"It's so useful!"
December 16, 2010 12:37 PM   Subscribe

'Phone-Wielding Shoppers Strike Fear Into Retailers.' 'A revolution in retailing—what Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Chief Executive Mike Duke has dubbed a "new era of price transparency"—and its arrival is threatening to upend the business models of the biggest store chains in America. Until recently, retailers could reasonably assume that if they just lured shoppers to stores with enticing specials, the customers could be coaxed into buying more profitable stuff, too. Now, marketers must contend with shoppers who can use their smartphones inside stores to check whether the specials are really so special, and if the rest of the merchandise is reasonably priced."The retailer's advantage has been eroded," says Greg Girard of consultancy IDC Retail Insights, which recently found that roughly 45% of customers with smartphones had used them to perform due diligence on a store's prices. "The four walls of the store have become porous."'

'Some of the most vulnerable merchants: sellers of branded, big-ticket items like electronics and appliances, which often prompt buyers to comparison shop. Best Buy, the nation's largest electronics chain, said Tuesday that it may lose market share this year, a downward trend that some analysts are attributing in part to pressure from price comparison apps.''Dozens of mobile shopping apps are already available through Apple Inc.'s iTunes, and programmers are busy developing many more to transform smartphones into shopping weapons. Many of them use phone cameras to photograph bar codes and QR codes, or simply let users speak a product's name into their devices.
TheFind app has been out for four weeks and has been downloaded 400,000 times, according to the company. RedLaser, an app that allows shoppers to use mobile-phone cameras to scan bar codes to compare products and prices, has now been downloaded six million times since it was introduced in May 2009, says parent eBay Inc.
Although store executives publicly welcome a price-transparent world, retail experts don't expect all chains to measure up to the harsh judgment of mobile price comparisons. Some will need to find new ways to survive.''One way stores attempt to beat this price-comparison game is by stocking products that manufacturers have slightly modified exclusively for them, signaling the phone that no other store has the product.
Ms. Saunders used her iPhone to scan the bar code on a case for the Nintendo DSi handheld gaming system at Wal-Mart, but it didn't show up at other stores. A worker informed her that it is a special Wal-Mart bundle: the case plus earphones and a plug for $19.99.
But Ms. Saunders was undeterred. She typed the item's description on TheFind and discovered that Walmart.com, the retailer's website, offers a better bundle including a car adapter—for $5 less.
"It's like, 'gotcha,'" she said. "I feel so good when that happens."'
posted by VikingSword (108 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Install a Faraday shield around the store to block the cell signal.
posted by exogenous at 12:39 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


My gut feeling is that stores will either start blocking phone use in the store, ejecting customers (Best Buy will already ban customers that only buy on-sale items too often), or otherwise harassing them. Combine this with the erosion of the doctrine of first sale that was recently foisted off on the buying public, and you've got a nice mess about to happen.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:40 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sure it's just a coincidence that my phone doesn't work inside my local Wally World, but as soon as I step outside the door I've got full signal.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about providing some ACTUAL customer service? Make the intangibles your valued product.
posted by Big_B at 12:42 PM on December 16, 2010 [20 favorites]


Forgive me if I'm not heartbroken that ubiquitous mobile internet access is causing retail stores to have to actually compete on prices, and allow consumers to be more informed. Also, forgive me if I prefer not having sales people ask me if I want loyalty cards, extended warranties, Geek Squad service, installation, etc.

Heaven forfend big companies actually compete.
posted by SansPoint at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2010 [20 favorites]


How about providing some ACTUAL customer service? Make the intangibles your valued product.

But there are also people (and I think that this is a problem for smaller stores as well) who will come in, ask lots of questions, finally find the PERFECT thing, and then go home and buy it off of Amazon or wherever. Although customer service is really, really important, I don't think it always ends up being tied to doing well economically.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


Tim O'Reilly thinks this is a really bad idea for consumers. He explains why on his blog.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


You want your free market, you got it. Be careful what you ask for, you fucking assholes.
posted by spicynuts at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2010 [84 favorites]


Install a Faraday shield around the store to block the cell signal.

Honestly, if stores started doing this, I would walk outside, check the item's price on my phone, then walk back in.
posted by Demogorgon at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


Do grocery stores in the US freak out if you take pictures of things? I live in the US, but I've never tried it here so I have no clue. But when I was in France, my father tried to take a picture inside Leader Price of some rabbit meat (for touristy reasons). Next thing we know the manager of the store comes over speaking incomprehensibly fast French and looking angry. We missed the "No Cameras" sign.
I assumed it had something to do with keeping their pricing or layout schemes away from competitors or something like that, but I haven't really looked into it that deeply. This article made me remember this, though.
posted by majonesing at 12:46 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Install a Faraday shield around the store to block the cell signal.

Step 1: use an app to capture bar-codes/info of the items that interest you, and it stores this in memory.

Step 2: step outside of the store, click - the app does comparisons for all items stored in memory.

Step 3: buy what's cheaper online, or come back into the store and buy what's cheaper there.

Hassle factor vs amount saved - somewhere along this line, this battle will be decided. But the war, the war continues.
posted by VikingSword at 12:47 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]



Tim O'Reilly thinks this is a really bad idea for consumers. He explains why on his blog.


This seems to boil down to something like 'if you don't pay more at a diverse set of retailers, you will pay more at a single retailer'. Either way, you pay more. So what's the issue?
posted by spicynuts at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2010


Crying a river for Best Buy here. Anyone who's shopped there, feel free to swell the waters with me.
posted by clarknova at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2010 [16 favorites]


I have one of these apps, but I've found I almost never use it. Why? Because at this point I honestly hardly ever shop at a brick & mortar store. 90% of my shopping (non-food, anyway) is online.
posted by alaijmw at 12:50 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Crying a river for Best Buy here. Anyone who's shopped there, feel free to swell the waters with me.

Yeah, I don't need a cell phone to guess that they're business model involves seriously overcharging for accessories. I have been tempted to post a big old "Buy this same cable at monoprice.com for 3 bucks!" sign every time I make the mistake of walking into their store.

Best Buy will already ban customers that only buy on-sale items too often

Is this true? For the past 3 years I've only shopped at Best Buy on Album Release Tuesday, when they'll sometimes price new albums at $9.99 and I've never been banned.
posted by muddgirl at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2010


Do grocery stores in the US freak out if you take pictures of things?

I take photos in grocery stores quite frequently--not to comparison shop, but because sometimes I see wacky things I want to put on Facebook, like chitlins frozen in a block (never seen them sold that way) or ridiculous packaging that I just think is funny. No one has ever said anything to me about it.
posted by massysett at 12:54 PM on December 16, 2010


Indeed -- if you think you can compete for customers on your sales of boxed product based on price alone these days, you are either a huge warehouse operation, or you are stupid. I'm glad to see stupid businesses fail, especially ones in smaller countries (like Canada) that pretend the border actually means something. If you want my money, sell a commodity product for the best price, or sell me something I can't get anywhere else. It's that simple.

This morning's "My God Canadian Stores Are So Fucking Stupid" was doing a ten item shopping cart comparison between Vistek (a Canadian camera/video store) and B&H. Average price at Vistek for identical or similar items was 70% higher AND they charged more to ship from Toronto than B&H charged me to ship from New York. The stupid-ass response I got from Vistek's twitter dude was "what are you buying? we have a pro department that handles pricing!" To which my response is, "I have a shopping list, I don't need a blowjob from the 'pro handlers', I need competitive prices and to get the hell back to work."

Self link, related: I gave a presentation about all kinds of fun things one can do with a smartphone at Ignite Waterloo 4 this past November entitled The Smart Camera. Pissing off retailers featured prominently in it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:54 PM on December 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


But there are also people (and I think that this is a problem for smaller stores as well) who will come in, ask lots of questions, finally find the PERFECT thing, and then go home and buy it off of Amazon or wherever.

This. I was recently in the market for some camping gear - tent, sleeping bags, pads etc. I went to a camping supply store, and the guys there really helped us out, pulling stuff from high shelves, giving advice, demoing and so on. We spent a good hour there. I'd be a complete and utter asshole to then walk out of the store not buying anything. Instead, we bought all our gear there (and coincidentally paid the LA/CA sales tax). Out of curiosity, when I got back I compared to prices online, and I could have saved a good 30% (including taxes) had I bought online. But I didn't regret it for one second.

Sometimes stores provide a service - you can't really examine many things close up online. So it's a unique service compared to online. Now, the bricks and mortar store has costs associated with storage, rent, etc. - it's only natural that they'll cost somewhat more. So you pay for the extra service (if you find it valuable), and it's not a rip-off because the costs are real.
posted by VikingSword at 12:55 PM on December 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


Basically, what alaijmw said.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:55 PM on December 16, 2010


It's not that you're getting gouged both ways. The local book store has a super sophisticated and effective mechanism for helping you find new books (people, shelves), but once you have those leads you can walk out and buy them someplace like amazon that isn't paying. If you could be made to, you might pay for what the LBS offers. That it's globally efficient for people to be able to physically see related things and understand what will make them happier underlies the multi-item store.

Being able to browse meaningfully sorted and pre-compared items is something of a public-good problem if people don't also buy from the people that sorted and displayed. You will be less happy spending the same amount of money on amazon if you had to only pick books with their system, is the idea.

I agree his monopoly concerns aren't convincing.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:56 PM on December 16, 2010


muddgirl: "For the past 3 years I've only shopped at Best Buy on Album Release Tuesday, when they'll sometimes price new albums at $9.99 and I've never been banned."

Album Release Tuesday isn't really the target of being banned. I (lazily) imagine CDs are loss leaders for best buy.
posted by boo_radley at 12:56 PM on December 16, 2010


Boy, they sure are clutching those pearls hard! Consumerist had a story this week about a shoe store that charges you 20.00 for trying shoes on if you don't buy any, on the principle that it's not ok to get their help then going online to get the shoes cheaper.

That's a lot easier to enforce, though, than banning cellphones. Good luck with that one.
posted by emjaybee at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also find it quite ironic that local Best Buys and Walmarts are complaining about consumer price comparing online, when they asked consumers to compare prices and shop at their store over the local-mom-and-pop.

Locally-owned stores don't really have to worry about online-price-comparison more than they already have to worry about big box stores, do they?
posted by muddgirl at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2010 [19 favorites]


One way stores attempt to beat this price-comparison game is by stocking products that manufacturers have slightly modified exclusively for them, signaling the phone that no other store has the product.

Mattress stores have pulled these shenanigans for years. All it does is annoy people.
I'm not sure it will workout any better for Best Buy.
posted by madajb at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2010


Many of them use phone cameras to photograph bar codes and QR codes

This is important, because one of the tricks these stores use to derail their "if you find it cheaper, we'll beat that by 10%" policy is using their bulk purchase power to source special proprietary versions of popular items. The product numbers don't quite match, so they're not obligated to price match, even though the only difference between the two are a couple of accessories in the box.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:02 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


are we supposed to feel bad for the retailers? 'cause am not feeling it.
posted by liza at 1:03 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hah. Beat me to it, but this can't be stated often enough.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:04 PM on December 16, 2010


Yeah, fuck 'em. Especially Best Buy and their ridiculously shitty customer service. Geek culture better hurry up and take their name back from 'Geek Squad' or people are gonna start getting beat up again.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also find it quite ironic that local Best Buys and Walmarts are complaining about consumer price comparing online, when they asked consumers to compare prices and shop at their store over the local-mom-and-pop.

It's also pretty rich given that retailers (especially Wal-Mart) thoroughly comparison shop among their own suppliers. If you can sell widgets to Wal-Mart for $1 less than the competition, Wal-Mart will drop them in a heartbeat to improve its margins or offer a lower price to customers. Fair is fair, I say.
posted by jedicus at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Movie makers have been facing the same panic for years. I'm sure all the "silence your cell" ads before movies these days are partially about the customer experience, but they're also about the ability of moviegoers to alert their friends that a movie sucks without leaving their seats. It's gotten harder and harder to buy opening weekend gross with advertisements and bribes to reviewers because word of mouth has gotten too fast.

Advertised sales have the same weakness. If your main draw is deals and it's too easy for a consumer to check up on you, then you have a problem.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2010


People make all of their purchasing decisions based on finding the lowest price, and then they complain about the quality of customer service.

It's sort of like people always choosing the lowest rock-bottom airfare and then complaining that you don't get food any more, or that you have to pay extra for bags.

If you want good service you need to be willing to pay a couple bucks more.
posted by alms at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Really, if it's big box stores we're worried about, count me out.

A few weeks ago, my video card decided to die. It was Sunday, and I was in the middle of a project. Normally, I would go to Newegg. com and order a new one, but this time I couldn't wait. I went to the local Best Buy and purchased a good mid-level videocard. I really had to hold my disgust in check while I was there, because they commanded about an $80.00 premium for the card. I didn't expect them to be as cheap as Newegg, but c'mon.

These dinosaurs have already run the smaller guys out, so local competition is small or nonexistent. They have world-class-horrible customer service. They are as much in the usury credit business as the electronics business. The customer is just a hassle that they have to get through to get to the profits.

If they don't approve of their customers using their cellphones (which they probably sold to said customers in the first place), then fuck 'em. Turnaround's fair play, payback's a bitch, etc. etc.

I think we should take a page from their playbook and buy our stuff straight from Korea, Japan, and China. You know, cut out the middleman.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Another reason to love technology! This librarian loves the idea of consumers having access to immediate information that helps them solve a problem or make a choice.

I am really curious about the part of this story where the Walmart store lost a sale to Walmart online: and I want to know if that customer used their "ship to store" option to save herself the shipping costs. What a tangled web WallyWorld has woven for itself...
posted by Ranindaripley at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Around this time last year, I was at Best Buy shopping for a dSLR. I pulled up Amazon's price for the camera on my iPhone, and the salesman agreed to match it. Only fault there is that I still had to pay the tax.
posted by litnerd at 1:11 PM on December 16, 2010


programmers are busy developing many more to transform smartphones into shopping weapons.

I feel like the term "shopping weapons" says everything that needs to be said about the relationship between stores and customers. And yeah, if they are going to play games, I'm going to continue to do everything I can to get the best price.
posted by quin at 1:12 PM on December 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wal-mart will not price match anything that they sell at their web site for cheaper. A lot of the time you are paying for the convenience of having the item in your hands immediately rather than waiting a few days for it to ship.
posted by Badgermann at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2010


One more way in which Best Buy treats its customers like criminals. Show your receipt, don't use your phone: what's next? A TSA-style patdown?
posted by immlass at 1:22 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mattress stores have pulled these shenanigans for years. All it does is annoy people.
I'm not sure it will workout any better for Best Buy.


Best Buy does do this already.
posted by gyc at 1:22 PM on December 16, 2010


Sometimes stores provide a service - you can't really examine many things close up online. So it's a unique service compared to online. Now, the bricks and mortar store has costs associated with storage, rent, etc. - it's only natural that they'll cost somewhat more. So you pay for the extra service (if you find it valuable), and it's not a rip-off because the costs are real.

The problem is that those stores did not base their business models around competing with significantly cheaper online stores, expecting the browsing and try-before-you-buy aspect to save them. If people had always bought electronics online, and some upstart called Circuit City came up with the idea to buy up millions of square feet of real estate to sell the same stuff for higher prices, it would have been obvious that they were going to crash and burn. The mobile Internet is here to stay, and it's just an economic reality that giving consumers an easy way to comparison shop is going to put major pressure on price disparities.

I think if there's a new business model that can provide the same try-before-you-buy aspect, it's probably manufacturer's/major brands having their own physical stores. If you go to Best Buy and try out a Canon camera and then buy it from Amazon instead, Canon is getting free promotion from Best Buy and Best Buy is getting shafted. But if Canon opens their own store, they are getting value out of putting their product in front of consumers no matter how the consumer ends up ultimately buying it.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:24 PM on December 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


Walmart's ship to store, is literally just that. They ship it to the store, and you pick it up. It is not that they dispatch someone to pull it off of the floor for you. My wife did that and we had to wait a few weeks to get the item. Because it is free, the item will eventually get on a truck headed to your local store from the warehouse, but it isn't all that speedy.
posted by Badgermann at 1:29 PM on December 16, 2010


If burying my face in a smartphone in Best Buy will help me avoid the customer service sharks in there waiting to jump me the first time I look at anything on the shelf, I'm all over this.
posted by blucevalo at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


People make all of their purchasing decisions based on finding the lowest price, and then they complain about the quality of customer service.

It's sort of like people always choosing the lowest rock-bottom airfare and then complaining that you don't get food any more, or that you have to pay extra for bags.

If you want good service you need to be willing to pay a couple bucks more.


Yes, because retailers never charge you more and still give you shitty service.

Or put up misleading sales signs, or promotions, or cram a lot of fees into the fine print. Or constantly upsell you useless warranties, or insanely high-interest cards. Or refuse to honor their return policies.

To tell the truth, I often knowingly pay more, for convenience's sake. I could get books cheaper online, but I like getting them right away at a bookstore. I like supporting local businesses who can't give me rock-bottom prices all the time. I don't mind splurging a little on a good meal that I could cook cheaper at home.

What I do mind is being lied to, manipulated, ignored, or defrauded. What I do mind is paying ridiculous markups on big-ticket items that take a considerable chunk of my paycheck. So I comparison shop for those, and if retailers don't like it, that's too bad.
posted by emjaybee at 1:31 PM on December 16, 2010 [17 favorites]


Yeah, burnmp3s, but then we'd have to go to half a dozen stores just to compare items across manufacturers. That would suck.
posted by oddman at 1:31 PM on December 16, 2010


People still shop in stores?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:32 PM on December 16, 2010


To tell the truth, I often knowingly pay more, for convenience's sake. I could get books cheaper online, but I like getting them right away at a bookstore. I like supporting local businesses who can't give me rock-bottom prices all the time. I don't mind splurging a little on a good meal that I could cook cheaper at home.

Yeah, exactly. And one thing that gets my cheese is when I shop in a local store, they don't have my size or fit or color or whatever, and then I get lectured by someone for buying it online. I understand that local stores can't stock everything, really I do, but in return I'm not going to buy something I don't want out of pity for their business model.
posted by muddgirl at 1:33 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Best Buy will already ban customers that only buy on-sale items too often

Old'n'Busted, do you have a source for this? I've never heard it before.

I agree that you do sometimes benefit from customer service in a brick-and-mortar store. And I think that shoes stores have it rough, because I wouldn't want to have to fit people for shoes. But then, a lot of them are self-service now. They put out the shoes, you hunt around for a salesperson and ask if they have them in your size, you try them on and take them to the counter to buy them. The salespeople are basically just there to run the registers. Charging $20 if you try on shoes and don't buy any is ridiculous: shoe brands are not always true to size, and maybe you just couldn't find a pair that fit correctly.

And customer service goes both ways. You also get a lot of bullshit from employees trying to upsell you. Best Buy is one of the worst places for this, trying to force Monster cables on unsuspecting people who don't know any better and buy into the hype. And every computer or appliance brick-and-mortar retailer has some kind of extended warranty plan, most of which are crap, and their employees will hard-sell you on them because they get compensated for each one they sell.
posted by misha at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2010


Honestly, if stores started doing this, I would walk outside, check the item's price on my phone, then walk back in.

Funny, I'd walk outside and call the manager, telling him that his blocking of my cellphone has resulted in his losing my business entirely, and never go into that store again.

Enough people do that, and the block will disappear.
posted by eriko at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Note that the shoe store mentioned above sells dance shoes, and it takes forever for someone skilled to appropriately fit you for pointe shoes, it's not like Payless.

I'll buy in store if I am impatient, or if I get good service while I am there and it's not terribly expensive. One day, though, I will get myself a mailing address in the US so I can really do online shopping.
posted by jeather at 1:44 PM on December 16, 2010


I used to own a bookstore. Great service, knowledgeable staff, browse, get recommendations, sit and look at that art book for 30 minutes; that's why we have comfy chairs. Borders and Amazon killed that store recently, and most indie bookstores are closing, in financial trouble, or diversifying into coffee, games, toys, whatever. Browsing on Amazon is nowhere near the experience of browsing in even the crappiest analog bookstore.

However, many of my book purchases are from Amazon, because I know exactly what I want already. They do a decent job with used books, though I wish I had a way to optimize and get multiple books from 1 source, and save on shipping. I rarely want to drive into town, park, and shop in person.

The old marketplace is dying. There will be a new one, though what it will really look like is not yet clear. I love independent bookstores, and will buy from them cheerfully, but more often, convenience and price will win.
posted by theora55 at 1:53 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The internet has completely changed the way I go about purchasing stuff. Like just earlier, I walked into the store and immediately started to wonder just how much I was about to be overcharged. The worry turned to fear, the fear turned to dread. By the time I was in the line holding my two items my hands were trembling. My mind was racing. Maybe it is too expensive, maybe I could get it online for a fraction of the price. The money I pay for this now I could use for other things, better things. Who knows what I may come across. Maybe I will need this money then. Do I even need this thing right now? Can I get this later, would that be ok? Am I hurting small business? This is a tough economy, but I have to watch my money. I might be out of a job. Am I contributing to my own job loss in the future? A pizza sounds good, the money I save now could go to a pizza. I was tapped on the shoulder. At some point the items had dropped to my feet. They said something. My mouth had gaping, my gaze locked on a ceiling tile. I broke fast, and ran. I could save so much on the internet right now. What was I doing wasting my time there? Not fast enough. I was weighed down by all my winter gear. My jacket was tossed into the trash as I sped around the corner toward the parking lot. I slid across my hood. Fell. Bruised the back of my leg. I drove. It was all a blur. The savings were so close. I just got home. Shoes came off. They hit the wall with a thud. My laptop just would not boot fast enough. I started some tea. The airport found my wireless. Connecting. It took so long. My homepage, Metafilter.com rendered. My heart slowed. What a coincidence I thought: a thread was posted about the very experience I just had. My tea finished steeping. You have to catch it before it gets too bitter. I stirred some milk in. A warm beverage is nice from the cold. Writing this one comment won't hurt. But anyway now I need to check amazon for...


fuck

what was it
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Maybe I'm doing it wrong but the cost of shipping still deters me away from buying many things online. Especially lower ticket items.
posted by heatherly at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I buy books, I usually go to Amazon, look up the ISBN numbers for the books that I want, print them out, and then take the list down to my local bookstore. They order the books for me, and I get them in about the same amount of time that it would take Amazon to ship them for me, and at pretty much the same price. So, it does work backwards sometimes, too.
posted by Katrel at 2:00 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


We live somewhat out in the sticks, so for us Amazon and the like are godsends. We buy so much from Amazon we're prime members...essentially means we pay $5 a month for 2 day shipping on most anything we buy. So shipping isn't an issue.

There are a few categories of retailer that will probably not be forced out of business: restaurants, hardware stores, grocers...anything which requires pawing through stuff by hand (like picking up a bunch of bolts) or is something you just don't want to do at home. But appliances? Computer gear? Books?

I don't have a smart phone because we don't get cell service out here reliably. So it may be the case the small rural areas will support "outdated" retailers long past their big city expiration dates.
posted by maxwelton at 2:15 PM on December 16, 2010


Heatherly: Maybe I'm doing it wrong but the cost of shipping still deters me away from buying many things online. Especially lower ticket items.

For Amazon, at least, Prime works out really well for this. $70/year for two-day shipping on everything sold by Amazon, and $4/item upgrades to overnight. You can get a year of it free if you're a student (need a .edu email address).

I don't mean to sound like a shill; I got mine for free (via the student promotion), but I'll be buying it when the year's up. I've definitely come out ahead on shipping, and it makes buying smaller things online viable. Having automatic two-day instead of the standard 3-5 is really nice, too.

That said, it's incredibly annoying that it doesn't apply to things sold on Amazon, but not by Amazon. I wish there was some way to disable all non-Amazon sellers permanently. More than a few times I've had something in my shopping cart and then realized it's actually sold by some two-bit retailer charging outlandish shipping prices. This is especially annoying because clicking the "Prime-eligible" button to filter your search results doesn't actually work half the time.

More on-topic, I find myself going this comparison shopping, too. Mainly for bigger-ticket items; small appliances and the like. I admit to a bit of schadenfreude though: the idea that this practice might drive Best Buy out of business, or at least hurt them, makes me smile. Like emjaybee said above, I'm content to pay a premium for service at brick-and-mortar stores, but Best Buy is incredibly sleezy, and I've found myself in the position of wanting to garrote their sales guy with the $100 Monster HDMI cable's he's outright lying about, trying to sell me.
posted by Vox Nihili at 2:32 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Won't they just ban smartphones and mobiles in shops, in the same way cinemas try to stop you bringing your own food and drinks?
posted by axon at 3:13 PM on December 16, 2010


I wonder our society will eventually phase out big retailers all together, and we'll either end up buying directly from manufacturers or choose from a myriad of small online retailers.

Will this lead to increased business for Fed Ex and UPS? And the eventual closing of giant retailers?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:14 PM on December 16, 2010


I just try to either buy local, where the service is almost always better and it helps keep the neighborhood chugging, or online, where it's cheaper. Every time I have to go into Best Buy, all I want to do is play their free video games while my girlfriend looks for something to spend the gift card on.
posted by klangklangston at 3:21 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


they're also about the ability of moviegoers to alert their friends that a movie sucks without leaving their seats.

The warnings say silence your phone, not that no use will be tolerated.

And unless your average moviegoer has dozens of friends who are hanging on pins and needles to figure out whether to buy tickets for the 10pm showing while you're in the 7:45, I don't see how it would really affect ticket sales. Mostly you go see the big blockbusters on opening weekend because you actually want to see the movie, or so that you can be ready to dissect it on Monday at work.

Besides which, most movies don't suck that bad 10 minutes in - even for the big stupid blockbusters, it's rare that I'm like, "oh god I'm getting out of here and telling all my friends never to see this horrible piece of shit..."
posted by Sara C. at 3:26 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Borders in Canberra charge two or three times (sometimes even four times) as much for books as the book depository, plus you have to endure Borders PA announcements, which are almost as loud and annoying as the announcements in airports.

And woe betide you if you want a special order from Borders in time for someone's birthday... it can take over two months.

So, I definitely see this kind of application as a good thing.

This kind of application is also a big bonus for people with disabilities.

Able-bodied people can physically move from [Brick & mortar store A] to [Brick & mortar store B] to [Brick & mortar store C] to compare prices for big-ticket items far more easily than people with disabilities, yet people with disabilities are far more likely to have lower incomes, bigger medical expenses, bigger costs for assistive technology and/or mobility aids...
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 3:29 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Another huge resounding endorsement for Amazon.com Prime. Saves your ass if you are a procrastinator (Oh no, forgot to buy X a birthday gift, send it prime and they have it in time).

You try to ship anything these days and it can get into double digits pretty fast, so $70 a year is a bargain.
posted by misha at 3:33 PM on December 16, 2010


Heaven forfend big companies actually compete.

Because all this downward pressure on price will only cut into big corporate profits in places like Best Buy and Wal-Mart and not at all hurt any individuals or small businesses involved in manufacturing and producing stuff.

Right?
posted by straight at 3:44 PM on December 16, 2010


This seems to boil down to something like 'if you don't pay more at a diverse set of retailers, you will pay more at a single retailer'. Either way, you pay more. So what's the issue?

Come on, spicynuts, that's specifically not his main argument. That would be:
Not only is this unfair; it's short-sighted, because it will only be so long before that retailer closes his or her doors, and you can no longer make use of those services you enjoy.
I can understand your reaction being "so what?" if you do not enjoy any services offered by real-life stores. I feel the same way about a lot of products. But I understand exactly where he's coming from with books.

See, I love books. I will and do obtain books anywhere. Online, offline, new, used, remaindered, ex-library, stacked on a rug at a garage sale, given away by a guy moving to a different country. If I were dropped into a jungle with only a knife and a box of matches, I would starve to death within a week, riddled with parasites besides, but when they recovered my body they would find a small cache of yellowing Graham Greene paperbacks nearby, carefully wrapped in a fresh leaf.

And part of my process for finding new books is going to bookstores and just looking to see what's there. This can't be replicated online, or at least, no-one has managed to do it yet. Not to my satisfaction. Amazon recommends what's popular, what's related; I want to see the unpopular, isolated works, or what some particular bookseller thinks is really cool, or what got misshelved. Maybe one day an online store will be able to duplicate this experience, but frankly, I doubt it.

Thus, a world where all bookselling is done online would impoverish my life substantially, and this factors into my buying decisions in exactly the way O'Reilly describes. I could probably find this book cheaper online, secondhand, but if I buy all my books that way, who is going to stack them on a shelf in a large, well-ventilated room for me to browse? I don't want that industry to die, and even if it is inevitable I want to postpone that inevitable for as long as possible.

So, issues of morality aside, from a purely selfish standpoint it makes no sense for me to squeeze the market for every last saving, because savings are not the only thing I want. They offer services that I enjoy, and although I do not enjoy paying more money per se, I accept that, given the socio-economic structure in the first-world country in which I live, if I don't support those services with cold, hard cash, they will vanish before long. I'm not going to pretend to be hardcore locavore enough to deny myself a book if I want now if I can't afford it new in Japan but could afford it used + shipped from the UK, but it's always a factor to consider, among many others.

The ideal situation would be that the big-box stores who set out to compete impersonally on price get shut down, replaced by even cheaper online retailers, and the smaller stores who are competing on service and ability to attract people like me remain. I can see the first half of that as a distinct possibility; maybe not the second. And even if that turns out to be inevitable given the internet, and buggy whip manufacturers etc., people like me are still going to think it's a shame and advocate for behavior that maintains the status quo we enjoy as long as possible.
posted by No-sword at 3:52 PM on December 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Because so many people are recommending Amazon prime, I thought that I would point out that the book depository have free shipping for everyone on every purchase, even if it's only $5 or whatever.

(I promise that I don't have any relationship with them, they're just the best online bookseller that I have found so far. Before that I used to use fishpond, but I found them far too slow to ship, and too expensive.)
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 3:55 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


But there are also people (and I think that this is a problem for smaller stores as well) who will come in, ask lots of questions, finally find the PERFECT thing, and then go home and buy it off of Amazon or wherever. Although customer service is really, really important, I don't think it always ends up being tied to doing well economically.

This kind of thing has been on my mind recently, as I'm in the market for an entire set of big-ticket kitchen appliances. There's a large store near me that I've visited at least half a dozen times to get a proper physical feel for things like how smoothly oven trays slide out, or how noisy a particular rangehood really is.

Then I head home & find the best online price, which a shopping service provided by the union has been able to beat by hundreds of dollars, almost every time.

I try hard not to bother the sales staff with questions, but they're very forward in offering their advice, even making a point of it: "We can't compete with the bigger chains for price, so we ensure we have the best service & after-sales support"

But still, I wonder what it's like for staff, knowing that most shoppers these days are just tyre-kickers, using the expensive installations for research, then buying from online retailers who don't have those kinds of overheads. It must be very dispiriting.

They do a lot of cooking demos, though. Bored housewives come in for a chat & some tasty free food, whereupon they're more likely to buy - a sales trick used by every carpet seller from Delhi to Damascus.

We did at least get the dishwasher from this particular store. They had a great price and were willing to drop it even further without much resistance, so maybe that's also a way that the human factor comes into play - online stores presumably just whack a set margin onto everything, without discretion to shift around on price for whatever reason.

Another factor, I guess, is that if something is small enough to fit in the car, you can pick it up from the store & not pay delivery costs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:24 PM on December 16, 2010


Toekneesan: Tim O'Reilly thinks this is a really bad idea for consumers. He explains why on his blog

That was pretty much my first reaction, too.

I really wouldn't mind if these big bastard box stores fucked off and died forever, but people really should realize that trying to drive prices down to cost or below cost, in the long run, is a great way to stop having a store.

If it's Best Buy, that's fine with me. But a real shop just pay what they need to charge, or eventually they'll be gone and you'll miss them.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:24 PM on December 16, 2010


I understand, and truly sympathize, with the argument that this strategy can cost jobs.

But, here's the thing:

We (consumers) didn't start this ball rolling. The big-box price-is-everything guys did. (Sam Walton's motto was "Stack it high and sell it cheap".) They drove prices down and sent the jobs away. They hammered the small local retailers. They hammered the vendors. They hammered the manufacturers.

Now most people have less to spend, and every penny counts. Corporations have ruthlessly looked out for # 1, and now consumers are doing the same.

Adapt or die.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:40 PM on December 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


If this means the demise of Wal*Mart, I'm all for it.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:21 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is new? I've been using Pricegrabber's mobile site for this at electronics stores since what seems like forever, but is really only 5 or 6 years.

I actually end up buying a lot of stuff from Best Buy, because I'm willing to pay a few extra dollars to have something right this freaking second. That and the clearance sales. I picked up a Logitech G27 wheel for $150. And Reward Zone. Oh you lucrative Reward Zone. Thanks to the neverending supply of scrip I used to have when I bought lots of video games (an extra $10 back on every $150 in video games), I only paid $10 out of pocket for said wheel.

Even if something isn't on sale, if it costs more than a hundred bucks or so, you can almost always get them to match online prices. And if you're spending more than a grand, you can usually beat the online price and still get the RZ points. A couple of years back, I got $4000 worth of major appliances for $3000 (inclusive of sales tax..I told the manager I had $3000 to spend and wanted this particular set of items out the delivered for exactly that price), and also got $80 worth of RZ certificates. I could have bought the stuff online without having to speak to anyone, but it would have been $3300 or so, plus hundreds more in shipping.

I almost never buy anything there that's not on sale or clearance, though. There's just no sense in throwing money out the window like that. The other thing I hate is that they often have a lower price on the website than in the store. It's easy enough to get them to price match the website, but if you don't tell the cashier that it's cheaper online you end up paying the higher in-store price. It's just shady.

I don't quite know why I'm shilling for Best Buy..maybe it's because the hate they get is out of proportion to what they deserve. Most things, aside from HDMI cables and a few other classes of items usually aren't incredibly overpriced relative to other stores. And it's usually possible to get help when I need it and tell them to leave me alone when I don't need it. As opposed to, say, Wal-Mart, where God himself must intervene if you'd like something from a locked display case.

It would be nice if Fry's had more locations, but they don't, so I have to make do with what's available.
posted by wierdo at 5:34 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, 99 out of a hundred local computer stores gouge the shit out of you worse than Best Buy. It's sad. The only one I know of is run by a guy who also runs a motorcycle shop next door, and even then their pricing is hit and miss. He'll sell me a used 3com network card for $5, but wants $20 for a fucking USB cable.
posted by wierdo at 5:39 PM on December 16, 2010


If it was a Monster USB cable, that'd be a good price. Those things use gold fibres, so you can pump the data through faster!
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:38 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The warnings say silence your phone, not that no use will be tolerated.

The ones around here say (paraphrased):

"Please no talking or texting during the feature"
superimposed on a clip-art cellphone.
posted by madajb at 6:47 PM on December 16, 2010


Do grocery stores in the US freak out if you take pictures of things?

Most retail establishments I've been to in the U.S. tend to disallow photography and videography without prior permission. But since almost every phone has a camera on it, I think they only enforce the rule on people who have bigger cameras.
posted by bugmuncher at 6:57 PM on December 16, 2010


While I am sympathetic about your argument, no-sword, it's more complicated than that.

Borders and B&N for example; before they came to our little Texas suburbs, we had tiny local stores with hardly any selection (unless you liked romances and Christian books). I worked in one of the first Borders in my area, and it felt like heaven...I had never seen anything like it. It was bigger than most libraries I had access to and certainly had a fresher selection. They did some damage to the Bookstop that sold mass-market Grishams down the street, but they also filled a huge need for lots of people who loved books. And those first few years, pre-Amazon, they were hopping. Busy all the time.

And now the big-box stores are suffering, from the double blow of Amazon and the economy (and certainly in Borders' case, some bad business decisions). The death of CDs were another blow, now their music sections don't yield much, and DVDs are going fast too.

E-books are likely to whittle them down to nearly nothing, because they can't all turn into coffeehouses that people want to hang out in.

It's change, it's painful. It's amazingly fast, too, which makes it harder. But we can't fight it, it's too damn big. There's no way of telling what the retail landscape will look like in 20 years, for big or small companies. Throw fears about oil shortages and economic problems in and you mix it up even more. Trying to preserve the old model is completely futile.
posted by emjaybee at 7:08 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


If burying my face in a smartphone in Best Buy will help me avoid the customer service sharks in there waiting to jump me the first time I look at anything on the shelf, I'm all over this.

I'd split the difference with you - I cannot get a Best Buy salesclerk's attention. Period.
posted by catlet at 8:05 PM on December 16, 2010


Best Buy has actual sales, without-quotes sales? I went to one of their stores once this year, when looking for new headphones. Every last decent pair in there was overpriced by $10 to $20 or more. Why even bother with that store?
posted by raysmj at 8:15 PM on December 16, 2010


"The retailer's advantage has been eroded," says Greg Girard of consultancy IDC Retail Insights, which recently found that roughly 45% of customers with smartphones had used them to perform due diligence on a store's prices. "The four walls of the store have become porous."

And that's as it should be. Fuckers.
posted by deborah at 8:24 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I worked in retail for 17 years, and this was precisely why I got out. Consumers only care about price, service has no value to the vast majority of them. Bricks and mortar retail stores like Best Buy are doomed. You know why their accessory prices are so high? Because the margins on the big-ticket items make it impossible to make a profit on the sale of the hardware. In Canada, pretty much all the independent, stand-alone, electronics retailers are now gone. What consumers are left with is Best Buy and Future Shop. Guess what? SAME company.

Effectively, Canadian consumers have created a monopoly in this segment with their behavior. Try getting worthwhile advice at Costco or Wal Mart. Not going to happen. So what does happen instead is that consumers pick the brains of the informed staff at the independents, and then buy online. Then they wonder why they can't get proper service or advice at the few existing retail operations and lament the decline of customer service.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:59 PM on December 16, 2010


So what does happen instead is that consumers pick the brains of the informed staff at the independents, and then buy online.

That's why last time I visited the kitchen store, I wished I had a t-shirt that said "OH HAI JUST TO LET YOU KNOW WE BOUGHT A DISHWASHER FROM HERE ONLY IT WAS OVER THE PHONE SO YOU DON'T KNOW IT WAS ME"

I really like the suggestion earlier, of the showrooms owned by the brands. No sales, just displays. Then shop around online. Better yet if they got it together to share the same big showroom.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:11 PM on December 16, 2010


Well yes, this is already happening Ubu. Pop-up boutiques come to mind, of course.

But from my own field, Sony and Apple already do this. Now those two brands never allowed retailers any margin any way, so this was likely inevitable. Bose (who at least allowed retailers a margin) has also started on this path, as their filthy marketing scam has become much more widely understood, thanks to the net mostly, but no worthwhile electronics salesperson ever let their customer walk out the door with a Bose product. The shared traits of all three of those brands however are ; over-priced, extremely proprietary, incredibly arrogant corporate-culture, and extremely over-the-top obnoxious fanboys who act as unpaid sales people. The attitude of these companies has always been pretty much, " we'll make 95% of the profits, thank you, you peons should be thrilled to that we let sell our fabulous stuff. If you don't like it, we have a list of other retailers that do".

This is the model we are moving toward. Soon there will be, like TWO brands.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:34 PM on December 16, 2010


So buying the same generic 1/2 Hp sump pump at a big box store for $170 instead of online & delivered (and no 20 minute trip to town) for $65 is destroying the economy?

Sure isn't harming my economy.
posted by buzzman at 9:51 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Consumers only care about price, service has no value to the vast majority of them.

Unless the clerk is giving BJs, I don't see that there's a hell of a lot of "service" to be provided when I'm purchasing a snow shovel, boot tray, Brita filters, or 90% of the rest of the crap I buy.

Most stores most of the time provide temporary storage for junk that people aren't willing to wait a week to have delivered direct from factory.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:00 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gotta love a good slamming of Bose.

But back to the topic of salespeoples' service...from this appliance shopping, it seems to me that the advice-giving role of the sales staff is also being undermined by the internet.

We've been relying heavily on the local version of Consumer Reports for a shortlist of brands, then checking brand reliability surveys, reading renovation forums, and downloading & comparing technical details & specifications.

All of this is so easily available online now - although you take self-reported product ratings with a grain of salt. Like Amazon ratings, people only bother if they've had a REALLY bad experience with the product (usually obviously a lemon) or if they're a fanboy. There'd have to be a few paid shills in there, too.

Anyway, by the end of all that analysis, I really don't want or need some sales guy telling me something I already know, like "This one has a variable widget" - all I want is to do a in-person sanity check before buying, because you can't ever see everything in online photos. There might be an annoying beep, or the oven door is really heavy, or the LED display too weak or bright.

I don't know how easily that translates to things like computers or phones, but I'd guess you can do your research online for those, too. Video & stereo equipment, no. Definitely have to see & hear them for yourself.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:03 PM on December 16, 2010


I want to like indie bookstores, really, I do. But the last time I placed an order at mine it took upwards of three weeks to get the book I ordered, at 20% over what Amazon would charge. Plus, I called on a Tuesday to check on the order. "Call back Friday," they said. I called back Friday. "Um, did we call you? Because we call when the book comes in." Delivered in the kind of snotty, condescending tone that I would have loved to use when I was a kid selling books. But I didn't, because my ass would have been fired.

The staff at the indie I lived near before that practically acted like I had a flesh-eating virus when I asked for a fantasy book.

Amazon Prime was a game changer for me. I have a Kindle now, so I don't buy as many books, but I had to go gluten free earlier this year and I can buy things like bread mix or rice crackers in bulk, cheaper even than when they're on sale. Gluten free packaged shit is expensive. I have to save money where I can.
posted by sugarfish at 10:40 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Absolutely Ubu, and that's where the problem lies. FFF scoffs about service for snow shovels, but that's not what I'm addressing here. Concentrating on speakers as an example, the only way to evaluate such a subjective choice is by listening to them. This simply can not be done online. As someone who prided themself on their ability to conduct a fair and effective speaker demo for consumers who were able to ignore marketing and actually listen, I made my money for a decade by teaching customers what they needed to know, and directing them to the products that best suited their needs. About five years ago a well established long-term customer whom I hadspent hours educating showed during the lead up to Christmas and told me that she totally appreciated my help, and had finally decided on the Dahlquists, and just wanted me to match the (20% below my cost) price that a grey-market online dealer her "expert" colleague had directed her to was when I saw he writing on the wall, and decided to pull the plug on retail's faithless consumers. Didn't even work all of Boxing Day that year. Quit in the middle of it, actually, when one such dipstick showed up, and demanded yet another demo, and told me outright that he was going to buy them at the Torture Shop, as they were part a package they were offering, but the sales staff there were nowhere near as knowledgeable and me. Shit you not.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:45 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just a guess here .. but maybe if more people were gainfully employed, they wouldn't have so much time on their hands to comparison shop and would just buy things and take them home?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:50 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


But still, I wonder what it's like for staff, knowing that most shoppers these days are just tyre-kickers, using the expensive installations for research, then buying from online retailers who don't have those kinds of overheads. It must be very dispiriting.

Yes. It is.

I have, for a number of reasons, been in retail for the last ten years or so. Always small stores, and for the last eight in a very niche industry.

I hate spending an hour fitting a woman for a costume, only to have her write down the manufacturer code and piss off to buy it online. We can't buy it at wholesale for what a lot of websites charge. And every time someone does that, the item they've tried on loses value. I spend time with her, rather than with the person who's actually going to spend the money that pays my wage.

I hate taking all that time to have someone whip out the iphone and try to haggle me down past our wholesale cost after I've just spent a significant amount of time listening to them, assessing their needs and helping them find exactly what they want. I sell sex toys, and I wind up using every ounce of empathy and discretion I have to work out what exactly the person in front of me is saying, what they really want, under all the coded language and shy uncertainty. It's a lot of work, and it's emotionally taxing when you're dealing with people's intimate life. In other parts of retail, like the camping gear up thread, if the sales staff fucks up you have a customer stuck on a mountain with faulty gear. You take your time, you put a lot of effort in, you consider them, not just your bottom line, and then they leave with a picture of the perfect tool for their needs so they can buy it from an online retailer who doesn't actually give a damn, who sees them only as a shipping address and a credit card number.

It's demoralising. You wonder why you get shitting customer service, it's things like that. It really isn't the big box stores that will fail. They'll just integrate their online catalogue to their storefronts, and spread the costs between them. It's the little guys who give a damn about their customers - my long term customers, like the preop transfolk buying their first bra from me because they don't look female enough yet to cope with mainstream stores; the closeted gay dudes who start with "it's for a friend! Really!" then months later are discussing the merits of various performers with me; my working girls and my strippers, people who I value interacting with as people, not just as dollar signs. That's what is being taken advantage of when you check the product at a physical store but reward an online retailer with your purchase instead.

I work retail because I like people, as a general rule. Bookshops are getting mentioned a lot here, and for good reason - buying a book is like buying a new little piece to slot into your soul, and my favourite little indie bookshops are pleasures to shop it. I like chatting to the staff about new releases, about local authors, that sort of thing, and the guys working there are often passionate about what they sell. I bought a matress recently from a guy who was seriously enthusiastic about making sure I got a good night's sleep, and I know he was sincere, for that moment, while I was there, I was a friend, and he was making sure I wasn't going to wake up with a shitty neck. Like I am, when I'm talking to someone about a toy for their wife, or a youth about condoms.

Taking that service, good service, and leaving without buying anything is not far off theft. We cost more than an online retailer, most physical shops are, because you can touch things, listen to them, hold them. When you pay those few extra dollars, that's what you are paying for, the tactile pleasures of knowing exactly what you're getting. The knowledge that the dress will fit, the book has the right info, the perfume smells as it should. The people taking the risk to provide that are not being rewarded for it.

You'll loose the good service of the smaller stores, and keep the rotten service of the bigger ones, all for the sake of a few bucks off.
posted by Jilder at 11:26 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


PareidoliaticBoy: FFF scoffs about service for snow shovels, but that's not what I'm addressing here.

I didn't mention this earlier, but: Amazon Prime makes stuff like buying a snow shovel easier online than at some crappy box store, too. I swear to god the only reason I buy things in box stores is so that I leave the house from time to time.

Jilder: I have, for a number of reasons, been in retail for the last ten years or so. Always small stores, and for the last eight in a very niche industry...

Yeah, it must be really tough. I'm not really in your market, but I try to spend whatever the extra cost is to buy a board game, or some home brew stuff, or whatever at the local shops, versus online, if I can find it at the local places. Hardware stores are another one: I pull this kind of shit at HomeLow or whatever, but then I either order off Amazon (if it's an appliance) or skip the box store and have the guys from the real hardware store actually help me learn wtf I need.

One kind of weird thing about some of the niche market enthusiast stores is that lots of the time the competition online is another local, independent niche store that happens to have a good website and a lower margin-per-item.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:47 PM on December 16, 2010


The last pair of dress shoes I bought were from Nordstrom. I had my foot measured. Based on the shoe I had chosen he bought out a few different styles. Asked about my last pair of dress shoes. Told me to go home and wear the pair I bought for a few days and to bring them back if they didn't feel right. This guy cared about selling me the right pair of shoes. Even gave me a shoe horn. It had been such a long time since I bought a pair of shoes from someplace that actually seemed to care, that I had forgotten that the service I was getting used to be the norm.

Any shoe store that's upset about losing sales to online retailers could learn a thing or two.

Some people may shop on price alone, but I think service and experience is worth paying for. Places like the Arclight theater In Hollywood get this. The Apple store gets it. It'll be interesting to see if the others catch on.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:59 PM on December 16, 2010


Just apropos bookstores -- my local independent bookshop has a very important role for me. They are where I find things I was not looking for. My friend who works there has come to understand my taste and will actually come up to me bearing a book saying "I think you need to buy this book" and he is invariably right.

I use the Book Depository when I want the best price on something obscure, but when I have a few spare dollars that have told me they want to be exchanged for a book, I go to Unity Books. If I am not in Wellington, but in Christchurch, I go to Scorpio, which has a small stock of mostly very interesting books with much less of the crap padding out the shelves you'd see in a chain shop.

The point of boutique retailers for me is their editorial power. They have things I didn't really know I wanted, pre-selected, and I can buy it right now this second. That is what protects the best ones from what are essentially over-grown mail-order operations.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:15 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another thread where the distinct demographics of MetaFilter are on display (not that there's anything wrong with that.)

There are people, many of them, who like to shop. I tend to not be one of those but I know plenty of them. I've seen them. Especially in urban centers where competition has made shopping fun and easy.

Online vendors do not provide a shopping experience but rather an order fulfillment. Even when you're looking at a shovel, if how it was welded or, imagine!, how it feels in your hands as you will use it, matters at all to you this is the reason why stores must persist despite alternate distribution paths.

What worries me as others have mentioned is that pricing reflects human interests and not just the evil plans of a faceless corporation. The economy is made out of people, not things. An extra 5% or 10% to pay for a human network, a local network of possibilities is a deal.

Yes, some stores offer bad service and relatively higher prices. Please stop shopping at them. How this justifies anger or antipathy is beyond me.
posted by noway at 6:43 AM on December 17, 2010


I can understand your reaction being "so what?" if you do not enjoy any services offered by real-life stores. I feel the same way about a lot of products. But I understand exactly where he's coming from with books.

I think it's really interesting that you made the inference that I was talking about on-line as the 'other' in my statement. What I really was thinking about was big box versus indie. Both in real life. My personal preference is to pay more at an indie for the purpose of keeping my local neighbors in business. I like living in a community. The owners of Best Buy don't live in my community.
posted by spicynuts at 7:41 AM on December 17, 2010


Taking that service, good service, and leaving without buying anything is not far off theft.

This is an attitude that really chaps my hide. I'm not talking here about asking for a lot of help and then swanning off to buy the thing online; that's uncool since part of what you're paying for at a specialist shop is the service. But sometimes I go into my local independent book store, record store, sex toy store, whatever and they simply don't have quite what I want or need. I don't feel obligated to buy if the store doesn't have what I want, period, and a lot of shop clerks at independent shops (and even worse, at chain stores) seem to have the attitude that walking in means leaving with a purchase. Part of the value of local stores is the ability to browse, and browsing today may mean a purchase later. Hostile sales clerks, however, are a reason not to come back.
posted by immlass at 8:29 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I recently got a Droid 2 and can barely remember what shopping (or life in general) was like before it.

I used to *dread* shopping because I'd see something neat in a store and maybe want to buy it, but then I'd be paralyzed with indecision because I didn't have enough information in-the-moment to know whether it was a good product or a good deal. This anxiety made me avoid shopping in brick-and-mortar stores altogether. And for a lot of things, I'm just not inspired/motivated to buy them unless I've actually seen them in real life, and I wouldn't remember to go home and look them up online.

Now I use the barcode scanner app all the time to look up not only prices, but also customer product reviews. It's steered me clear of a bunch of craptastic cheap things, but also helped me decide to go ahead and buy more expensive things that I didn't know I wanted/needed before I saw them and would have probably never stumbled across online. Even if the price in the store isn't the lowest possible one, when I've managed to rev myself up enough to go shopping I want to get it over with and buy those things NOW, not waste time driving around to other stores or waiting for it to be shipped to me.

I think using my smartphone to help me shop has actually shifted my shopping more towards brick-and-mortar stores and away from online, because lately I've been buying more useful household items whereas before I just frittered all my money away on Amazon buying books that I'll probably never get around to actually reading.

"And unless your average moviegoer has dozens of friends who are hanging on pins and needles to figure out whether to buy tickets for the 10pm showing while you're in the 7:45..."

You obviously don't live on Facebook as much as a typical Gen Yer. When out and about, my husband and I rarely go for more than 15 minutes without casually skimming our friends' recent updates, unless we're already actually engrossed in a movie. Our East Coast friends' opinions on the new movies they just saw have definitely affected our Friday night date plans. And age-wise, we're at the leading edge of Gen Y -- younger members of our generation and Gen Z are even more connected to their Facebook hive minds and texting than we are.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:56 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, some stores offer bad service and relatively higher prices. Please stop shopping at them. How this justifies anger or antipathy is beyond me.

Unfortunately, that's a little naive.

I was in retail and wholesale as a salesman, manager and purchaser for 25+ years. I think I have a little grasp on the mechanics of the situation we're in.

It's actually pretty simple - when competition becomes price-oriented it becomes a race to the bottom; there is no pretty ending possible. Quantity outweighs quality. Wages suffer. Consumers become loyal to prices, not companies.

Pricing is a legitimate thing to compete on, but it's not a smart strategy in the long run. You can clean up when when you're a nickel cheaper than the next guy, but you'll be on the ropes quickly the day someone else is a nickel cheaper than you. The big-box companies believe they can break this cycle through size and purchasing clout.

Just the fact that we have the term "big-box" shows how big our economy bought bought into the price-is-the-only-thing concept. I don't know how one would be able to crunch the numbers, but my gut feeling is that the rise of Wal-Mart and other monolithic chains has been a net-negative for our economy.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:11 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


raysmj wrote: "Best Buy has actual sales, without-quotes sales?"

Yeah, as in "selling something below the price you can purchase it elsewhere" sales. I just bought a wireless router there last night that was cheaper than anywhere else. And they gave all their RZ members a $10 cert for Christmas, so even after tax it ended up being cheaper than it was available from the reputable online stores.

Of course, if I wanted the high end model, I would have paid a premium.

And to touch on what emjaybee said, it's true that big box stores at one time provided a previously unthinkable (outside of mail order) variety of products at a price much lower than one could buy things at local stores or the smaller chain stores. Thankfully, where I grew up we had a good library, but other than that, your other choices were Waldenbooks and Waldenbooks, who carried what seemed like nearly nothing. Barnes & Noble was like a godsend.

Similarly, Best Buy was pretty much the only place to buy software in town for many years, and had a wider selection of music and video games than anywhere else to boot. Eventually Wal-Mart got in on that game. There was a time before Amazon, and big box stores sure didn't seem so bad then.

Jacqueline wrote: "You obviously don't live on Facebook as much as a typical Gen Yer. When out and about, my husband and I rarely go for more than 15 minutes without casually skimming our friends' recent updates, unless we're already actually engrossed in a movie. "

Just so you're aware, it's not only the noise from your cellphone that annoys other moviegoers. The goddamned light makes it much harder to concentrate on the film. And yes, I can see the light from your phone. And about forty others. I actually had to stop going to movies with certain people because they would sit there and text on their fucking iPhones the entire time. Your disinterest in the film may not in fact extend to the others in the theater.
posted by wierdo at 11:30 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Related: if you walk into Best Buy and go to a computer and type in "bestbuy.com" you are directed to something which looks just like their website.

But it isn't. It's actually an internal-to-the-physical-store mock-up which displays HIGHER PRICES THAN WHAT YOU WOULD FIND ON THE ACTUAL BESTBUY.COM WEBSITE. They designed it specifically to target people who were browsing the store and wondered, "Can I get this cheaper from the bestbuy.com website?"

So yeah. I'm with the "Up Yours, Retailers" crowd on this one.
posted by ErikaB at 11:36 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Our East Coast friends' opinions on the new movies they just saw have definitely affected our Friday night date plans.

But that's a time zone thing, not a "texting to warn your friends ten minutes in" thing. Sure, if I were in Los Angeles I would probably check out facebook to see what friends thought of a movie they were able to see several hours before I could. But last I checked the studios weren't trying to abolish time zones.

In terms of people who are actually in my time zone, though, their opinions, even within the first few minutes, are likely to come too late to affect my ultimate choice of which movie to see. In order to actually get into a big blockbuster on opening weekend you need to buy tickets in advance. The premature cell-phone spoilers aren't going to affect my choice unless I'm thinking about what I want to see tomorrow - in which case opining now on a cell phone or later in person amounts to the same thing.

If the studios want to ban word of mouth, they have a massive uphill battle ahead of them.
posted by Sara C. at 11:46 AM on December 17, 2010


ErikaB wrote: "Related: if you walk into Best Buy and go to a computer and type in "bestbuy.com" you are directed to something which looks just like their website. "

It will show you whichever you like, in my experience. Associates often use it to check bestbuy.com prices to make sure people who walk in claiming it's cheaper on the website aren't trying to scam them. Yes, I've bought a lot of shit from them over the years, so I know things like this.

Moreover, there's an employee portal that will show the lowest of the bestbuy.com price and the in store price, along with stock amounts. (yes, on rare occasion the in store price is actually lower)

It may be that some employees either aren't aware of this or are being deliberately misleading, but the IT infrastructure is not designed to screw you, or at least hasn't been since they rolled out in store pickup.
posted by wierdo at 11:48 AM on December 17, 2010


This is an attitude that really chaps my hide. I'm not talking here about asking for a lot of help and then swanning off to buy the thing online; that's uncool since part of what you're paying for at a specialist shop is the service. But sometimes I go into my local independent book store, record store, sex toy store, whatever and they simply don't have quite what I want or need.

And you know what? If I don't have what they're after, that's fine. I'm talking about people who use the sales clerk's time and knowledge to find something they want on the floor, to the point where they have tried it on/checked it out of the box/whatever, then write the name of the item down and go buy it online. That's what the OP is about, and that's what I'm talking about here.
posted by Jilder at 8:45 PM on December 17, 2010


When out and about, my husband and I rarely go for more than 15 minutes without casually skimming our friends' recent updates,

Is that really how "the kids these days" (speaking from my creakily ancient gen-x vantage point of 40) spend their time with their loved ones? God that's heartbreaking. Talk to each other already, for chrissakes.
posted by dersins at 12:46 AM on December 18, 2010


Haven't you heard of multitasking? We converse and skim Facebook at the same time, and the latter often brings up great conversation topics about what our friends are doing or have said lately.

For more focused Facebooking, well, what else are you going to do with your idle time while your date is in the bathroom? Or while you yourself are sitting on the toilet?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:41 AM on December 18, 2010


I want to like indie bookstores, really, I do. But the last time I placed an order at mine it took upwards of three weeks to get the book I ordered, at 20% over what Amazon would charge.

"Do you have X?"

"No, but we can order it for you!"

"Yeah, well, so can I."

i stole that exchange from someone else here i think
posted by mendel at 8:24 AM on December 18, 2010


I'm talking about people who use the sales clerk's time and knowledge to find something they want on the floor, to the point where they have tried it on/checked it out of the box/whatever, then write the name of the item down and go buy it online.

How do you know that's what they're doing? Are you following them home?

Is it possible that they're maybe in the research stages of a big purchase and are going to different stores to compare brands? And then making a note of what they liked or didn't like? Or needing to think about it more before committing to the big purchase?

Your assessment of your customers is uncharitable, to say the least.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on December 18, 2010


Haven't you heard of multitasking?

Indeed. It's that thing you don't do to people you love and respect.
posted by dersins at 9:50 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unless you both have the cognitive ability to multitask well and both agree that it's silly to do only one enjoyable thing when you could just as easily do two enjoyable things in the same amount of time.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:51 PM on December 18, 2010


I'm talking about people who use the sales clerk's time and knowledge to find something they want on the floor, to the point where they have tried it on/checked it out of the box/whatever, then write the name of the item down and go buy it online.

If this is your operating assumption about customers you assist, I'd be shocked if it didn't come across in your attitude when dealing with them. Hostile clerks who visibly resent or get suspicious of my phone (which has my purchase/wish list, my to-dos, my grocery list, my notes for large purchases, and everything else on it) are a negative in my shopping and purchase experience. If I'm going to deal with a sullen clerk, I'd rather not bother to go to a local shop. I can get that at chain stores or avoid it altogether by going online. YMMV.
posted by immlass at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


People insisting that lousy customer service is a result of retail employees' attitudes really aren't getting it. This does happen occasionally, but simply put, retail no longer provides the compensation needed to attract and retain good employees. With the idiocy of Boxing Day over, I visited a few of my past employers today to pick up some wanted toys. Without exception, every single one of my old colleagues told me in no uncertain terms that working retail simply wasn't worth it anymore, and asked me if we were hiring. Every Single One.

The biggest problem? Yep, you guessed it. Even Boxing Day prices were no longer that good a deal, compared to Grey-market online purchases, but that certainly didn't stop people from coming in and picking the brains of knowledgeable sales staff. The big problem today? People who come in during the lead-up to Christmas purporting to buy who had instead then purchased online. Their expectation now? Advice on problems they were having. They hadn't realized that retailers track every customer's purchases, and would lie about having purchased the item there, then get indignant when called on their BS. The days of getting expert advice on consumer electronics from long-term, professional staff are pretty much over.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:27 PM on December 27, 2010


dersins: Indeed. It's that thing you don't do to people you love and respect.

A million times this.

Jacqueline: Unless you both have the cognitive ability to multitask well and both agree that it's silly to do only one enjoyable thing when you could just as easily do two enjoyable things in the same amount of time.

Even if we were on a date and I (for some amazingly bizarre reason) went to the can every 15 minutes, I would never, ever call you again if our date was so boring that you needed to supplement it by pretending to interact with your acquaintances. I'm mid-20s, btw, but god damn that is rude.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:53 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


« Older CreatureCast   |   Faces from the Past: People Are Interesting Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments