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I've been noticing lately some frequent ads on TV touting "a new way for buying a car!" This is being offered by the company who invented the car vending machine. First, you get online, access the website, select the car you like, click on your choices of make, model, color, and various options, then you click on the financing agreement, and finally you either have your new car shipped to you or you go pick it up at one of the company's car vending machines. You can buy your new car while watching your favorite TV show!

These days we have opportunity to buy and sell over the Internet, with ebay, or Amazon, or WayFair, or Activate, or Walmart, or even your local vet clinic. You just get online, click on your choices, click through the payment part, and either have it delivered to your house or go pick it up at the drop-off place. You don't have to walk any store aisles pushing a cart; you just fill your cyber-cart online, pay with plastic, and continue lounging there at home. Alright, how new is this new way of buying things, sight unseen?

When I was a small boy, in the 1940s, I recall that my family, and many country families like us, used to rely to a large extent on the Montgomery Ward Catalog for buying things we needed at home, including clothing, home furnishings, appliances, tools, musical instruments, cameras, photo film, garden implements, harness for the horses, garden tractors, lawn mowers, farm tractors and even design and materials kits for assembling a new house. I concede that we didn't fill out the order form online, mainly because there was no such thing as the Internet or any similar network back then; but we filled out the order on paper, mailed it to Montgomery Ward, and we might receive our items in the mail or would pick them up at the railroad station or maybe go to the store in Fayetteville to take delivery of a major item. Our family did almost all of our "mail ordering" with Montgomery Ward. Many other families ordered from Sears Roebuck, the other really big mail order company. Over the years there were a number of mail order firms that competed in the catalog marketplace, companies like Fingerhut, Land's End and J.C. Penny's.

What I'm thinking, is, with all this online buying and selling and having things delivered to our homes, and buying things by selecting items from pictures of the items, we seem to be going back to "old-fashioned ways of doing things," only using high-tech digital tools to do what we used to do with our old low-tech analog tools like pencils and pens and paper forms and postage stamps. In fact, in the old days, if you went into a general merchandise store to buy groceries or garden tools, like as not the proprietor would greet you at the counter, inquire about what you needed, and he would go back into his store and get the item for you. You didn't have to walk the aisles pushing a shopping cart. The store man did the work for you.

Some 60 years ago, our old-fashioned full-service stores began to be replaced by an exciting new concept for stores. The supermarket was invented. The supermarket put the items right out where you could see them, where you could self-select what you wanted, collect your items in your very own cart, and ultimately finish your shopping by going to the convenient check-out station. Full-service service stations about the same time began to be replaced by self-service stations, where you could pump your own gas and check your own oil and air your own tires and check your own radiator. Progress, right?

Back in the 1980s I was still ordering stuff from Montgomery Ward. I even bought my first computer outfit from Montgomery Ward. I bought a Commodore 64 computer, along with a disk-drive unit, a tape-drive unit, a dot-matrix printer, and a primitive modem, all by mail order. I saved money by using a little black-and-white TV as a monitor, rather than paying for the more expensive Commodore color monitor. It wasn't long after that, about 1985, that Montgomery Ward announced that they were discontinuing their historic catalog, and would no longer sell merchandise by mail-order. They wanted me to buy insurance from them, as they changed the nature of their business model. I was stubborn about wanting my old companies to sell stuff, not insurance. So, I wrote off the loss of mail-ordering opportunities as a form of "progress."

So, are these new ways of buying and selling really new, or are they a re-appearance of old practices? What's so new and great about about buying stuff by selecting a picture of it, (sight unseen), and having it delivered, (even by drone)?

Who wants to buy a car sight unseen, without sitting in it and test driving it, and wheeling and dealing a bit over the price? OK, I did buy a book from Amazon. They had copies of it to offer and no one else did. But I'm becoming old-fashioned in my old days. Some of these new ways of buying and selling don't sound that new and great!


Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at, or call 621-1621.

Editorial on 02/06/2019

Print Headline: "Is It New, or Old?" Is it new or old?

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