Daily Archives: November 10, 2014

Shopping in Soviet times

I have been to Moscow about 5 times, all of them in the 2000s, long after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. I have not been in Cuba or any other communist country. I however remember the stories that a former boss I had, now retired, used to tell about when he indeed often visited Moscow in the Soviet era.

One of those anecdotes involved the shops of the GUM market in the Red Square (Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin; “main universal store”), then a department store and now a private shopping mall hosting all the Western luxury brands.

In his experiences, he used to describe the full employment, low labour productivity and poor service received in those shops. He said something along the line:

“… to make the most simple purchase you would have to deal with a dozen attendants. The one who opened the door for you, the one to whom you asked about the product, the one to whom you said you wanted to buy it, the one who would pack it, the one who put it in the bag, the one who checked you out, the one… It took a long time and dozens of interactions to purchase the simplest thing. One thing is for sure, that way full employment was assured”

In a recent viPad miniisit to the US, in Philadelphia, it occurred to us that we could buy an iPad mini and thus we approached the local Apple store on a Tuesday evening.

“You need to wait 30 minutes to be attended”

We left the shop and decided to come back the morning after. We did.

“We will be able to attend you in 15 minutes”

More than 15 minutes passed by, but in the end we succeeded in buying the product. Not without seeing flocks of Apple employees wandering around:

The guards at the entrance (outside and inside the entry door), the ones who just noted down your name (though later on nobody addressed you by your name), the “trainers” (who came in pairs, “no, we cannot take your order, we’re just making customers familiar with the products”), the ones at the “genius bar” (answering specific questions – do not bother them with the purchasing process), the one who brought the iPad from the back of the shop to the cashier, the one who cashed you out…

“Do you want it packed for a gift?” “No, please!” (at that point we only wanted to get out as soon as possible, who knows how many Apple middle men are necessary to wrap colourful paper around a box!)

I think that in 2014, an Apple store is the closest I have found to the communist era of shopping (1).

(1) No wonder that the products themselves are made in China.

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