The Apprentice goes shopping…

Thursday, 19 May 2011, 13:14 | Category : General
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Loved last night’s episode of The Apprentice.

The shopping task is always my particular favourite as you see how the contestants (ahem candidates) cope when the pressure’s really on. And it always throws up a few gems like The Top Hat Dry Cleaners incident.

But what struck me as most interesting was the obvious reliance of the Google generation on the internet to find stuff. Give us a Yellow Pages and we’re stumped.

Whilst those picking apart the aftermath were quick to deride the Google generation for their lack of initiative, I couldn’t help but feel it was slightly unfair. A bit like sending a modern army into war with swords and horses – and scratching your head on the resulting scene of carnage. True enough it was the same for both teams, and also true that the team with the most initiative did win the day, but you get my point.

The fact is that so much of modern business purchasing is a pretty faceless affair. A modern procurement department won’t pour over the Yellow Pages, or make endless calls to secure a good deal, and rarely does charm (Jim) get the chance to win the day. Whilst the gift of the gab might work on the high street – getting a couple of quid off of a new PC – it is largely redundant in modern business where the seller does all the work and the buyer dictates the terms (unless they sell extremely RARE tea it seems).

Online procurement systems have made this worse AND taken a lot of the charm and human interaction out of business. Many suppliers get two choices – either underbid your rival or lose the business – no matter how winning your smile is. And it’s not just for supplies of paperclips either. My lowest ebbs at a previous agency was spent on a corporate version of eBay underbidding a competitor to win the right to supply ‘PR Services’ to a major international bank. The pitches we carefully honed and presented were all worthless as the final bid came down to who could do it the cheapest. It seems we can commoditise anything to get the cheapest price. Grrrr.

Little surprise then that the candidate whose heart Lord Sugar skewered last night was the online spectacle etailer – who no doubt at home buying supplies on the internet – was lost when it came to dealing with people and the face to face world.

Last night’s Apprentice was great TV (and I appreciate that online procurement systems aren’t) but I can’t help but worry that many of the traditional skills it assessed are (with great regret) becoming about as relevant as the Yellow Pages.


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