Online Shopping vs. Retail Stores: Which is the better experience?

Do-It-Yourself Tech Just For Fun Tech Stories

It wasn’t too many years ago that people wondered whether or not anyone would really buy things over the Internet. If you are still wondering, then you just might be an idiot. There should no longer be any question. Let me share two stories to illustrate why online shopping is here to stay.

I wanted to buy my wife pajamas. Since I’m a), a guy, b) have no taste, and c) don’t want to stand around comparing colors, patterns, and textures, my wife and I have this little agreement. When I buy her an outfit, the clothes are nothing more than a token. So when she unwraps the pajamas I bought her, and she knows I would like her to have a new pair of PJs. She then pulls out the receipt, packs them up, and takes them back to pick out a pair she really wants. She gets the pair she wants, I don’t have to think about it, everybody wins.

I went to the local fancy pants store to buy the token gift. It took me 2.5 minutes to find the PJ section. There is nobody around to help me. If I wanted to ask about sizes or quality I would have been out of luck. I decide my wife can probably come back and find a good pair for $30, so I pick up the first pair that costs that much and head to the register. Not too bad, I’ve been in the story maybe 4 minutes so far.

There are 6 days until Christmas so the lines are long. I settle into the shortest one and immediately regret it. I start my watch.

The current customer is trying to buy her items. There is a mixup. The ad says one thing, the register says another. Clerks converse, a bag boy is sent to verify the price, the rest of us groan. I’ve been in line for 4 minutes 29 seconds when the total is finally given to the first customer (I’m third in line). We think the end is nigh when the clerk tells the customer, “You can save an extra 10% if you sign up for our credit card.”

Oh my goodness, this is not a decision to be taken lightly! The customer asks what this would entail, the clerk explains. The customer asks what happens if she’s denied, the clerk tells her that won’t happen. The customer doesn’t know about putting it on a credit card, the clerk says if she signs up, she can get the discount, and still pay with a check.

After 2.5 minutes of healthy debate and discussion, the customer decides to take the brash move of signing up. The line groans.

In order to sign up, the customer must answer six simple questions on the keypad device.


If this woman was comfortable with technology, she would be shopping online. She struggles with with the punch pad device, the clerk tries to help. The rest of us in line are forgetting Christmas spirit, and instead wondering how much damage could be done with a roll of wrapping paper.

At 12 minutes I give up and move to another line. I not only beat the lady in front of me out of the store, I beat the first customer out of the store. In fact she followed me out. I did what any gentleman would do and pushed her cart over and ran for the parking lot. OK, I didn’t, but fantasized about it for a long time.

Now, take as a second example, the purchase I made after returning from the pajama debacle.

I frequent a board game website, and saw a great deal for a particular game. It was $12. It sells for $40 in the store. With a quick click I find a review of the game. Hmmmm, looks like people like it. I send an IM to my sis-in-law.

“Hey, this looks like a good deal, want in?”

“Sure. Let me check with Stacy… *pause* Stacy is in, get three.”

*click* *click* *click*


Access to research. Access to a community. No lines. No paper coupons. No parking. No driving. 3 games for the price of one.

What’s not to like?

I’m not predicting big box retailers are going to go out of business. Lotteries demonstrate quite clearly that there is still a sucker born every minute, and these suckers will always need somewhere to shop. As for me and my house, we will shop online.

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