There was a time when brick and mortar retailers held most of the cards. If I wanted a Sony Walkman, I could choose between a number of local electronics stores. Mail order was an option as well but not nearly as mainstream.
That was then.
Today we have seemingly limitless options. If I’m looking for a specific video camera like I was last week, there are hundreds of online retailers ready to take my Visa. I have local options as well although they are diminishing each month it seems.
But I enjoy buying local and will pay a bit more to do so. By supporting local shops I keep another option open even if the price is a little higher and their selection isn’t as expansive.
So last week I decided to surprise Kim with a Flip Mino for Valentines. I went to the local Best Buy. I found the video camera display after making my way through a maze of Xbox bundles, racks of DVDs and rows of cell phone accessories only a teenager could appreciate.
They had a number of video cameras but not the Flip Mino HD model I was after. I looked around for a sales associate, but the two I could find were helping other customers. So I waited.
Finally a young man from the Apple iPod area approached me. He seemed sure they carried the model I wanted, but didn’t have keys to check. Keys to what? I didn’t ask.
He asked me to wait a little longer for the man with the keys which I did. After a few minutes, I was speaking with the associate who knew a lot about the Flip Mino. He told me they had the HD model in stock but it wasn’t out on the floor nor was it on the display table for me to test.
So I’m nearly 25 minutes into a visit that should take 10 only to find out that I can’t handle or test the product I’m looking to purchase thereby removing a major reason I decided to drive to the store in the first place.
The associate said he’d retrieve the Mino HD from the back room if I was interested in buying it. Huh? What if I just wanted to hold it? Maybe even test it! This isn’t a rare BMW M3 I’m looking to buy here. Why wouldn’t this employee get the camera in my hand AS SOON AS POSSIBLE? This is Retail 101. Get the product in the customers hands! This is one of the few benefits retailers have over online stores. We know they usually can’t compete on price or selection. But they can refine the sales process and make up for those weaknesses by providing excellent service. Nordstrom understands this. So does Starbucks and the Apple Store.
Before I could ask this young man to retrieve an HD Mino from the now mystical and very locked back closet, he launched into a spiel about the extended warranty Best Buy offers on this camera. I haven’t seen the camera. I’ve not held it. Yet he’s trying to upsell me on a warranty.
I gave up. I couldn’t take it any longer.
And I walked out of the store minus the camera.
This weekend, I found the camera at B & H for forty bucks less. Took me a whole two minutes to purchase. No waiting. No spiel. No BS.
Maybe there’s still room for local electronics retailers. But unless they can decrease the grief to helpfulness ratio, they have no chance to earn my business.