Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Heights in Customer Service Theory from the PLCB

What’s the latest, misguided stroke of Orwellian benevolence to issue forth from the hallowed halls of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) you ask? It’s front page news here in Philadelphia: a proposal to install wine vending machines – kiosks if you prefer – in supermarkets. According to current PLCB Chairman PJ Stapleton, the Board’s “focus right now is on what the consumer wants.” He and the rest of his staff in the state capital seem to have figured out that being able to buy milk, Pepsi and wine in the same place is the foremost desire of citizens throughout the state.

If the PLCB moves ahead with its plans, consumers will be able to do just that. Only just. The vending machines are designed to hold 500 bottles but will offer a scant dozen selections. The plan is likely to result in about as diverse and natural an array of options as on the menu at your local McDonald’s. And it will be almost as convenient.

To use the machine, all you’ll have to do is register your proof of age, credit card information, fingerprints and an infrared scan of your arm with the PLCB customer service department. Until you’ve completed the registration process, you won’t be able to see what’s on offer in the machines. The selections will be enshrouded behind opaque glass, a manifestation of the PLCB’s ongoing campaign to protect minors from the inherent evils of viewing wine bottles. Just place your arm and fingertips in the kiosk’s biosensor unit and, voilà, the glass will clear and your dozen choices will be revealed.

As the PLCB has already figured out through their years of experience running Pennsylvania’s state liquor store system, consumers don’t actually want knowledgeable guidance in making their wine selections. So, for your shopping convenience, the machines will be unmanned. However, the system will monitor your buying habits – just to make sure you’re not developing any bad habits – and check your blood alcohol level before allowing you to make a purchase. Just what you’ve been waiting for, no?


Nancy Deprez said...


Awful. Sorry about all this. Sounds dreadful. You and Michael are truly humorous, though, about this PLCB organization. It's like you can do a stand-up routine.

Joe Roberts, CSW said...

I've been following this for a while now.

Dumbest. Idea. Ever.

From the organization that spends boku $$ lobbying that face-to-face sales are essential for keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors, comes the faceless wine dispenser - but it may make them more $$ so it's ok?

I guess we can just add this comment to my long litany of railing againt the PLCB... ;-)

Dr. Vino said...

One alleged PLCB employee cast doubt on this plan ever happening in a comment on my blog. You may be spared.

David McDuff said...

I don't know if I can do a stand-up routine, Nancy, but the PLCB in general, and this kiosk idea in particular, would be perfect fodder for anyone from Seinfeld to Carlin.

I don't see how face-to-face sales could possibly be any more effective than a biometric scan performed by a cold-hearted kiosk. In either scenario, consumer freedom is the last thing on the mind of the PLCB. This is just another cog in the wheel of control, vaguely justified by the PLCB as "keeping liquor sale profits in the hands of PA taxpayers" [sic]. As you say, Ri. Dic. U. Lous.

I'll be spared no matter what, as I won't go near the things. I do think their implementation is a long shot. But stranger things have happened in the supposed name of progress.

Tom Hudson said...

I promise to run for Governor of PA and make my #1 platform issue to be the abolishment of the PLCB.

Now if only I was a resident of PA............

Lenn Thompson said...

Oh how I miss my home state of Pennsylvania!

Not to play angel's advocate here, but isn't SOME access to wine in a grocery store better than the current system...if only a little?

I mean, don't get me wrong, PA liquor laws are as backward and anger-inducing as they come, but still.

The best part of this post was the quote “focus right now is on what the consumer wants.” Classic.

David McDuff said...

I'm not sure about that, Lenn. I think convenience is overrated when it comes to wine. In spite of green concerns and the cost of gas, I'd rather go out of my way to get good wine than settle for a crappy selection at the supermarket, especially if I have to register my biometric data to gain access to it.

You may have time to establish residency before the next PA general election.

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