A few weeks ago, I went Christmas shopping. A certain member of my family has been grumbling for years that she doesn’t have a navigation system for her car. The technology has been getting better, and prices have been coming down, so this seemed like a good year to get her one.
My initial thought was to get her a bluetooth GPS receiver and software for her Palm Pilot. The Palm is only a year old. It certainly has plenty of processing power to handle the navigation system, and it’s something she’s already carrying around. I went to our local big-box-electronic-superstore looking for such a solution.
It was the holiday season, but the store wasn’t too busy. Within a minute or so, someone asked to help me, and I explained what I was looking for. Blank stare. Apparently such a thing doesn’t exist. He went to find a manager. Nope.
“We don’t have anything like that. You could try the local big-box-office-supply-superstore down the street, but you’ll probably have to go online to find something like that.”
So, I headed out to the big-box-office-supply-superstore. They at least understood the concept, and they did have navigation software.
“What about the GPS receiver?”
“How does the Palm Pilot know where I am?”
He picked up the box and started reading. “This is just the software. You need the one with the GPS receiver.”
“Right. Do you have that?”
“Oh, no. You’d probably have to go online to find something like that.”
Great. Since I was already in the store, I thought I might as well look at the dedicated GPS devices. They ranged in price from about $150 to $400.
“What’s the difference between the TomTom and the Garmin?”
He picked up the boxes and looked.”This one has more points of interest.”
“Really? $200 worth of points of interest? Thanks for the help. It looks like the Mia is on sale.” I picked up the box and compared it to the TomTom. “They look like they have all the same features.”
“The Mia isn’t as good.” Why? Apparently because it’s less expensive.
All of the units I had looked at had those annoying stickers on them that show you what the software would look like if they actually let you turn the thing on.
“Do you have any that actually work?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have one I can play with? I want to see if the places I actually go are in there.”
“Oh, no. We don’t have anything like that.” Thanks for your help.
I ended up doing my shopping online, ironically at the suggestion of both retail stores. Online retailers offer better pricing, better selection, and more product information than their physical counterparts. There are only three reasons left to go to retail stores:
- I need it now. I can’t wait for an order to be processed, filled, and shipped. When I have to have it right away, I have to go to a store to get it. Timeliness didn’t apply in this case, though.
- I need to actually see the item. Does the navigation system have my house in it? Is the screen big enough and bright enough that I’ll be able to see it? These are things you can’t tell from a picture on a web site. But these stores couldn’t help.
- I need some advice. I need to talk to someone who knows something about the products. I need to explain my needs, get some informed advice, and make a good purchasing decision based on that advice. Unfortunately, in both stores, I encountered box readers. These are sales people who are trained to answer all questions by reading the information on the product package. That doesn’t help me. I can read all by myself.
I don’t know what the future holds for retailers. I’m sure they’ll survive in some capacity, simply because of the immediate need mentioned above. But for people who want to make informed purchasing decisions, there’s no longer any comparison between the physical and online stores.