Benchmarks of Decay

Yesterday, I was looking for an electronic item for work.  It was something I could get over the Internet easily enough, but I wanted to see the item first.  Best Buy has a useful selection, good in a pinch, but the best store to look at electronics in New York is J&R.  The company was started in 1971 and is still family-run, and until recently, had a row of storefronts in the block facing City Hall Park.

Yesterday, I went there, and found this:

J&R Gone Vertical

The remaining storefronts were dark and empty, with signs indicating that they were available for rent.  Essentially, J&R appears to be in the process of relocating itself into about 40% of its original space.  I suspect that also means that half the staff has been let go.

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A while back, I needed some postage stamps.  I expected to get a packet of little paper squares with the American flag or some other clever design, printed in advance.

Instead, I got this:


Has the Postal Service gotten so desperate that they can no longer afford to print postage stamps?

5 thoughts on “Benchmarks of Decay”

  1. Did you buy your stamps from a machine rather than the postal clerk? You can get regular commemorative stamps or the Forever stamps from the clerk. They’ve done away with the old postal vending machines that contained pre-printed stamps because they used to be broken into when the post office was open for mail pickup but the post office was closed for business. This way, stamps are not produced until they are needed. The paper used to print the stamps is more or less valueless until the stamps are printed. Stealing stamps is like stealing cash, and one can get close to face value for the resold stamps.

    It isn’t that they can’t afford to print postage stamps, but that the stamps that you received work better with automated mail handling equipment than the old stamps. They are probably cheaper to produce than the traditional stamps. Go back to the 1960s, and the stamps were made by intaglio printing, which is the same process still used to produce currency. You can tell intaglio printing by running your finger over the stamp. The printing will feel slightly raised on the page.

    One of the more interesting ways to get cheap stamps is to buy “mint, never hinged” stamps on eBay. Generally you can get unused stamps for about 20% off the face value. The problem is that you will be buying them in lots of about $100 and will have to deal with odd denominations and need to buy “make-up stamps”, which are the small one to five cent stamps that the “Forever” stamp was designed to eliminate. The post office still sells them, but you will have to go to the postal clerk for them. I started doing this when I was shipping Priority Mail packages from Germany.

    A problem claimed by many businesses is “showrooming”, where people come to the store, check the price, and use their smart phone to get other prices, often not buying the item at the first store. I don’t see a difference between “showrooming” and comparison shopping, which has been done for centuries, unless the smart phone makes the process faster and more effective than just looking through the circulars in the Sunday paper. Consider this along with a tradtional measure of retail efficiency, “inventory turns”, or the number of times per year that a retailer sells the value of their inventory. I’d bet that J&R wants to keep a lot less inventory and take up a lot less space to make the business more profitable. Inventory is dead weight in retail. Businesses want to reduce fixed costs like rent and employees where they can.

  2. Yes, I got the stamps from a machine. The post office near my office always has at least a 15-minute line for a clerk, but if you go to the machine, you can get in and out fast.

    For me, ‘showrooming’ is different from comparison shopping. If I visit a store to do comparison shopping, there is at least the possibility that I will buy there. To me, ‘showrooming’ happens if I want to buy something, but can’t quite bring myself to buy it sight unseen. So I visit a physical store to examine the item, knowing all along that I will ultimately buy it on Amazon.

    What made J&R supremely useful was their broad selection in the store, coupled with competitive prices. You could find what you wanted, even if it wasn’t the most popular brand or model, look it over, pay a price that was within a few ticks of the cheapest, and take it home with you that day. If they turn themselves into Best Buy, with an abbreviated selection of the most popular items, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

    1. We have a chain out here — it’s 2 stores, so I don’t even know if that makes them a chain — called Microcenter.

      Best place to buy anything electronic — computers, cameras, you name it — and they’ll even fed ex it/ups the item to you if you cannot pick it up in store.:)

      They did the smart thing: did not expand and did not fix what was not broken.

      J&R was born about the same time as Crazy Eddie’s, I think…and we all know what happened to Crazy Eddy Amador and his electronics empire. What a fool.

      1. One of the former officers of Crazy Eddie now makes his living giving advice to companies on how to detect “control fraud”, which is when the people running the company are making false reports to make the company look better than it is.

        Eddie Antar did a fair amount of federal time. He was released from prison March 15, 1999.

  3. USPS lost twice when the old (2007 olr so) stamp machines were robbed, because they lost the cash that has been paid for stamps already sold as well as any stamps in the machine. The roll of stamps used in single-stamp dispensers is much larger, probably around 1000 stamps, than the roll of 100 stamps that you or I might buy. The older machines did not accept credit or debit cards. They did dispense change in dollar coins, which as a coin collector, I liked.

    Now the stamp machines produce stamps as they are needed, and can produce them in any denomination higher than seventeen cents, at least at my local post office. I bought a stamp for something like $4.20 out of the vending machine so that I could send a book to a friend.

    The distinction that you make between showrooming and comparison shopping is a fair one. If you already know the price and have no intention of buying the item there, you’re just getting a look at the item.

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