Organize by Function

Andrew Gelman makes an excellent suggestion:

At the airport they have different terminals for different airlines, with flights leaving from all over the place. Why not have a simpler system, where all the flights to Chicago leave from one section of the airport, all the flights to L.A. leave from another section, and so forth?

Flight as commodity. He adds:

Imagine a bookstore where the books were arranged by publisher and you had to look at the Random House books, then the Knopf books. etc.

A big bookstore in Beijing called Bookstore City is organized like this. On the other hand, the last 20 years of American retail have seen the rise of the opposite of Andrew’s suggestion: Whole stores devoted to one brand, such as Apple or Nike or Samsung.

Some Beijing stores (or collections of stores) are hyper-organized-by-function. An electronics mall near me contains dozens of booths, each with a big selection in a narrow niche, such as laptop cleaning products, videocams, computer cables, laptop bags, disk drives, and so on. Whereas an electronics superstore might sell ten different laptop bags, the laptop-bag booth probably had 60 different ones. Not so different from the Beijing Zoo. This is why I love shopping in Beijing. It really is a shopper’s paradise.

Sellers want brands so that they can charge more (and perhaps feel better about themselves). Buyers, unless they want to show off, want commodities for low cost and convenience. Nobody brags about what airline they flew. Until airlines start giving away cool t-shirts and tote bags, Andrew’s idea makes sense.

3 Replies to “Organize by Function”

  1. There are cases where this is done, such as at the commuter terminal at San Diego’s airport, which is nothing but flights to Los Angeles, or the international terminals in some airports. Those make sense because of the different needs of those classes of fliers–international flights need customs areas, duty-free, etc. and commuters need different baggage handling and quick entry/exit. But in the general case, this makes little sense: unlike at a store where I’m deciding between brands, virtually nobody makes a decision about which flight to take while standing at the gate. The three most common things you do are walk to the gate from which your flight leaves, walk from the gate to the outside, and walk between gates in order to transfer between flights. Since flight legs tend to be on the same airline, that makes a lot of sense. Also, there are a lot of potential destinations, and understanding how destinations would map onto the topology of the airport wouldn’t exactly be intuitive.

  2. Nobody brags about what airline they flew.


    People do it all the time.

    I know people who say things like:

    “I never fly an American airline if I can help it. I only fly X or Z.”

    Especially if they fly business or first-class. A friend of mine was telling me how cool a recent Virgin flight was, and how it cost more than the identical Southwest flight, but was soooo worth it.

  3. Some clothing stores (maybe just department stores) organise their clothes by brand.

    I think London’s peripheral surface train stations only have trains to the part of the country they’re closest to. Rail is commodity though, but everyone I know has opinions on which airlines they prefer for better service.

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