July 13, 2012

WILL AMAZON’S PUSH FOR SAME-DAY DELIVERY destroy local retail? “Physical retailers have long argued that once Amazon plays fairly on taxes, the company wouldn’t look like such a great deal to most consumers. If prices were equal, you’d always go with the ‘instant gratification’ of shopping in the real world. The trouble with that argument is that shopping offline isn’t really ‘instant’—it takes time to get in the car, go to the store, find what you want, stand in line, and drive back home. Getting something shipped to your house offers gratification that’s even more instant: Order something in the morning and get it later in the day, without doing anything else. Why would you ever shop anywhere else?”

Avoiding stores is mostly a plus, not a minus. Maybe if physical retailers had better staff. . . .

UPDATE: Reader Hunt Brown writes:

Hypocrite.

I like your page, and I enjoy your perspective, but when you start slamming bricks and mortar retailers about the time involved… without mentioning that absent the cost of gas looking on line for an item can be as infuriating as Burdines on December 24… well, that’s not entirely transparent, especially when you are taking a percentage of all online sales that slip through your site. You rail about Obama’s double standards and duplicity, perhaps it’s time you considered your own.

Tough love sucks.

Hey, Farhad Manjoo wrote that passage, not me. (And my Amazon Affiliate status is hardly any secret). But I’ve seldom had to spend much time finding things online — and nothing like the experience of looking in a crowded brick and mortar store. (And I just bought a new skillet at Williams-Sonoma, ending my boycott over their maltreatment of the Insta-Daughter.)

There are some things (shoes, nicer clothing) that I prefer to buy at brick-and-mortar stores; for everything else, I’d personally rather shop online. I do feel, though, that brick-and-mortar stores ought to be trying harder to make the shopping experience pleasant. Instead, I often get the feeling that the staff views me as a disturbance to their texting-their-friends time. I wrote a column nearly eight years ago about how brick and mortar stores could compete with online selling, but most of them seem not to have listened. Oddly, places that compete most directly with online — like Best Buy — seem to try the least.

Meanwhile, reader Grace Kittie has another complaint:

You have touched on a subject near and dear to my heart! I agree that dealing with what passes for “staff” these days is a fine reason all on its own for avoiding local shops, however the feature that has driven me to my laptop and comfy chair is the music that assaults the shopper the instant one steps through the door. It is not uncommon to have two or three different “tunes” floating through the air at once if the shop is large enough. Whatever happened to the concept of quiet contemplation? My first push to the online approach was a few years ago when a locally owned book store, where for many years I had enjoyed wonderfully peaceful browsing, started sponsoring live music events. I complained but was clearly in the minority. I was gone shortly thereafter. (So was the bookstore, come to think of it.)

On the other hand, when you shop online sometimes music starts up in another browser tab and it’s hard to find it and shut it down. At least when you have as many tabs open as I do.

And reader Marc Bacon writes to tell me where I should be shopping: “At Publix. Where shopping really is a pleasure…really.”

Well, we’re getting a couple of new Publix stores later this month. Happy to have someone challenge Kroger’s near-monopoly anyway, but on that recommendation I’ll definitely check them out.

And reader Clay Register gets the last word:

Funny this came up today. Last night I ordered a new $30 weather station from Amazon at about 8 P.M. (tree ants got my remote for the old one). It arrived this afternoon from Kentucky (I’m in FL). I told the UPS guy that, even if I had to pay taxes, this kind of service would be better than driving to the store and possibly not finding what I wanted

You know, I’ve never really considered moving to Florida, but if you’ve got ants that can carry away a remote, I’m pretty sure I never will. But yeah, that’s pretty good. Meanwhile, some related thoughts from Megan McArdle.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Tina Parker emails: “My son, an Economics doctoral student, just came in from the local games & graphic novel store. He browsed, bought a card game, and a couple of books. He said he realized he could have bought the game for less at Amazon but decided he wanted to reward the store for their customer service and game selection. Service will be the only way brick and mortar stores will survive online buying.” That’s what I keep trying to tell them.

MORE: Reader Mike Reynolds (no relation) writes:

First, Thank you for the site, love it, I will keep visiting. Second, in response to your reader Hunt Brown who called you a hypocrite, I must call foul. Having visited your page on a regular basis over the years I know you are affiliated with Amazon. You have told us so and have indicated our patronage of the Amazon link puts a little money in your pocket. I get that. It’s called capitalism. I actually appreciate your recommendations. I shop Amazon weekly and will continue to do so because I get what I need at a great price and with Prime, I get it quick.

If you want to use my name, you may. It’s Reynolds, and even though we are not related, I will continue to visit your site throughout the day.and click through to Amazon. Then I might hit The Corner, or Wired.

And reader Michelle Dulak Thomson emails:

Unless I’m listening to music for work (I’m a classical CD reviewer) at my computer, or watching online video/podcasts/whatever, I just turn the speakers off. There is too much loud and obnoxious music tied into websites these days (or, more often than not, to the pop-up ads associated with them, which Firefox isn’t catching as often as it used to).

Re: Amazon, the sales tax business doesn’t affect me at all, as I’m in Oregon. But if they can leverage their capitulation on the tax thing into even quicker shipping, good on them. I’ve noticed, as Manjoo did, that my Amazon orders are frequently coming ahead of schedule.

Indeed.

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