I have a theory about why brick and mortar stores are going away.
It’s the internet.
No, I’m just kidding; we all knew that. My theory is that it all boils down to customer service. But not in the way the stores think.
I mean, no one wants their local stores to go away. But getting packages is so exciting. Especially if it’s been long enough that you don’t remember ordering it. Or paying. It’s like a present from your past self. And there’s the not knowing when it’s coming, and the relief that you can finally stop tracking it every few minutes... It’s the best.
And meanwhile, brick-and-mortar stores are sometimes a little more expensive, because they have to pay for the bricks and the mortar. I don’t even know where to buy mortar. I think online. Whereas online orders come from fulfillment centers, which are made out of… I don’t know. But definitely not bricks or mortar.
But for the most part, it’s easier to buy most things without leaving the house. So the question is, what benefits do stores have that online shopping does not? Speaking as a lazy person.
The main benefit of stores, to me, is that once in a while I decide to walk aimlessly up and down every aisle just to see what exists that I don’t know about. And then I say, “This exists?” and then more often than not I make an impulse purchase.
So that’s what brick-and-mortar stores offer – window shopping. Walking around and saying, “Hey, I didn’t know they made mayochup!” (This is a real item. Apparently, it’s one bottle containing mayonnaise mixed with forehead hair.) Window shopping!
The problem is that what the stores think that they have to offer is customer service. Or, more specifically, employees that come up behind you and catch you off guard to ask what you’re looking for.
“Are you finding everything okay?”
Waiters. That’s what they have to offer.
Listen, I don’t want their help. Not because I’m a man who can’t ask directions. It’s because most of the time I know what I’m looking for and I can figure out how to find it in a lot less time than it takes to explain to the person what I’m looking for. Because they never understand me the first time. Like I’m catching them off guard. They always ask me to repeat myself.
Like you ask, “Do you know where I can find the brooms?”
So you say it as clearly as you can: “Biroooommms.” What did he think you said? Are you pronouncing it wrong? You’re even in the right aisle. You can see them behind him.
“You know; like to sweep a floor?”
“How did you hear “mops”? Put it together with what I just said!”
But you can’t say this, because he’s trying to help you.
And then half the time he has to call over a colleague to ask this question, like there’s this “sarei chamishim sarei asaros” situation. And you have to stand there, in sight of the brooms, wondering at what point you can just walk away and grab a broom and not seem rude.
“Oh, you found them okay?”
“I don’t need the attitude, Roger!”
But again, you can’t say that.
On the computer, you can even misspell the word if you want, and somehow you’ll still get the correct results.
Also, sometimes the store has a system where each employee knows only his aisles, so if you’re actually in the wrong section, he will be just as clueless as you are. He’ll just blindly send you somewhere else. In fact, for all he knows, you were probably blindly sent to his aisle by another salesperson.
And then if the guy does point out the item, he stands there until you make a purchasing decision, just to make sure he was successful. So at that point you no longer have the option not to buy it. If you’re there to price things out, too bad. Or else you can pick up the item and then leave it on a shelf in someone else’s department, which I always feel horrible doing, but I don’t want to have this conversation with my wife again:
“Why did you buy this?”
“To make the salesman happy.”
“We don’t need this!”
“It’s okay; I’ll return it the next time. The returns department is different people.”
The problem is that stores are never going to stop this because they think that this is how they’ll stay alive – customer interaction. Like if you don’t know which product you want, you ask the guy, and he decides which one would get him the biggest commission or make the store the most money. Whereas on Amazon, all you have is reviews from people who don’t even work for Amazon! You can’t get the personal help online that you can in a store!
I know; that’s why I go online.
But fine; I realize that not everyone hates being helped.
The thing is that if the only reason you’re in the store is to wander aimlessly looking for new products that might make your life easier, being helped is literally the worst.
“Can I help you find what you’re looking for?”
What are you going to say?
“I don’t actually know what I’m looking for.”
Maybe he’ll call a colleague over at that point.
“He doesn’t know what he’s looking for. What do I do?”
“Call security. I think we’re about to get robbed.”
“Ssh. He can hear us.”
“I’m not going to rob you.”
Best case scenario, he’ll decide to handle this himself.
“Okay… What are your needs?”
“I don’t know. My doctor said I need to walk around more. And it’s raining outside.”
Or you can be honest: “I want something that I don’t know exists.”
“Okay, what do you know exists? Start listing things.”
“Okay, um… brooms…”
You don’t have to ask why I’m here. If I knew what I was looking for, I’d be online.
How many people can ask you what you’re looking for when you’re not actually looking for anything in particular before you get uncomfortable enough to leave the store?
I went to a computer store the other day for one item, and I figured that while I was there, I would also look around to see if they had any inexpensive devices that could raise my productivity, short of going home and actually getting back to work.
And every aisle I went into -- every time I stopped walking -- someone asked what I was looking for.
And I kept saying, “Nothing; I’m just browsing.”
But no matter how many times I said that, as soon as I got to the next aisle, someone else asked me. Or possibly the same guy. I never made eye contact.
Finally, in aisle eleven, which was the computer-mouse aisle, there were two guys asking me, so I broke down and said, “Okay; I’m looking for an air mouse.”
And they said, and I quote, “What’s an air mouse?”
Both of them.
“What’s an air mouse?” you’re asking. But it’s okay that you don’t know. You didn’t accost me in a store several times and then force me to teach you your job.
Fine; It’s a mouse that you hold like a remote so that, if, for example, you’re teaching on a wall using a projector, you can scroll and point to various things while walking around the classroom. Although you will not walk around the classroom, because whenever you do, people touch the projector.
I didn’t name it that. That’s what it’s called. I know because I’d bought one online back in September.
But I wasn’t dishonest. I actually told them that I had one but I was thinking about upgrading. That way, I’d be under no obligation to walk away with one.
That said, when I’d walked into the store, I had no specific intention of replacing it. The only reason I even thought to upgrade was that I’d already come across a nicer one that someone had randomly put down in the wrong aisle, and it had a lot of new features, but was missing one specific feature that I liked on the one I already had. So at this point, I was looking to see if there was one that had all the features. Out of curiosity.
So I explained to the two salespeople what an air mouse was, and after a lot of looking around that I didn’t need, they found me one that didn’t have either feature that I wanted and cost 50 bucks. The one I have is 20. And the one I’d found by myself was also $20. I could duct tape the two of them together for less money.
My point is that the salespeople in a store are dying to help you, but when you do ask them a question, it’s more like, “I don’t know either, but let’s find out together!” I’m not looking to bond with you over an adventure. I thought you knew more than me.
So what should stores do about this? I’m not sure. And yes, I’m aware that I complain about Home Depot all the time in that no one is around help you. I guess I want some kind of balance? Or maybe I don’t know what I want. Maybe customers don’t know what they want, and that is why brick-and-mortar stores are going out of business. Our bad.