No thanks, I just bought it online.

Sunday’s Retail by Norm Feuti – a strip I read with great relish – brings up an interesting point, and the commentary, written by what seems to be a preponderance of retail employees, got me thinking.

(Click the thumbnail for the full-size strip)

The question revolves around the practice of using brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom, leading to an ultimate purchase online or from a competitor.

This is an intriguing discussion and can see both sides of the equation. Reading “Not Always Right” on a regular basis, I am astonished beyond measure at the rudeness, arrogance, stupidity, and sense of entitlement people bring into a store, and always do my best to brighten the day of any retail worker I happen to encounter. And to keep the communication honest and open,  some days I do better than others. As a customer, however, my main difficulty with retail help is a sense of overinvestment – far too many retail workers (admittedly, perhaps, because they have to work with so many asshats on a daily basis and have reached the end of their rope) begin acting as though a return or a complaint were going to affect their bottom line, and they go out of their way to be like Mordac the Preventer. The knife can cut both ways.

The whole concept of using a brick-and-mortar store as a showroom is an unavoidable part of the e-commerce landscape. Customers *will* do it – I confess that I’ve done it myself. But when one is living on a fixed and limited income, pennies count. Unlike the use of smartphones in a movie theater, there has been not been time for society to develop any sort of “retail etiquette” by which it is generally accepted that this practice is “not done in polite society,” but in this economy I can forgive the practice because I know what it’s like to go without those eyeglasses or that dentist appointment in favor of food on the table.

We need things. We shop for them. The nature of retail, combined with the advertising industry, is ultimately to convince the consumer that he or she has a burning need for something which they had never thought of before. As a result, if we’re out shopping for Widget A, and we happen to see Widget B on a shelf which really calls to me, I see no reason to feel obligated to buy either one from the store I’m in if I can get it for less online (including shipping) or at another store (factoring in the cost of gas, and my time to get there).

This is not new. Watch “A Miracle on 34th Street” (the old version) and you’ll see that the concept of store loyalty is tenuous at best. As annoying as this is for store owners, and by metonymy, for store employees, it will only continue to get worse as bandwidth increases and smartphones get smarter. If brick and mortar outlets are to survive, they will need to adapt, and I’d be willing to bet that in 10 years we will have seen some very innovative solutions that have not been thought of at present.

Ultimately, it comes down to choosing our battles. I’d much rather deal head-on with the day-to-day issue of customer rudeness by creating (were I to own and operate a public business) an atmosphere where I could feel comfortable hanging this sign on my door:

This might cost me some business, but it’s the kind of business I don’t want anyway. I suspect (as long as I was running a business that was built on a sound model to begin with) that I’d attract more clientele that appreciated the opportunity to shop where they wouldn’t have to bump into the asshats themselves. I think I’d end up with more business that way, even accounting for the folks that were just window shopping or store hopping.

My two penn’orth, anyway.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

5 responses to “No thanks, I just bought it online.

  1. However by doing the shopping with the phone you are also being a part of the problem that is putting the store out of order and thus creating more unemployment and worsening the economy :P.

    BUT if I were to run a brick and mortar store?. I would make sure mobile signals didn’t work on the premises, either through clever design of the building or something else. A store in my town has been built to code, but as a consequence of that, the building has no mobile coverage inside. The second you walk a few feet from the entrance the signal is gone and you can’t use your phone to call or surf from.

    And no they haven’t installed a farraday cage :P. Its just the amount of concrete and rebar that is screwing up the signal. And I suspect other stores might ultimately do the same, and thus “force” you to buy the item from their store or wait till you get home and you having to look it up.

    Personally I tend to buy my things at a store, simply because it makes dealing with warranties, replacement and servicing a lot easier then having to ship in an wait.

    • You see? There’s one of those innovative solutions I mentioned. Two things: the fact that I am contributing to the problem assumes that what I am doing is a problem in the first place – rather than accepting it as part of the playing field of the 21st century. It’s a problem for business owners, but not for consumers, who owe nothing fundamental to any business they do not have a vested interest in.

      Your point about getting service is hugely valid – it’s harder to get repairs from a chai-wallah on the phone in Bangalore than it is from a store that offers in-store support, and that’s a definite plus for buying locally.

      Blocking cell-phone signals in a store to keep customers from “external browsing” may indeed come to pass. I know there’s a Smith’s Marketplace up by where I used to live that happens to live in a natural dead zone, and I find it annoying – not because I do a *lot* of barcode scanning, but because I can’t even call my wife to ask her anything about what I’m supposed to get. As with any choice, there will be prices and benefits.

      How it all plays out will be interesting to watch.

  2. At my first real job, which was at a supermarked, my boss had a sign just above the office door which said “The customer isn’t dependent on us. We’re dependent on the customer.” I’ve worked customer service jobs ever since, specifically as a taxi driver and now in computer tech support, and that mantra has been a great help, albeit sometimes also a challenge, the whole way, and it’s always refreshing to encounter people working by that same rule.

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