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Mónica Guzmán

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

September 22, 2014 at 5:07 PM

Mailbox: To survive online retail, local stores can focus on space

(Photo of London bookstore by Jannelle Richarson, used with permission)

(Photo of London bookstore by Jannelle Richarson, used with permission)

I’ve heard quite a bit from you in response to Sunday’s column on the consumer behavior known as “reverse showrooming,” and what my conversion at one store from a showroomer to a reverse showroomer might signal for the larger showdown between physical and online retail.

It made the quotation of the day over at book newsletter Shelf Awareness, which is neat.

Here’s what people are saying on Facebook. Below, a few of your emails and my responses for your perusal.

Enjoy your Monday.

Making the most of people and space

Monica,

Thank you for your thoughtful article in the Sunday Times. I [don’t approve of] Amazon’s encouragement to use the space that a retailer pays for, use the knowledgable staff a retailer pays for, touch and feel the products a retailer pays to inventory for the benefit of servicing its customers and then reward their customers’ insensitive behavior by offering free shipping should they sell the same item. Do you think Amazon makes people feel somehow “special” by calling them “Premier Members”? Kinda sad, eh??

My Kindle went dark a long time ago because as small as I may be to Amazon I will not support such a soulless enterprise. My niece registered (sadly…) on Amazon for her baby shower. I bought the gift at REI. It was, by the way, $1 less than Amazon. I like having a community of small business owners. I respect their contributions to the community. I hope more readers take you up on recognizing their value in more ways than the bottom line.

Best regards,

Deina

Thanks, Deina.

My hunch has gotten stronger that the way for local businesses to thrive in a world dominated by online retail is to focus on building and nurturing a community. Online spaces have lots of benefits but they don’t have matter. They don’t have people. They don’t offer experiences that can’t be soaked up on screens. I hope that the next several years see lots of innovation in community building among local businesses. It’ll make our streets more lively, our business districts more warm. It might even push us in a direction we’d have liked to go all along…

– Moni

Are drones next?

Showrooming goes back even further. I was a manufacturers representative back in the late eighties, early nineties. I used to call on small rental companies and industrial supply dealers. These were by far small independent ma and pa stores. When Home Depot and Costco came around people started shopping and calling the ma & pa stores to learn about the best product for a job (because they had been in the business for years and were the experts), then the shopper would buy from the big box store because the price was right.

Ma & Pa stores have gone under and we have lost part of Americana [and] their valuable expertise. Brick & mortar [is] next, replaced by mega online retailers. Delivery by drones? Will they pick it back up when we want to return it?

Thanks Cliff,

Delivery by drones just might be the next step here. It’s certainly getting a lot of buzz as that, now that both Amazon and Google have expressed interest in building that business. I try always when thinking of what’s been lost to consider what’s been gained. Where Ma and Pa local knowledge has slipped, the knowledge of thousands upon thousands is being gathered and organized online in previously impossible ways. When in the past people had to go to a store and talk to someone to learn about products or tools, now they can pull up a YouTube video or find reviews all over the place on the Web. It’s tough to call any one set of offerings better or worse than another. Times change. There are shifts. People miss things, people look forward to things. The only constant is change…

– Moni

Guilt and the benefits of e-books

BA (before Amazon) I used to buy 100-120 books a year between Elliott Bay and Third Place.

Two things changed. We now take 3 to 5 week trips abroad, and with airline weight restrictions, find it hard to take 15-20 books apiece. Second, my cataracts getting to the point where much easier to read on Kindle, where I can adjust type size, than the printed book.

I now buy 30 or so books a year from Elliott Bay and Third Place, and the rest from Amazon. Why should I feel guilty about finding a book at a bookstore and then buying it online if a) too difficult to take on travels, b) more difficult to read than electronic version, c) absolutely no room at home for any more books, and d) I still buy way more from them than their average customer?

Mike

You shouldn’t feel guilty at all! I’m not sure anyone should feel guilty for doing what makes sense for them as consumers, no matter what that is. True, warriors for local bookstores, or local retail in general, or one or another kind of transaction and business will judge those who make different decisions. But in the end it’s our money and we should spend it in ways that make sense. It’s up to all businesses to give us reasons to value them enough to spend our money on them. What I’ve learned is that making a connection with a business is as valid a value as anything else, as I’ve seen my consumer habits change to accommodate that. But again: No one needs to feel guilty. We should all have the debates, and we should all talk about both the rational and the moral/emotional sides of consumer habits, but you decide what you buy, and that’s the end of it.

Thanks for your note, Mike!

– Moni

Our pennies add up

I read your showrooming column on 9/21. It jogged my memory and I recall first hearing of the practice from Peter Miller, who runs a bookstore in Seattle of the same name. He started seeing people in his store who were showrooming about 18 years ago.
Americans can be out of touch and fail to recognize the influence of their individual economic power. One could take my two income middle class home as an example. We probably spend 24,000 dollars each year purchasing stuff. Critical stuff like food, typical but not important things like a new coffee maker, all the way to modest luxuries like dinner at a restaurant. Extending that dollar figure out just a couple blocks in each direction from our home would mean including an additional 228 households. With a multiplier of $24,000 per home you end up with five and a half million dollars dropped on the economy.
Seattlites should think about their individual choices of exactly where something is purchased. If they do that while recognizing their roll as a multiplier in a mathematical equation that extends out into the neighborhood, then they would see what a huge influence their own wallet has on the health of their community.

Thanks for listening.

Hey Scott,

I like that way of thinking about it. All our pennies do add up. As I mentioned to another reader who wrote in, while it’s good to have the debates and always best to be aware of the many ripple effects our consumer habits have, the thing about a free market is that the customer is really always right. Money is important, and people will buy what they value — period. It makes consumer trends unusually honest and tough to ignore, especially if there’s a larger signal behind them that in some way doesn’t seem good for the broader society.

Thanks for your note. This is a useful way of looking at things!

– Moni

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