Monday, February 23, 2015

Take my database — please! Inventory idiocy continues.

I'm a Scotch guy, I collect it and I drink it, which means that I look at what the PLCB has to offer and if, by some freak chance, it is something I want, I compare the price to what it would cost me to buy out of state or have it shipped in. (Lots of places will ship to PA and I urge you to search them out.) Needless to say, I've not bought a collectible bottle from the State Store System in a decade. I still keep looking, and the way to look is through the system's website, either the PLCB product search, or the "Fine Wines and Good Spirits Store" (FWAGS). Wait, either? What's the difference? Come along on a search, and learn why the vaunted "convenience" of the monopoly's database of every single bottle of wine and spirits in the state!!! not so convenient after all.

In my crosshairs this time was Highland Park. The online product catalog listed fourteen different Highland Park whiskies, one 'regular,' two 'Luxury,' and eleven SLO-only. Like the last time I looked for something, the "online exclusive" entry is listed as having no stock in the online product catalog. This probably makes sense to somebody at the PLCB but not to anyone with any real business experience. Where else would you be told, "Here is the catalog of everything we list — but don't believe the availability listings, you'd better go over there and check to be sure."

So let's go over to FWAGS and type in Highland Park. Up comes a page that says there are five online, five in-store and 28(!) available by SLO. Sure beats the 14 listed in the catalog. Maybe they haven't cleaned that part of the tens of thousands of bad entries the PLCB admits to having yet. So I look at what is available online. The first one says  Chieftain's Clynelish 14 Year Old, the second one is a Glenmorangie, the third one is another Glenmorangie, the fourth one is a  Mackinlay's...and finally the fifth one actually is a Highland Park. Well, that kinda sucked. 

Let's see what is listed as being in store. The first item listed is a GlenDronach; why, I don't know. The second item listed is the one Highland Park the PLCB actually stocks in some stores and the other three items are the Mackinlay's that were listed as an "Online exclusive!" that also happens to be available elsewhere in a store, and two different sizes of the same McClelland's. Why McClellend's would even show up in a search for Highland Park is another one of those PLCB mysteries that they have somewhat regularly.

I'm beginning to not have any faith that the 28 SLO items listed for Highland Park are really Highland Park. Surprise! I'm right. The entire first page has no Highland Park on it.  Jeez, how bad was this BEFORE they updated the search engine? On to page two where there are eleven Highland Park entries and three more that don't match the search criteria.  But wait, the online catalog says there are 14 and the FWAGS website only lists 13. Which one is missing?  Here it is: "Highland Park and Bowmore Distilleries Double Barrel Blended Scotch Whisky 10 Year Old 92 Proof"  Explain to me why that doesn't show up in a search for Highland Park, will ya? After some digging I did find it; somebody just decided that the name in the catalog wasn't to their liking so they changed it, thus guaranteeing nobody would be able to find it. Or buy it. Wonderful.

The PLCB uses Oracle for their database, which is not a dumb flat file system. Now, the people who program it might not be that swift, or the people above them may not know how or what to ask of the system, but that isn't Oracle's fault. Compare the somewhat worthless search for Highland Park at the FWAGS website with a retailer who has to compete and really provide customer service - Binnys in Chicago (notice they often have better prices too). Binny's doesn't have 24 wrong entries when you search but PA does. The first, last, and all the items are what you are searching for at Binny's, but not in PA — and this is after they claimed to have greatly improved the system. "Modernization" at its finest; a preview of what to expect if  they don't privatize. More lipstick on the PLCB pig.

I guess I was lucky that it wasn't on sale. The FWAGS website spits out a list by type and item number. Who the hell knows PLCB item numbers? How about a list by the alphabet that is actually easy to use instead of this item number idiocy? Just more proof that there isn't a warm body in the entire organization who knows squat about retail. Of course, that is what we have come to expect for the past 80 years so I don't know why I'm surprised.

Oh, and that bottle I was looking for? The PLCB does list it, but I was able to buy it overseas; even after paying international shipping it came to 23% less than the state store price*, and only took 10 days to get here, delivered to my door. Shorter than the 2-4 weeks for SLO, so as long as I had to wait anyway, I might as well save some money. Thanks for nothing, PLCB.

Like all other retail goods it pays to shop around....unless you visit the state stores that are all the same. You don't have to put up with this.  Write your legislators and tell them to support HB 466 so we can finally have what most of the country has - freedom of choice based on what we want and not what the unqualified in Harrisburg allow us to have.

Privatization is REAL modernization.

(* I know it is only a 700ml bottle instead of the 750ml here so the effective price is only 17.5% less but still....)


Geno Washington said...

So you love Scotch. Total Wine in NJ and DE (but in some states such as VA, they are banned from selling spirits) I'm sure has a huge selection, and Rock bottom prices, The tradeoff however is that their stores are of the warehouse variety, and while selections and prices are both amazing, the stores themselves are very dumpy, and service is terrible. I wish Total Wine would open somewhat smaller, more friendly and intimate stores.

Anonymous said...

I am a database programmer, and the entire system from states to NABCA (who is the 800 lb insane gorilla of data) receives a D- for database abilities. The PLCB will NOT release their data to me, but insists that I "purchase" it from NABCA for $1,500 per month. Since I work with the control states, it would cost about what my small company earned in a year just to buy data that should be free.

It appears that even if I were to get my hands on the data directly from each state, the data structure would be so bad that it would be useless anyway.