Friday, July 27, 2012

The problem with Brick and Mortar

Brick and Mortar Stores suffer from two incurable problems - lack of inventory and lack of real bargains.

A lot of people who like to say "dagnabbit!" all the time, and decry each postal increase, like to whine about the demise of the brick-and-mortar store.  They claim it is the demise of small-town America and the small businessman.   They claim you can't get "good old fashioned service" online.  However, as Craigslist Personal Ads have proven, you can get bent-over online as well as you can in-person.

What is wrong with Brick and Mortar?  Everything.

Consider the cell phone store.  It is the worst place to go to get a cell phone.  Have you ever been in one?  They are a nightmare.  You will not buy a cell phone there, you will get sold one.  As I noted in my cell phone batteries posting, many cell phone stores will tell you, with a straight face, that batteries for your phone are "no longer available" - which is true, if the entire world comprised the confines of their store.  But the reality is, you can get a battery for your cell phone for about $4 on Amazon.

And like any other store, what they will sell you is what they have in stock.  You want a new smart phone?  Funny thing, but, they have one!  Maybe not the model you wanted, but something "just as good!"  You are better off getting your cell phone online - direct from the provider - than to go to a physical "store".  They can mail one to you in a matter of days.

Tire stores are the same way.  You go in, and they sell you what they have that "fits" that is in the back room.  Never mind whether it is a good tire for your car, or has a good wear rating.  They want to move inventory, so they sell you what they have.  When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

And if a "Brick and Mortar" store doesn't have it in stock?  They can order it for you - by going online, and having it shipped to the store (as in the past) where you have to come back later to pick it up.   They thought that "shipping directly to your home!" was a big improvement, but of course, that just drove home the fact that you were ordering online.  Why not just cut out the middleman?

Some folks argue that a "brick and mortar" store allows you to "feel the goods" and see if they are of high quality.  I am not sure this is true, other than for maybe fabrics.   For most people, determining the quality of a pair of shoes or a set of tires, a car, a cell phone, or just about any product today, is a pretty futile task.   We base our perceptions on brand names and reviews - often online ones.  "Kicking the tires" is not really a worthwhile way of evaluating any product.

What "Brick and Mortar" stores do best is play to your need for instant gratification and your desire to impulse-buy (so-called "shopping").  When you go to a physical "store" you end up buying things you did not intend to buy in the first place.

The problems faced by the traditional "Brick and Mortar" store are many.  But their solution was worse.  Rather than try to be more competitive and offer better service than online retailers, the Brick and Mortar crowd decided that screwing their customers was the best approach.  "Selling" customers on products, marking up prices dramatically, and of course, selling extended warranties, became the name of the game.   They made their stores and the buying experience so unattractive that people stopped going.

The last time I went to a Circuit City, to buy a hard drive or something, the place was as dark and noisy as a disco.   The product layout and information (and pricing) was confusing, and the salespeople who hovered over you like a hawk, were less than helpful, wanting only to "make a sale" and get a commission, as opposed to truly helping or understanding the products.   It was no surprise to me when they went out of business.  Going there made a trip to the DMV seemed appealing (at least the DMV is well-lit and everything is explained in signs and brochures).

Retail, of course, is not dead - entirely.  But increasingly, it is becoming more of an impulse-buying experience.  After three years of vacancy, the Circuit City in our town is now a "JoAnne Fabrics and Crafts" store - mimicking the success of Michaels.  It caters to hobbyists and impulse buyers with aisles and aisles of crafting, scrapbooking, and other hobby ideas - ideas that you didn't realize you had until you visited the place.

I don't mourn the loss of "Brick and Mortar".  The good old days were anything but good.   For me to find the various things I need in life would often mean chasing all over town looking for them, and often settling for second-best.   Telephoning was time-wasting and time-consuming.

Today, I can go online and find something I need (like a part for my camper) and find the correct part at a competitive price and have it in a matter of 2-3 days - all without leaving my home.

Maybe you want to go back to the "Good Old Days" - I certainly don't!

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