Sunday, December 02, 2007

Online Shopping, or Shopping In-Store?

It is the biggest shopping time of the year, so a little dialog about our consumer habits couldn't hurt anyone as we set out to find dozens of gifts, some for us and some for others. Speaking of gifts for us, we've been looking around for a higher-end camera of late, and we've noticed some interesting things about our shopping strategy. Let me explain...

Buy online or buy in store? Shop online, then buy in store? Shop in store, then buy online. You all know what I'm referring to... You walk into a store, looking for some sort of product that you think will be found at that store. You find the item, look at the price, then think, "I bet I could find one of these online for quite a bit cheaper." Then you think, "Well, I would have to pay for shipping... maybe I could find free shipping. It is the holidays, after all." So, you go home, you type in the item number, and BAM! There it is for 20% less than in store, and free shipping! You feel a little bit guilty for "using" the real-live store to touch and feel and browse, but you quickly get over it... Buy now!

On the other hand, sometimes you're shopping online, and you find something you're looking for, weed out what the items you don't want, and then you're about to checkout... "$20 shipping and handling??!!? Who's going to be handling this thing to make it worth $20 to them? Could you please just ship the item and not handle it, and charge me the $5 it actually costs you to ship it? Thank you." And then you think, "Maybe I could find this thing at Target, and not pay the shipping (or the man-handling), and it would save me a little bit.Drive to the store, buy, save.

I know you've experienced these same thoughts. How should online shopping and shopping in-store compliment each other? Is it ethically upstanding to go to, say, a Best Buy, and touch, feel, browse, and ask the really nice techy guy (who drives a GEEK SQUAD VW Bug around town) all kinds of questions about this high-tech device, and THEN is it okay to go home and buy the thing online for a 20% savings? Did I just use their in-store services and not compensate them accordingly? Is that model sustainable?

I know for a fact that shopping in-store will never replace online shopping. There will always be a need for consumers to touch, feel, and browse, and it's a great feeling to have it NOW, and not wait for the UPS guy to bring you your stuff. The overhead costs for big, shiny stores will remain high, and prices in-store will not be able to adequately compete with online discount stores.

For me, it all depends on what I'm buying. I would much rather save a trip to Target (which costs me at least $8 in gas, mind you) and buy some things online which are less expensive and entirely convenient. Point, click, ship! But, for other items that are higher dollar items, and which require more research and time, I'll continue to use my blended strategy - browsing and shopping, both online and in-store.

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

Xia Wu said...


There was one omission that I couldn't help but notice in your analysis....and it's the one over-arching, shopping veto that continues to throw a wrench in the spokes of online retailers' gradual takeover of my heart, at least for "shopping for self" purposes. You know what I'm talking about...i'll give you a hint - it's the reason that I only make major product purchases at Costco, where possible (although I must add that this law no longer holds for electronics). Come on got it!