A new trend emerging over the last few years is to go to brick-and-mortar stores to see merchandise, but then to go online to make the actual purchase. This has gotten easier with new aps that allow anyone with a smart phone to scan the UPC and find the lowest prices for the item instantly. To some this may just seem like capitalism at work, with the companies with the best prices gaining market share, making prices lower and improving efficiency. Before you scan that UPC code and buy that tablet on Amazon, however, think about what you will be losing.
Innovations have always been part of capitalism. Indeed, one reason that the system is so good at meeting people’s needs and making processes efficient is that those who develop innovations that improve services or cut costs gain market share from others. This means that everyone is looking for the best way to deliver goods and services and make their customers happy. The internet with online shopping is a part of that innovation. By allowing people from all over the world to connect, goods and services that were once difficult to get are now a mouse click away. Driving all over town to get the best deal has also been replaced with online searches.
There is a difference, though, between searching for the best deal among several websites or between several stores and going into a store to see and try out the merchandise when you have no intention of buying it there. It is wrong to expect a sales clerk to spend several minutes explaining the best features of a new phone or giving advice on the best laptop to buy and then to turn around and buy the item online for cheaper. The store is providing a service to you by having the items available to hold and try. The sales clerk is providing a service by helping you make the selection.
Most people would not walk into a restaurant, ask for a glass of water and a basket of bread, then pull out their soup from home and proceed to use the restaurant’s silverware to eat their lunch. While all of these items are provided without charge by the restaurant when one orders a meal, it is understood that the customer is expected to actually patronize the restaurant and buy enough to pay for the “complimentary” items provided. Why is it any different to walk into a store, use the salesmen to get information, muss up the merchandise, and then walk out and buy the item somewhere else? In a way, one is really stealing the services.
Certainly no one is expected to pay an exorbitant price for something just because they went into the store to see the item, and stores expect a certain number of people to be “just looking.” If a fair price is offered, however, it is only fair and right to buy the item from the store which provided the service, and it is right to expect to pay a little more since the store needs to stock the merchandise and provide the sales force while the online store does not. Just as you would expect to pay more for a glass of wine in a fancy restaurant than you would from your local liquor store, you are paying a little more for the services provided in the retail store.
I realize that this post will fall largely on deaf ears (or deaf eyes?) and most of the people who read this will probably continue to use their local retailers as the showrooms for the online monster stores. Realize the effect this will have, however, before you do so. As brick-and-mortar stores lose more and more business to online stores, they will start to close and move online themselves. Just as the full service ladies’ department stores of the 1920′s where there was personal attention in selecting merchandise have gone by the wayside and been replaced with do-it-yourself stores (full service men’s suit dealers still exist for some reason), it will get more and more difficult to find places to shop in person with physical stores being replaced with online stores. You will no longer be able to handle the merchandise before you buy it. There will only be online reviews to help you pick out cameras and laptops. There won’t be anyone there to answer your questions.
Sadly, the days at the malls, browsing from store to store and stopping to have a latte or some habachi chicken will be gone. It will all be very efficient and very impersonal. Perhaps some stores will realize that they can survive by providing exclusive goods rather than the mass-produced commodity items most now offer, but many of the stores that sell the goods you really need will be gone. Remember that even in a capitalist society where stores are usually driven to provide the lowest prices by their customers, it is important to consider more than just the price of an item. It is sometimes worth it to pay a bit more for service and quality.
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.