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The Madazine Team
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Note: In addition to the work of our permanent staff, articles on science and some social issues are contributed by freelancer Axel Griess (49, South African) – nihilistic, horizontal.
Surprises In Store
A startling new shopping concept was introduced yesterday when Priceless Stores opened the first of a projected nationwide chain of supermarkets. Costs of all items are set at opening time and shown on a large control board, linked to the tills and updated continuously. Special offers are indicated by a crawler strip crossing the bottom of the main display in TV news channel style. Variations in supply levels are noted by two patrolling inspectors, whose reports cause prices to rise or fall, reflecting the assessed values of remaining items. Ebullient manager Rod Perch explained:
“It’s a bit like Wall Street, or maybe a flea market – if there’s any difference. Our boss got the idea from a book on physics, where he came upon Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Basically, customers try to outwit the store and vice versa. People select items, referring to the control board, but there may be changes before the goods are checked out. On reaching the tills, purchasers are roped off and committed to buy, irrespective of price movements. Complaints are not entertained: punters must accept the rules.”
Perch took a brief phone call, then went on: “Employing a couple of monitors is labour-intensive, but there’s no choice. We used our own staff to experiment with shelf sensors, designed to detect the weight borne, relative to the items concerned, but it was hopeless. You’ve no idea how devious people can be. The favourite trick was to put bricks on the shelves before removing any goods, thus deluding the electronics into thinking that stocks were high and that therefore, prices were low. Human nature is disgusting.”
Speed is vital, as shopper Dudley Herring learned. “The trick is,” he said, “to buy cheap goods close to the check-outs, then get them through quickly. Yesterday, I bought eighteen packets of washing powder for £3.10 each. My transaction raised the price of the remaining twelve packs to £6.60 a time, but I’m all right for some years.”
Added obscurity arises from re-stocking being completely random, with shelves refilled by staff members whose work does not necessarily relate to what has been bought. The gamble is completed by a daily ‘crash-out’, when the manager, at whim, switches off the control board, which is reactivated ten seconds later, the prices having rotated willy-nilly. An extreme case was the transposition of dried fruit and spirits. Thus, computer programmer Andy Trout paid 59p each for two bottles of cognac, while struggling widow Edna Salmon forked out £13 for a kilo of raisins.
Teacher Daphne Whitebait was slightly disappointed after picking up eight tins of baked beans at an indicated price of 18p apiece. Unfortunately for the young lady, nimble pensioner Alice Haddock followed her to the shelf but beat her to the till, having bought twenty-three tins, the checking out of which cleared the stock, raising Ms Whitebait’s identical purchases to 77p each. “C’est la vie,” said Daphne philosophically, adding: “I don’t mind too much. Maybe I’ll fare better tomorrow.”
If this catches on, the National Lottery could suffer.