Shopkeepers, Service, and Socialism

Hey Gershom, I always get smiles at the bakery. Maybe it’s because they know I can track their every move from my living room window.

Why should we argue? This is a blog, so let’s ask our readers. How many of you think service has improved in Israel in stores, government offices, banks, and health clinics over the last three decades? How many of you think it’s due in part to increased competition? Feel free to offer specific examples and anecdotes. Here’s one of mine:

When I ordered my first refrigerator in 1984, I got a call from a gruff voice who said he was from Amkor, the Israeli manufacturer. “We’re bringing the refrigerator two weeks from Tuesday,” they told me. “Make sure someone is home.”

“When on Tuesday?” I asked.

“Any time on Tuesday. Make sure someone is home.”

“I can’t be home because I’m going to be on reserve duty. Can we arrange a different day?”

“Tell your wife to be home.”

“I’m not married. Can’t we arrange for a different day?”

“If we come and no one’s there we take the fridge back to Tel Aviv and you’ll have to haul it from there yourself.”

Three years ago, Ilana and I finally replaced that refrigerator. We received a call from a pleasant young man who asked when it would be convenient for us to receive the fridge, and he offered several possible four-hour segments, mornings, afternoons, whatever was best for our schedules. Fast-forwarding time to the 2000s and we’re now able to look at a refrigerator buying guide online to see which model is best and where to get the right deal. There are no old-fashioned phone calls these days! Luckily, we haven’t had to buy another new fridge. In the 3 years we’ve had the fridge, we’ve only had to have 1 fridge repair and now it works just as well as the day we bought it. We even had the option to look into a fridge for rental service along with fridge repair just to make sure all of our bases were covered.

In 1984, Amkor had a quasi-monopoly, in that it was the only major local manufacturer of refrigerators and high purchase taxes rendered imports much too expensive for most buyers. Twenty years later, purchase taxes had been largely eliminated and Amkor was competing with a dozen other brands. I can’t prove it, but I suspect they realized that, given the new business climate, it was worth their while to be polite and flexible.

3 thoughts on “Shopkeepers, Service, and Socialism”

  1. I don’t live in Israel but may I offer the idea that the kind of service you get is also closely related to the kind of product in question. Fridges are not a natural monopoly so freeing up the market tends to attract more providers and at least increase the chances of services improving.

    It doesn’t work like that for things like utilitiies, for example

  2. I can’t comment specifically on the situation in Israel, but I think monopolies, or their siblings market concentration and trusts are by no means the exclusive domains of socialism. Would you think of the OPEC as a socialist institution? Was the US Telecommunications Act of 1996 which led to massive media consolidation a socialist endeavour?
    On the other hand, one of the “blessings” of highly competitive capitalism has been an unfettered barrage of advertising, telemarketing, spam etc., which is at least as annoying as the occasional insolent clerk.

  3. It seems to me that two Israeli institutions have benefited greatly from the demise of socialist policies – the post office and the phone company. Phone prices have gone way down because of competition (at least long distance rates have). It’s now possible to get a new phone installed pretty quickly. I have a friend who when I first lived in Israel (about 20 years ago) sent postcards to friends to set up times to meet because she still didn’t have a telephone. When I was in Israel last summer I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that I could add minutes to my cellphone service by going to the post office and having the clerk add the minutes via computer – taking about 3 minutes. (But I also benefited from the usual Israeli impulse to enter into a stranger’s business. At first I had no idea that this is what the clerk was going to do, and the people standing in line with me explained it to me in a very helpful way).

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