January 24, 2012

MEGAN MCARDLE: Retail In The Age Of The Internet.

It’s kind of embarassing how often I see the UPS man.

My household has made extravagent use of the benefits of Amazon Prime. We order grocery staples, hardware, paper goods, electronic accessories, air filters for the furnace, and oh yeah, sometimes books. The brown truck stops in front of our house several times a week. Since I am almost always the one who answers the door, I am beginning to worry that our unusually young and good looking UPS guy thinks there is an ulterior motive behind the volume of our orders.

At least I’m not alone. Almost certainly, you, too are ordering more and more of your merchandise via an online retailer. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But it gets a little sketchy when you start visiting big box retailers like Best Buy and Target so that you can have a look at the goods–and then place your order on Amazon.com.

That practice, known as “showrooming”, is becoming increasingly common, and it seems to have cut pretty deeply into the all-important Christmas profits of brick-and-mortar retailers.

The big-box folks complain about the morality of it, but given how many phony-coupon and bait-and-switch sales they’ve perpetrated over the years in order to exploit the inconvenience of changing your mind once you’ve come to the store, my sympathy is limited.

However, two thoughts: First, yeah, Amazon Prime rocks. Second, if you can’t compete on price, you’ve got to make the shopping experience more rewarding. Not sure Best Buy is up to that, but Target seems to have a clue.

And from the comments, this indisputable truth: “I predict that whatever happens, there will be people nostalgic for the way things used to be and agitating for the government to regulate things back in the name of fairness.”

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