PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Gravity is Good: the laws of gravity are re-instated
March 2001

You all know the perversity of the publishing business means that the cover date and the date at which the words are stuck down can vary by months..? Well, I write this on new year's eve (but bearing in mind we live in an inclusive society these days, I dare not say which one - please take your pick…).

So I've just had the benefit of a few days "chilling out" after the traditional month or so of "shelling out". I quickly tired of reading the inevitable "year end" round ups of the "dot collapse" etc., especially when written in the same chip-wrappers that did their best to stoke the madness in the first place when they all chose to fete the rash of "net totty" from the likes of Last Minute and Boo, and forget about us faithful if ugly old bastards that knew what we are talking about.

Although it's fun to float about in zero gravity for a while, as any astronaut knows, it's actually easier to operate within a framework of gravity, since you know where you stand; literally. So let's all be grateful that the period when laws of commercial gravity were suspended by the likes of QXL, Freeserve, Last Minute and the rest is now over. Let's now remember how to resume the "old ways" in which all readers can again exploit technology for the benefit of their personal and business efficiency - but by all means buy a lottery ticket if you feel that you are missing out on the dotcom froth, since that's presently the nearest any of us are going to get to instant riches in the next year, I fear.

The most startling thing that occurred to me in the past month is that the cost of living hasn't risen visibly in the past year. At least, not in the estimation of one who lived through the inflationary times of the seventies and eighties. The obligation to have my annual retail experience turned out to be a fascinating insight. I bought pairs of perfectly good shoes for £15, shirts for £4 and so on.

If one can resist the temptation to buy "prepared" and packaged foods and stick to the raw ingredients, then with baked beans at 15p a can and Tesco's "distressed sale" loaves for 20p , it seems possible to exist remarkably well in the UK on less than £20 a week, and a tent. No wonder Dover is besieged by "accidental tourists".

So why is it that prices really have stopped moving up inexorably year on year..? In the year that Marks and Spencer were held up to close examination by eTailers as the perfect evidence that the New Economy was trashing the old high street dinosaurs, the leading star of 2000 was the discount sales operator Matalan. Have you looked at ..? 

Here's an operation with plenty of bricks and mortar presence, and a web site that's every bit as convincing as the once almighty Freeserve (now a French-owned affair of all things).

So what's changed over the past 20 years to bring once rampant inflation to such a grinding halt? The politicians haven't got any smarter; businessmen and bankers haven't got any less greedy. Even where the raw materials have increased in price, the products gets cheaper - for example, the price of fuel and aircraft has gone up, but the cost of air travel has come down. What gives..?

The answer is the customers have got better informed and organised, something generally referred to as "transparency", meaning that there are few hiding places left, and technology is responsible for all this. The ability to communicate just about any information on anything means that there is no hiding place, and that products can be selected on the basis of the lowest price.

Now, part of my recent retail experience reminded me that there is still lot of meatspace action going on, and that few bricks and mortar businesses are quaking in their boots at the prospect of imminent e-nhilation.