Where Offline Shopping Beats Online Today

Does online shopping always beat offline? Absolutely not. Here are a few examples of where offline trumps online shopping today.

But first, a shout-out to online: While shopping for new running shoes on Amazon last night, I was able to filter by size so I didn’t waste time comparing shoes that didn’t fit me. That is ALL I need to see since everything else is completely irrelevant for me. Sure, some shoe warehouse type stores display all of their inventory by size but that’s the exception today. What a waste of time it is to have to ask humans whether they could check their stock to see if they have a particular model in your size?

Offline Beating Online Shopping

1. Dealing with Disappointment: What happens when a product is out of stock online? You’ll often find a page telling you the product is out of stock, or worse yet, you may hit a 404 error page. Not good. Compare that to offline where you can probably glance left or right to find comparable products that are in stock.

2. Negotiable Pricing: Offline stores are great for cutting deals. Explain to a salesperson that you’re willing to buy a lot of something for a fair discount and you’ll have a good chance of getting it. Online negotiation is nearly impossible today beyond buying enough to receive free shipping.

3. Proactive help: Few things are more frustrating than being in a store that you know carries a specific item that you can’t seem to find. Personally, I run into this most often at the grocery store when picking up recipe items. In the offline world, a staff member can usually point me in the right direction in a matter of seconds. Beyond that, great staff members will identify frustrated shoppers and proactively help them through their buying mission. This is an experience that, so far, hasn’t translated well to the web where it may be needed even more than offline.

4. Bundling: If you go into Best Buy and pick out a digital camera, a salesperson will surely ask you whether you’d like to pick up a case, extra battery, extra storage, tripod, extended service plan, photo printer, laptop, Photoshop, etc. Why? For one, because they make more money if you spend more. But it’s also a service to the customer to make sure they leave with everything they’re going to need to truly enjoy their new camera. Some retail sites offer bundles, such as Amazon, but few have been able to translate the “Why?” of buying bundles to the web that come naturally in an offline transaction.

Of course, the majority of the offline wins above depend on dealing with helpful and well-trained employees, which seems to be the exception rather than the norm these days.

What’s your take? Are there any that you’d add or remove from this list?

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