Retail Entropy

Every retail store will suffer an entropy-related heat death unless care is taken to fight the slow sucking sound of wear and tear and ever-less motivated employees.

I visited the Metreon shopping center (they call it something else) near the Moscone Convention Center last night with my cohort, Jeff Carlson, and saw how the mighty have fallen. Metreon is in the middle of the official derelict and panhandler district in San Francisco. There must be a union: each street corner is limited to one person (or they work it out as an anarcho-syndicate.)

The Meteon was obviously envisioned as an upscale playpen which would pull this part of SF, known as SoMa (south of Market St.), up to a chi-chi-er level. It has movie theaters upstairs (but you buy your tickets downstairs), an interactive gaming level, and an enormous Discovery Store. It also had the first, only, and last Microsoft Store, and a Sony Store.

In the couple years since it opened, I've seen it during each Macworld. It's gotten seedier and seedier as the SoMa revolution stalled and broke. The dotcoms that had filled warehouses and other originally cheap office space around here are gone. Metreon and the businesses in this district obviously haven't been able to form a neighborhood business district patrol/cleaning squad (perhaps against SF's rules), so the area feels gritty, smelly, and dangerous, although I believe it's actually quite safe.

Inside the Metreon, the missing founding stores like Microsoft's have been replaced by various downmarket alternatives, like simple bookstores or other shops. Eventually, they will have T-shirt stands, the last refuge of a worried landlord.

The Sony Store is pretty awful, and a good demonstration of why Apple opened its own outlets (not that Sony sold Apple gear). Although one piece of every kind of digital gear (consumer and computer) sold by Sony is on display, there's not much you can do with any of it. One computer had a missing A key. A white sofa in a DVD viewing area had a large, old stain on it. As you entered this high-end store, there were racks of DVDs for sale (from Sony Pictures, one imagines). Jeff asked if he could get an Aibo demo and the salesman didn't want to do it; they had regular times they demoed, apparently, and even though the store was pretty empty, no go.

The equipment itself isn't inspiring when it's just sitting there. The salespeople made sure to not make eye contact and to wander off when you walked in their direction. There was nothing exciting about the place. There was nothing to do there but push buttons.

Sony seems to have already forgotten how retail works. Maybe this is just a bad or neglected store, but in an environment where you're selling expensive toys and work gear, everything should work all the time. The floors should not be full of scratches. The salespeople should be motivated. But they're not. It's a Radio Shack from the 80s.