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.