some music industry gong fest recognising it as Music and DVD Retailer of the Year, despite its apparent inability to offer two DVDs in the same retail space at the same time.

At the weekend I noticed in the Guardian's Guide booklet an advert for Robinson In Space issued by the BFI but with sign saying Available at HMV. So, off to HMV again on Tuesday, the last day of May, last chance to use my voucher, to discover that that's "available at HMV" as in "not available at HMV". Now I could have spent some time railing at the staff about futility of it all - I mean, what's the point in advertising something if you're not actually going to stock it?

But instead, I just did what I should have done first off. I went shopping in cyberspace. Amazon had both DVDs at a fiver off apiece, and my order qualified for free shipping. So it cost me less money than buying it from HMV would have done. Sure I've got to wait for it to be delivered, but HMV has already made me wait nine days with no guarantee of it being in their store even a week later.

So what does this say about the state of modern commerce? Well, obviously, Amazon is going to win. You cannot beat better price and more or less an infinite number of items in stock. I do feel sad about the decline of the small independent book and record shops, but Waterstones, Borders, Virgin, HMV etc. are going to kill off those anyway. So if Amazon can really stick it to them that’s about as good a result as we're going to get. Of course, Amazon may get bloated and complacent like HMV but the web makes things different. They start to take their customers for granted in the full knowledge that another book supplier is only a click away.

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