National supermarket chains are trying something new. You can call in your order and have it delivered for a fee.
What a great idea. Someone probably got a bonus or a raise for coming up with an idea that my father used in his country grocery store in the 1950s and 1960s. The only difference I can remember is that his delivery service was free.
It was a simple process. A regular customer, usually an older person without access to transportation, would call the store. My mother would take the order and get everything together. We'd put everything in a cardboard box. My father would load it in his 1964 Dodge pickup and deliver it. Sometimes delivery would require a social conversation with the customer. That's how it worked in the old days.
The store usually closed in time for my parents to watch Bos Johnson deliver the 11 o'clock news on Channel 3 and for D.J. to give the weather forecast. If someone they knew knocked on our door and asked if they could get some milk, bread or bologna, my parents would open the store up and make the sale. It wasn't a 24/7 operation, but hours were flexible enough to meet customer needs.
Those were the days when doctors made house calls, Valley Bell delivered milk to your front porch and a Huntington dry cleaner sent a truck into Ohio weekly to pick up and deliver laundry.
But the smart people and the smart money pushed the old country stores out of business. I remember my father standing on the front porch of his store in the 1960s and predicting that within 10 years stores like his would be gone. He was off by a few years, but not much. He passed away before the 10 years had passed, so he never got to see his prediction come true.
Over the years, I've come to see time as circular. Or as the Good Book says, "That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been " (Ecclesiastes 3:15).
My father's delivery service catered to his steady, older customers. From what I hear from my friends and acquaintances, it is the older and less mobile customers who are the primary users of the chain stores' delivery.
Even fast-food places will deliver now, just as pizza shops have done for decades.
There's something amusing to me that the big corporations see they had gone too far in expecting customers to come to them and to do everything for themselves. In a fast food place, you clear your own table. At almost every convenience store you pump your own fuel.
As one business person in Chesapeake, Ohio, explained it to me, businesses have trained their customers well.
The help at these places often act as though they're doing you a favor by showing up for work and filling your orders instead of being grateful you're spending your money at their establishment.
Time has a way of bringing down the mighty. Kmart, Sears, Radio Shack and other stores that dominated their segments of the retail industry have learned that. Today's giants will likely see their market shares diminish over time, too.
Online shopping with overnight delivery forced today's big boxes to return to retailing's past when customers really did rule. I look forward to the day when capital is available and supply chains are developed so neighborhood businesses can thrive again.
Just as they did in my father's day.
Jim Ross is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email is jross@HDMediaLLC.com.