Author profile picture

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. The six columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So that Tomorrow will be Good. This Sunday it’s Carlo van de Weijer’s turn, about the rubbish of the Action shop. Here are all previous episodes.

If somewhere the consequences of the extreme progress in logistics chains can be seen, it is in the Action Shops. The cathedral of globalisation, the pinnacle of the extreme optimisation of all the links between a tree and a box with 100 icecream umbrellas for less than one Euro. How is it possible that the perhaps dozens of links involved all make money on this. You and I hardly wonder and enjoy going through the corridors full of wall decorations, fake Lego, remnants of A-brands, candlesticks and aprons with a slogan. Home is where the heart is.

For a good overview of the range and for the possible side effects, see

I call it Action Rubbish, but nothing to the detriment of the great Action shops, you can also buy Action Rubbish at any other Discount Walhalla. Or get it at the yearly fair in your village, in exchange for throwing a few cans or pulling a string. You don’t need much mechanics knowledge to predict that what you get as a trophy will not last for weeks. But the fairground operator knows that he is gone after a few days and has little inclination to invest in better quality prizes. His customers don’t come back anyway.

And that’s also a problem with the cheap stuff from the discount shop. Nobody brings anything back. That means that in the whole chain, low quality is not penalized. And at the very beginning of that cycle a poor Asian is making something that he probably understands will not last very long, but every effort to improve the quality will not be rewarded. It won’t come back anyway.

That has to change and that starts with ourselves and – not in the Action store, which sells what we apparently want. If an outdoor lamp with solar cell and motion detector – sold for €2.50 – breaks down after a couple of months, you’re not really inclined to take it back to the shop. But we should do that. Defy the surprised “how can you complain about a broken 50 eurocent computer mouse” grin from the cashier and demand a new one or your money back. Or ask, for the joke of it all, if they can repair it. But bring it back. The broken thing will probably not get further into the chain because it will be thrown away right away but if we keep returning broken things, one day they will give in and hopefully the problem will step by step tickle down in the supplier’s chain. I hope that ultimately it will even reach the maker, who will then be inclined to start producing better quality. Because he also prefers quality for a slightly higher price above cheap Action Rubbish.

Bring back your broken things. Then tomorrow will really be good.