The Argos Lesson

A friend tells me his elderly father wanted to peruse the Argos catalogue the other day. Fair enough.

So off he trotted down to his nearest store to pick one up. They usually sit on a huge pallet outside the front door. But when he arrived, there lain none.

“Ah”, says the Assistant “as soon as they appear, people swarm on them”. My friend’s Dad, in his 80s, can “always go online”, comes the advice. He isn’t online.

Is there a subliminal message for the bus industry here?

I’m increasingly aware of lack of printed timetables. Everywhere. Getting hold of one feels like a prized possession these days. Last time I was in Stafford, I hopped on a D&G bus solely to acquire their timetable booklet (before retreating, prior to departure). Another friend tells me they sell on eBay.

What? People bidding on eBay for a current bus timetable, because they’re so hard to get hold of? Another industry pal confirms this hard to fathom phenomenon.

Arriva in Leicester recently announced it was stopping printing timetables, and dressed it all up as “saving the planet”. Pull the other one. I might have been born the day before yesterday, but I’m not falling for that.

Printed timetable for buses may be a relic for today’s tech-savvy finger-prodders, (and – hey! I’m one of them), but I seriously believe that the industry is making a big mistake going down this route.

People like to browse. Like the Argos catalogue. OK, they might want an electric toothbrush, and they’ll find it online. But what about browsing the rest of the tome? How often has something else caught your eye? Something you never knew you wanted until you saw it?

Same with bus timetables.

When I was but a lad, pre-internet days, I used to revel in acquiring a timetable book. I’d spend hours looking at what was possible. I still do. Whenever I’m in Derby, I buy the local authority booklet, with it’s excellent map. It opens up new possibilities for travel that I never consciously knew about.  In Germany, the local bus & rail timetable booklet seems to reside in virtually every household and restaurant/pub. Last time I was there, I offered to buy one and the gentleman in the station simply gave it to me.

You don’t have to be a transport geek to want this. Yes, online timetables are useful, but I find the vast majority of them clunky to say the least. Then there’s the issue of revising your plans on the move. Is there a signal? Has your battery run out? A handy booklet is simple, effective and always to hand.

It may well be cost-effective to stop printing bus timetables, but what about the wider picture? What lessons can the bus industry learn from the stampede to acquire the new Argos book, whenever it appears?

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4 comments

  1. chrism1974 · August 8, 2018

    I completely agree with you Phil. I think this is very much a lost trick of the industry – remember, buses serve local communities and facilitate demand for other things – work, school, shops and leisure. How great would it be for an operator – or a collective of operators – to promote their local wares, opportunities to other things and, gulp (whispers) publicise fares and tickets.
    The best example of this is of course the wonderful ‘Bus Times’ in Brighton. Warringtons Own Buses has done this with Cheshire Cat. I’m sure our National Parks would/could benefit from selling networks.
    As a bus user, I want options for journeys and places to go. New places. Apps are fine but instantly perishable – almost like bus journeys. But printed material somehow makes bus services more tangible.

  2. Good post Phil.

    National Express West Midlands recently undertook a major change of bus routes in Southern Birmingham – a change so comprehensive that it can be rightly called the biggest since October 1986.

    The routes changed on Sunday 22nd July. NXWM turned up at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on the Tuesday before, for an information session. These, from a bus company perspective are a big marketing opportunity. On the one hand, you are giving information out about your new services to existing customers, so they are aware of the changes and can plan ahead. On the other, being at a major trip generator such as a hospital is a chance to sell your services to non-users, who may not have realised it is easy to get to the Q.E. site by bus. Also, the company have launched a service from Acocks Green to the Queen Elizabeth, which was a request made by a number of local people.

    NXWM turned up, two staff, a pop up banner and boxes of booklets explaining the changes. Did they have any timetables to give out to people, particularly as many would want to know when the bus was running, early and late buses (important for NHS staff), the route and where to get it? No….

    Did the staff have any information about fare deals and offers, such as discounted travel passes for hospital staff? No….

    Did they have a laptop, where if they wanted to get the information quickly they could go on-line and get it? No….

    Result – a perfect opportunity to maybe new customers missed, plus the existing ones confused (although to be fair, at least the booklet gave details of the changes and why) . But given the reductions in subsidy and the economic downturn UK plc is facing, the bus industry needs all the fare paying passengers it can get. The printed timetable can be such a marketing tool.

  3. A. Nony Mouse · August 9, 2018

    Like you I delight in picking timetables wherever in the world I may be, and indeed I have a collection dating back to the 1930s, but I suspect we are seeing the end of printed media not only in the bus industry but across the whole retail industry.
    Notice something about the elderly gentleman’s visit to Argos? They didn’t have any catalogues in stock.
    At one time it was a point of pride for Argos that they would always have catalogues available, save perhaps for the fortnight before the next one was issued. Today, however, there’s one print and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
    Unfortunately I suspect that’s deliberate: one print, and that print getting smaller each time until eventually the printed catalogue [or timetable] will be withdrawn “owing to lack of demand, as most people now go online”.
    The excuse will be “lack of demand” or “saving the planet”, but the real reason is that printed publicity costs serious money and not printing it is an easy way of saving that money. Online is king, not because it’s better but because it’s cheap, and if we want to use their services we’ll end up having to comply and go online to find out about it. Some people won’t, of course, but in the great scheme of things they will only be a few and the big businesses won’t care about losing their custom.
    Enjoy your Argos catalogue, your bus timetable, even your printed bus or train ticket while they last!

  4. Alex Jenkins · August 17, 2018

    This is something I’m noticing that really annoys me. It’s great having apps like the Arriva Bus app, but relying on them falls apart when your phone signal or internet drops out. And trying to use the Arriva website to have a look at a timetable is nothing short of frustrating. Thank God NXWM, like Arriva has them all in a PDF that you can download, but they tell you nothing about what route the route the timetable is for will take, and have no maps or anything that would be of use, not even a line diagram.

    Select has timetable leaflets for its routes 67 and 71 available in a holder next to the driver’s cab. If only there were racks in bus stations or a book, even if it was ring-bound available for all the services in a certain area, say Cannock, Hednesford, and Rugeley, but thanks to its ridiculous “environmental” policy, Arriva will probably never produce one.

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