Being (Somewhat) Offline Makes You Realize How Much Can Be Fixed By The Online World

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Today was a major shopping day – everything from books and shoes to food and other goodies. I have a handful of cross-border shopping rules: only buy it if you can’t get it at home (i.e. Trader Joe’s) or if it is priced significantly less (i.e. DSW Shoes) or if it’s an impulse buy (i.e. finding a paperback copy of Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba‘s Creating Customer Evangelists book). Yup, the last rule gives me all kinds of latitude (I know).
Whether it’s a Gap store or navigating a mall or walking through a Target, being offline for a significant amount of the day makes me realize how, without an Internet connection and access to places like Google, Technorati, etc…, finding information in an offline capacity is extremely difficult and frustrating.
Here’s where I am going with this: I was in Best Buy and noticed a new Logitech Premium Notebook Headset. I like the sleek design along with the fact that it would travel a lot better than what I’m presently using (which is the Logitech Premium USB Headset 350), but I had one important question: is the microphone quality the same?
I looked around and noticed the sales associate responsible for the area. I watched as he interacted with another customer. No chance this guy has a clue as to how to answer my question. If I had access to the Web, I’d probably be able to check up on some customer reviews from multiple sites or even shoot a quick email off to a group like my CAPOW cohorts to get their opinions.
Having constant access to the Wisdom of Crowds has spoiled me. I’ve become a retail snob and, along with that, cynical of sales clerks who would still believe that I don’t have the power to find out if I am being hoodwinked into a purchase (I know, Best Buy sales associates do not make a commission, but I am trying to drive a point home here).
What if we could see which store does have the right size (and color) jacket we were looking for and at which location? What if we could SMS the restaurant to let them know that we’d like a table in the next half hour (instead of having to show up and wait twenty minutes in line for lunch at 2:00 pm)? Why can’t we pay a parking meter via our mobile devices? Why not allow customers to buy extended warranties online on recent purchases made in store? How could we have answered my microphone question without relying on one person who probably doesn’t have the perfect answer?
On any given Wednesday, you’re more likely to find me online (at work) than acting like a Mallrat, however, when I am in Mallrat mode, all I can think about is how much more pleasant these environments could be (and how much more money people would spend) if we took the simplicity and access to information from the online world and leveraged it (just a little bit) into traditional channels. Think about it, the shopping experience has not progressed all that much since its inception (not taking into account systems that make it easier for retailers to count your money or pump more products down our gullets).
It’s a big thought – probably too big for this Blog posting and too small for a book.
I think there are some pearls to be discovered. I know many retailers are grappling with these issues. The winner would be both the retailer and the consumer.


  1. Mitch:
    Great point.
    I have found myself on numerous occasions being at a store wanting to access Amazon reviews, epinions write ups or be able to search Google groups or Technorati to help make my buying decision.
    It seems that, especially for a store like Best Buy, it would make complete sense for them to give an outlet to access these tools. Obviously, they can’t afford to hire absolute experts on every product they sell. So, they have to hopefully train someone to have a general knowledge. Why not allow people access to experts with an Internet connection so they can make an informed decision.
    I know that I have walked out of a store because I wanted to check what others have to say. Seems that the store would have benefited from allowing me to see those opinions in their store. If they were positive, I probably would have bought on the spot. If they were negative, I wouldn’t have bought anyway, but may have found a better alternative in store.
    You’re right, there are quite a few pearls to find in this train of thought.

  2. Hi Mitch,
    Ah! Will 2007 finally be the year of mobile Web in North America?
    Well, what you are describing IS possible. I started seeing it in Japan several years back. Nowadays, you can even walk by a new movie poster, use your phone to photograph a special symbol, which will relay all the info about the flick, select the theater where you want to see it, and reserve your tickets… People in Finland have been able to buy sodas from vending machine using their cell for ages…
    It’s about time we can REALLY access all the info we need anytime, anywhere. I was myself at Best Buy last night to buy a new home computer; we got stuck waiting for someone, because we couldn’t figure out the price difference between two models of the same maker that seemed to have identical specs. With an immediate access to the Web (and I am not talking about the current abhorrant mobile experience we currently get), we could’ve got that information quickly and be out the door, with the product, in 20 minutes. Sure, Best Buy made the sale, but 10 minutes later, and we would’ve walked out the door… empty handed!

  3. If you had nudged Twitter with your headset question, I’ll bet you would have received several helpful comments within 20 minutes, assuming you had a collection of 20-30 followers.

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