Getting back to business

commentary Is it time to get back to business or time to come up with more excuses?OK, 'twas the season to be jolly; now we can all get back to being grumpy.
Written by Brian Haverty, Contributor

commentary Is it time to get back to business or time to come up with more excuses?

OK, 'twas the season to be jolly; now we can all get back to being grumpy. We can return to wringing our hands, worrying about how the economy is going to fare this year, and how business is continuing to remain flat.

Which is why a holiday experience of mine seems so bizarre to me. I was doing some early Christmas shopping (which in my case means two days before December 25), and found that to buy some basic articles of clothing I had to stand in queue of 30 people at Grace Bros (there was another equally long queue for the second register in the same department). As the line crept forward, at least three different customers blew exasperated breaths, put their intended purchases into the nearest bargain bin, and stormed off.

I don't know if anything changed later in the day, but if this was the best the store could do to cope with holiday shoppers, it was a pretty poor performance. Business flat again this year? I'm not surprised.

I thought this was funny (not at the time of course, but later), because in these pages we are continually exploring ways of doing business better and more efficiently, and often the message is, as technology brings us new ways of doing things, to not forget basic business practices. Here was a perfect case in which those "traditional" business practices were extremely lacking.

There still may be a long way to go with online shopping, but for the most part, the larger operations seem to be extremely sensitive and responsive to customer needs.

Woolworths managed to get it right--when I found myself in an incredibly long pre-Christmas queue that had developed for the express lane checkout, a store employee appeared with a handheld register and began ringing up people's purchases. No one left the queue that time.

It's a petty rant, I know. But after listening to years of excuses as to why spending hasn't picked up (GST, the Olympics, terrorists, SARS--the alarming increase in the number of baby dangling incidents will no doubt be next), missed opportunities are especially galling.

And while we're on the subject of petty rants, here's a headline I saw recently: "More Chinese Use Handhelds than Landlines". Now that certainly doesn't surprise me, especially if the Chinese have used the same methods of outfitting public phones that we use in Australia: make sure they (a) have slots for cards that no one uses, (b) feature no working coin slots, and (c) sport a heavy-duty cable with no handset at the end of it.

Scientists may be saying (this week anyway) that they don't believe there is any proven danger to humans from extended use of mobile phones, but I still find it extremely irritating to be unable to track down a public phone (or even a phone directory) in the middle of the CBD when I need one. (Mobile phone batteries do have that nasty tendency to go flat on occasion.)

Have any gripes you'd like to air? And what advatanges/disadvantages do you find in doing business online (shopping, share trading, making reservations, etc) versus through traditional means. Let me know by sending your comments to edit@zdnet.com.au or posting Talkback below.

And while you're in a sending mood, let me remind you that I am still l collecting nominations for Australia's most influential IT personality. Send us the name of the person you feel is influential, inspirational, and insightful, with a brief description why.

We will keep you informed as to how the voting is progressing, and once we have a short list of candidates, we will put them up for a vote.

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