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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

May 7, 2013 at 11:13 AM

‘Reverse’ showroomers browse online retailers to support local businesses

(Photo by MorBCN on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

(Photo by MorBCN on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

You know about showrooming, the practice of browsing brick and mortar stores for items you buy later online.

But have you heard of reverse showrooming?

Not one, not two, but three readers of my Sunday column on the rightness or wrongness of showrooming wrote in saying they did just the opposite. They browse online for things they like then go to local stores to pick up the items.

And they’re glad to put in the work.

Here’s how they put it:

Karen Ellis:

I don’t have a smartphone, so I actually do the opposite of showrooming. I check Amazon.com to look for publication dates of new books by my favorite authors. I then visit local independent bookstores and buy  the books. I only ordered books from Amazon once. I was not happy about the way they were shipped or delivered. … I’ll pay the real price for my books, AND keep bricks and mortar retailers alive, any day.

Kimberley Mumford:

Frequently in my family, we engage in what you might call “reverse showrooming”, that is, we research a product on Amazon, read the reviews and then purchase it at a brick and mortar store. Although we admittedly often pay a bit more this way, the process itself precludes us from impulse buys, and we feel good about supporting our local stores. As Amazon Prime members, we still make monthly (and oftentimes weekly) purchases from the Internet behemoth, so we don’t feel that we are abusing the company by using it as a research tool.

As far as books a concerned, we ALWAYS make purchases at our independent bookstores when visiting them. However, as avid readers, we make our budgetary goals by being patient until the paperback comes out or by buying the electronic version. It is rare for us to buy hardcovers at the brick and mortar stores, rather we check out with multiple paperbacks. We may be observed jotting down titles, but this is NOT to purchase on Amazon, but rather to add to our always-active hold list at KCLS.

David Hoang:

I actually do the opposite. I find a book I want to read online then call a few local independent bookstores (yeah, call on the phone!) to see if they have it.

What I do makes no financial sense, but I love the relationship I have with bookstores in Brooklyn [David, a former Seattleite, recently moved to New York]. I don’t mind paying extra to support them.

To me, the bookstore is sacred space I go to and I having trusting relationships with the people who work there to introduce me to great books. I almost see the higher price as a consultation fee that I’m willing to pay.

Jim Harris doesn’t hunt online, but in libraries:

I am a retired book sales rep (35+ years with Crown Publishers, Random House, small independent West Coast publishers). I am a voracious reader. I abhor the concept of showrooming for books and just about everything else. I do, however, do most of my travel buying online, but not all of it. I use local travel agents as well.

I do showrooming in the opposite way. I volunteer one morning a week at the Issaquah Library branch of the King County Library System. Primarily, I pull books off the shelves for people who have put titles on hold. As such, I visit all areas of the library. I find books that I want to read (mostly historical fiction and mysteries). I write them down and then add them to my computerized data base of titles I have read or want to read. Then I contact Parkplace Books in Kirkland when I am ready to BUY the book (I am pretty much on a fixed income). If they can’t get the book (rarely), I try www.powells.com in Portland. Infrequently, I try Barnes and Noble but they are not as good as my primary sources.

And for a real love letter to local bookstores, check out what reader Gail Yates mailed in:

Dear Ms. Guzman,

I am standing on a soapbox, and, thanking you for buying the book, paying more for it at Third Place Books. I hope you make a habit of it. I have tried to singlehandedly keep book stores alive and I need your help.

As I type this I am surrounded by literally hundreds of unread books and even more read ones and one Kindle never once used (it was an unknowing gift–they meant well). I gave away 27 boxes of books when I moved to Seattle and mourned each and every one and had to re-buy a few. I go to the Seattle Mystery Bookstore and spend $200 every time I go, including buying Jon Talton’s mysteries (I, too, moved here from Phoenix). The books I choose to read I would never find at Amazon.

I recognize that Amazon is a major employer and that their employees far out number those in independent bookstores here and probably in the whole west coast; but, I still choose bookstores first. I go between Elliott Bay, and, welcome back, Queen Anne, Third Place and University, trying to do my part. When my Chase card offered 5% back for spending at Amazon, I went to the above named stores and even Barnes and Noble. I know it was an unreceived message; but, Amazon does fine without me.

Yes, I do order from Amazon; but, mostly, when sending gifts; and, even then, I prefer Barnes and Noble for online shopping. I never thought I’d see the day they’d be in my lexicon as underdog. I also order online from Bas Bleu and Godine. The advantage to the small stores, their owners and employees read books; and, just like you, we, who go to stores and buy, discover the book on Thomas Jefferson (or whatever turns your fancy that day) that you had no idea you were interested in, that’s the value of small bookstores. I’m sorry, but, you can’t work and have coffee in the lobby of Amazon, although you can certainly lunch at will in the neighborhood. Book stores unite us with the wonder of discovery, of new avenues to explore, of places we’d like to visit but can’t due to life circumstances.

I easily read over 100 books a year; and, I probably buy easily another hundred held in backlog for the day I fear they will go away. I pass them on now, no room in my tiny Seattle condo to keep them, and I log each book and how it made me feel. I support Seattle7 authors at their events and with books for their pocket libraries. I give books to children, to family, and to friends. I keep a list of books to read gleaned from the Seattle Times and the Wall Street Journal, all read in paper.

I am old–I must accept it–out of touch and no longer marching to the modern tune and the world is moving on. I own a Smartphone kept dumb; so, instead of huge monthly data plans, I can buy books. I don’t understand nor subscribe to Twitter or Facebook; but I am on LinkedIn. I am semi-retired and may have to turn back to libraries as my income declines; but it is libraries that inspired me to read and kept my children in stacks of books as I struggled as a single mom. I hope books survive and not just James Patterson and the 50 Shades of Gray that sell so inexpensively on Amazon. I do like that they are encouraging writers who can’t make it into publishing due to the high barrier to entry with fewer bookstores; and, who knows, maybe one day, I’ll get to travel again, and I’ll fire up that Kindle and read that first book and be hooked.

All my best,

Gail Yates, English major and real book reader who has never showroomed in her life

Seen a story that caught your eye re: digital life? Email me at mguzman@seattletimes.com or reach me on Twitter or Facebook.

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