Can Bricks-And-Mortar Retailers Beat Amazon At The Pricing Game?

In recent years, retailers across the country have taken issue with Amazon and other online stores that don’t collect sales tax in most states, saying it gives e-tailers an unfair advantage and offers consumers an easy way to skirt their sales tax obligations. But recent studies show just how far apart prices at bricks-and-mortar stores — and their websites — are from what consumers will pay on Amazon.

The Wall Street Journal cites a William Blair & Co. study that found Amazon’s prices (including shipping but excluding sales tax) are 9% lower than what you’d pay on Walmart.com. And Walmart’s online prices are about 1% lower than what you’d pay in a Walmart store.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s prices are 14% cheaper than Target.com’s, which are 2% less than the prices in Target retail locations.

Even factoring in sales tax, which Amazon does collect in a handful of states, another study shows that the online giant is still charging 11% less than what you’ll pay at a Wal-Mart store and 8% less than at Best Buy outlets.

Online shopping only accounts for around 8% of total retail sales in the U.S., but Amazon’s position among top retailers is rising quickly. In 2010, it was listed as the 19th largest retailer in the country, but it jumped a whopping six spots to #13 in 2011. The Journal reports that Amazon may crack the top 10 by year’s end, possibly kicking Best Buy of that list.

As the story points out, many big box retailers have been hesitant to point out the savings on their websites for fear of cannibalizing their bricks-and-mortar businesses.

But as they continue to lose share to online-only retailers, these chains will have to not only lower the prices on their website, but will have to let consumers know about the savings.

At the same time, if retailers want to keep their bricks-and-mortar stores going, they will need to give consumers incentives to come in, or provide products and services that you simply can’t purchase online.

Can Retailers Halt ‘Showrooming’? [WSJ.com]

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  1. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I thought about buying Game of Thrones on DVD yesterday. Amazon had it for about 25% less than Best Buy and Target. At that point, it’s not even a competition. Amazon is my go-to place because I know it’s probably going to be cheaper there.

    • Coffee says:

      I live in Washington and have to pay sales tax on all Amazon purchases…it’s still cheaper, has a better selection, and makes me feel like I’m getting better customer support.

    • history_theatrestudent says:

      Often too Amazon offers Video-On-Demand, which lets you watch it right away as the DVD/Blue-Rays are shipped to you. I got that nice surprised when I ordered the second season of Downton Abbey.

      • Rocket80 says:

        Got caught by surprise with this myself! Was debating ordering a DVD for $8 or just buying in thru amazon instant for $4, bought the DVD and immediately got an email giving me the instant watch too. Awesome.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Is there a way you can see whether a DVD qualifies? I’m debating buying Game of Thrones on DVD vs. streaming through Amazon and if it included the streaming with the DVD (not that it matters much; I’d get the DVD in two days anyway) that might tip me closer to buying the physical copy instead of just the streaming media.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      Exactly. I laugh whenever the B&M trade group spokesman blames sales tax for why their business is down. Even with sales tax Amazon and Newegg beat them 90% of the time.

      Plus, as we’ve seen with some recent articles, a return to Amazon doesn’t involve me giving up personal information to be placed in a third-party database to make sure I am not a “naughty” customer. Heck, the last think I tried to return to Amazon, they just told me to keep it and refunded my money. I’m not sure what I’ll do with a jacket hanger for my car that doesn’t fit on my headrest, but I got one.

    • jiubreyn says:

      Same here. Amazon is one of my favorite places to do online shopping. They have great prices and often ships items quickly. Much love, Amazon.

  2. NightSteel says:

    Short answer? No.

    • longdvsn says:

      Long answer?…”At the same time, if retailers want to keep their bricks-and-mortar stores going, they will need to give consumers incentives to come in, or provide products and services that you simply can’t purchase online.”

      This is the key. I’m not going to go buy something at Best Buy for 20% more than Amazon from some salesperson that knows less about the product line and competitors than I do. I’m willing to pay a premium for expertise and knowledge – ex: I pay a mechanic to inspect and fix my car instead of doing it myself with an online guide…because I don’t know much about cars. However, most B&M stores seem to hire either (a) high school kids without experience or (b) other non-expert workers that will work for close to minimum wage.

      Tech sales B&M (Best Buy, etc.) are going to see the biggest decline because the younger age groups realize that Best Buy cannot provide the premium experience to an increasingly tech-savvy population.

  3. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    It’s a fiscal impossibility for B&Ms to match the price of online vendors for a very simple reason: their overhead is vastly bigger.

    Online vendors don’t have to pay for storefront space. They don’t have to pay retail employees…buy retail fixtures, retail POS systems, or even build a parking lot. An online vendor just needs a big warehouse, a few warehouse workers, and a driveway so that UPS can get to their dock.

    Price differences aside (and the collection or not of sales tax at the POS is a total red herring…use tax obligations aside, online is still vastly cheaper than B&M with or without taxes), the B&Ms will never be able to match the seemingly endless selection an online vendor can offer, or the customer service they can provide, but the big killer is convenience.

    And that’s just reality.

    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      Well I LOVE Amazon but I do shop @ b&m places that can provide a reasonable price, good to excellent CS, or a hard to find item that I want right away. You’re right that no b&m store will be able to price match online, but they can help mitigate losses by having great CS, that goes a long way to keeping people coming back.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        I think online retailers are in a much better position to provide good customer service. Since everything’s an online order, when I call up Newegg to ask about something, that rep looks me up in their system and immediately sees that I buy *lots* of stuff from them, and have for a very long time. I’m an important customer to them.

        At BBY, if I walk up to the counter with something to return, BBY doesn’t actually know or care who I am. I may be the most loyal BBY customer in the world, but they don’t have the systems to know that. And even then, they’d have to care. Which they don’t.

        I don’t have any expectation that any B&M vendor will ever give as good CS as you can get from online vendors.

        • PunditGuy says:

          John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now!

        • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

          I see where you’re coming from, although BBY is a bad example they suck pretty hard, I meant the in person CS experience where someone answers questions, helps narrow choices etc. that you don’t typically get online.

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:

            …maybe I’m just unlucky, but I’ve never met a single person in any retail store who was more knowledgeable about whatever I was looking at than I was. Whereas I can often chat online with a vendor rep and they’ll point me in the right direction pretty quickly…

    • SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

      yeah, they have to use ac and heat, and provide carpeting and stuff.

    • larissa_j says:

      No but they do have to pay for IT staff, databases, servers, routers, software development, etc etc. It’s not QUITE as cheap as you think especially for a retailer like amazon that has a HUGE ecommerce site to run and a intranet site as well and has to provide support for their partners. I understand what you’re trying to say but I don’t you have the first clue to what it takes to run an ecommerce business.

      • thewatchdog says:

        They are not a different as you think – every business involves ecommerce. I will grant that there might be a few more developers and IT staff at Amazon but certainly not enough to match the number of retail staff members in B+M stores. What do you think happens when you buy stuff at the local chain store? The transaction goes through a network full of databases, servers, routers, custom software and partner interfaces. The amount of back-end IT is only slightly less massive than Amazon’s infrastructure. Trust me I worked in IT for a chain store. OP is correct – they will never be able to compete with Amazon on a level playing field.

  4. Pagan wants a +1 button says:

    I prefer b&m stores whenever possible. I’d much rather walk out with my purchase than have to wait for delivery. Also I can see the actual color and texture rather than have to rely on somebody’s graphics program.

    But I agree, they need to offer more incentives to get people in there. It irritates me to discover that pretty much anything I want to buy is somehow a “specialty” item that the store doesn’t stock.

    • aleck says:

      Wait for delivery is not an issue for me with Amazon. With their Prime shipping system, most orders get to my door next day, even without $4 surcharge. This is actually faster than finding time to drive to Worst Buy or other place.

    • Jevia says:

      One example of an incentive. A favorite author of mine had an appearance the day her new book came out. I could have bought it on Amazon for cheaper, but going to the appearance to hear her speak, get her book signed, and personalized, was worth the extra few dollars it cost to buy at a B&M store.

  5. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    From what I see, the two big expenses that B&M retailers pay that Amazon doesn’t is sales staff, and rent for retail locations. Even though Amazon has warehouses and distribution centers, they don’t need to be in prime shopping locations. I think this is why there are (or used to be) those discount shopping malls in the middle of nowhere (with manufacturer’s stores).

    So smaller locations in less desireable locations, with far fewer staff, seems to be the key. But then if they don’t have large quantities of stock on hand, and don’t have (supposedly) knowledgable staff to assist in purchases, then why bother? You could just have stuff delivered, and research it yourself.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Well, a warehouse doesn’t care where it is as long as the staff can get there. Retail locations need a different model… they can be in the middle of nowhere, but only if they really offer huge discounts or something you can’t get elsewhere. Most traditional retail needs to be where people live and work, which means the price of real estate is usually higher.

    • iesika says:

      Warehouses can be more centralized, too. You can have giant regional shipping centers instead of one store (or more than one) in every town, and it can be wherever you want to put it.

      Robotic inventory management solutions like Kiva Systems can make running a giant distribution center ridiculously efficient.

  6. FatLynn says:

    Just remember that those low Amazon prices come at a high human cost:

    http://motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor?page=1

    • dolemite says:

      This nothing different from 99% of other corporations out there. Hell, the small company I work at is the same. Minimum wage, few benefits, hot/cold (not climate controlled warehouse), and every move an employee makes is electronically monitored. I actually find it humorous that some people are “shocked” by those stories of Amazon warehouse workers…it’s pretty much the standard at many companies I’ve seen.

      • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

        We’re always shocked when something previously visible becomes invisible and, while invisible, starts being cold and evil.

        Look at meat. You used to know where it came from, the farmer that raised it, the butcher that made cuts, the grocer that sells it. Those people are now all invisible, so the farmer is now a corporate factory farm machine, the butcher is now an illegal working dangerously fast for less than minimum wage, the grocer that doesn’t ask what contaminants are in there.

      • FatLynn says:

        The fact that it is common does not make it okay.

    • MrEvil says:

      I doubt the distribution centers of B&M chains are much better. My dad took a job at a DC for a B&M retailer many years ago and it was similar conditions to what was described in Amazon’s warehouse.

    • Cerne says:

      Providing thousands of short term jobs for anybody who can walk and read their own name is not a cost, it’s a benefit.

    • larissa_j says:

      And they provide TONS of high paying jobs here in Seattle. Your point?

    • RxDude says:

      You lost me at “motherjones.com”.

  7. dolemite says:

    That’s always been my argument. Go ahead and add sales tax to Amazon, and they are STILL cheaper. And those are just the average prices…I’ve seen instances where a TV is 20-25% cheaper than Best Buy’s *sale* price, on Amazon.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      It’s so frustrating to see people try to blame the collection or not of sales tax at the POS for B&Ms not competing with online vendors.

      Say the price of an item is $X at BBY. At Amazon, it’s $0.75X. If you pay 10% tax on both of them, the Amazon purchase is still 25% cheaper.

      Not sure what there is not to get about that.

  8. GMFish says:

    Guitar Center does a pretty good job at attempting to match its in store prices with Amazon. On top of that GC gives out coupons like crazy for big ticket items, e.g., 15% off any item $299 and over. I’ve bought plenty of big ticket stuff at my local GC cheaper than I could have at Amazon. And I get it the same day, obviously.

    • GMFish says:

      I just checked, and a guitar I’ve been dreaming about is $50 cheaper in store at GC versus Amazon if bought with a 15% off coupon. And of course that includes tax.

      And while normally it’d annoy me, I don’t mind driving to music stores because they’re awesome. Filled with guitars, amps, drums sets… I’m getting hot and bothered just thinking about it.

      • Maz says:

        Nevermind that Guitar Center is filled with relatively intelligent people. Sure their selection might not be as vast, but they generally stock the quality items and not the ‘bargain’ stuff that might make it easier for people to open their wallet, thinking they can get the same for cheaper.

        • Clyde Barrow says:

          @Maz; so what’s your point about the IQ remark? Big deal. When I shop for clothes I don’t expect the salesperson to know everthing. It’s your responbility to be knowledgable in what you’re going to buy otherwise why would you consider buying it at all?

  9. axiomatic says:

    Whats more…. I’ve never had a problem returning anything to Amazon. They make it really easy. Brick & Mortar is still a crap shoot if I unfortunately have to return something.

  10. eturowski says:

    You would have to charge me significantly less to shop in a B&M store than to order stuff from Amazon. Why? Because I would have to take time to travel, visit the store, find the items, and wait for a cashier (+/- being accosted by a receipt checker on the way out). If I bought something big, I would also have to get it to and from my house. Plus, all of this time would have to occur between the hours of about ~9 am and ~10 pm, and I’m often too busy for those time constraints.

  11. josephbloseph says:

    This goes along with my token post on every one of those “amazon doesn’t charge tax” stories. It was never the 4-6% tax, it was the 30% off cover price.

    • Dr. Shrinker says:

      For me it’s not even the price as much as it is selection. Ever try to buy a hot DVD when it first comes out? Best Buy is notorious for running out of stock within a day; Target can usually last a few. God forbid you wait 3 or 4, though, as there will inevitably be an empty spot on that endcap.

      And looking for older, catalog titles? If it’s not one of the few hundred super-popular titles that the store carries, you’re out of luck. Meanwhile, any movie, book, or CD I could ever want is available at Amazon any day of the week.

  12. mikedt says:

    I never pay for shipping on amazon, and I don’t even have amazon prime – it’s so easy to hit their $25 free shipping threshold. But even if prices were exactly the same, amazon provides me with pretty much unlimited selection without having to leave my home. As for the sales tax question, with current price of gas, leaving my house to go shopping runs me between $4 and $8 – more than sales tax on the average purchase. So even if amazon is forced to eventually collect sales tax they still win.

  13. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    I make the majority of non-grocery and non-gasoline purchases on amazon now.

    For example, I just bought a hedge trimmer. I needed one, so I went online, looked at prices and reviews, and had it here in 2 days with free shipping and no tax.

    Why go to 2-3 stores (Home Depot, Lowes, Ace) and compare prices and models and all that, and take all that time and burn gasoline and then pay sales tax for the privilege? It would have taken a couple of hours and cost more. Instead it took 10 minutes and I got a deal no local store can touch.

    • OutPastPluto says:

      You can do all of that price and feature comparing online. You can check stock levels too. Home improvement stores are not nearly as bad as Best Buy has become. They don’t seem to have gotten into BBs recent habit of creating a lot of smaller stores that are inferior to older Best Buy stores (never mind Amazon).

      Then there’s all of the other nonsense that Best Buy pulls.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        You can do all of that price and feature comparing online. You can check stock levels too.

        You are correct about that, but then sometimes there’s no stock or you have to choose “ship to store” to get free shipping – which means you still have to burn gas to go pick it up, and you still have sales tax. And I don’t find the reviews at those sites to be nearly as reliable – the sheer number of reviews on amazon means you can usually find all the good and bad points and make a more informed decision.

        There are definitely opportunities to compare and buy from maybe Home Depot etc., but overall they still can’t usually touch the prices and convenience.

  14. bee8boo8bop8 says:

    It’s not just the price–it’s the sheep breadth of selection, coupled with the convenience. My household is two people, with three jobs, one car, and one driver’s license. I’d pay a premium to shop online simply because it’s so much easier.

  15. kathygnome says:

    Sales tax collection is an issue for state budgets, it’s not an issue for brick and mortar.

  16. Cat says:

    I’ve given up my Sam’s Club membership, and replaced it with Amazon Prime.

    Right now I get prime shipping (only) free for 3 months plus a discount for subscribe and save items (diapers and wipes) as an “Amazon Mom” (You don’t have to be a mom, anyone can join). At the end of 3 months, I’ll sign up for Prime (getting one month free trial, also). Then I can use the Prime Video as a Netflix replacement – the selection is roughly the same.

    `$95.88 – Netflix one year cost
    +$35.00 -Sams club business membership
    =$130.00 Total

    VS. a $78 prime membership is a $51.88 savings, plus other perks like a kindle lending library book 1x a month. (I won’t mention the “no sales tax”, because we all know you’re supposed to pay the sales tax, wink, wink)

    The only thing Sams has that’s cheaper is a few big-ticket items, or where prime shipping doesn’t apply, and gas. Since gas is only a few pennies less these days at Sam’s and I have to drive an extra 2 miles to get it – Sorry, Sams. I love you, but you have to go.

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      That’s similar to what I did. I also have a relative nearby with a Costco membership so I can use that whenever I want. I think the only thing I miss Sam’s for is batteries and maybe chicken.

    • Corinthos says:

      Sam’s seems like it got worse over the years. About 4 years ago I think it was great. I used to never walk out of that place without a good deal on dvd or game. Now the prices seemed like there isn’t much of a discount if at all even on food.
      The only thing I buy there is mexican coke which is about a 6-7 dollar discount than if I would buy them separate at walmart.Hardly worth the membership fee. The only reason I haven’t cancelled it yet is because I forget about it.

    • alexwade says:

      In my town, my Sam’s Club is 5 to 10 cents cheaper on the 87 octane and 10 to 15 cents cheaper on the 93 octane. I did the math, as much gas as I get, the membership pays for itself in 8 months. Since my local Sam’s is at a spot I drive by quite often, I don’t need to go out of my way to get gas.

  17. brinks says:

    But why would you want to shop online when you can be accosted by a brick and mortar sales associate who is trying to make you buy an extended service plan and an optimization package so he doesn’t lose his job for not selling enough?

    THIS is what the b&ms don’t understand. They put so much pressure on their associates to sell this BS that people who MIGHT purchase in a store get run off and opt to buy online.

    • scoosdad says:

      The unfortunate truth is that because most small B&M stores don’t have the buying power of an Amazon, their cost from the manufacturer is higher, and if they can even come close to matching Amazon’s price, that means they’re either selling it for no profit or losing money on it. Not every reseller pays the same price when they buy digital cameras from Nikon, for example. That’s important to keep in mind.

      Selling the add-on accessories and the extended warranties is their profit and how they stay in business in the face of the Amazons and Walmart.com’s. I have a lot of friends in retail who own single or small chains of stores and I hear this all the time.

    • PunditGuy says:

      There was an analyst on NPR this morning making this point. She noted that online retailers are actually helpful when it comes to the shopping experience. By contrast, the people walking around the floor in Best Buy are there mostly to make sure you don’t steal anything and to upsell you with warranties and magazine subscriptions — so the b&m shopping experience is actually adversarial.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      If someone tries to suggest that I buy an extended service plan, I simply say “no thank you”.

      No reason to fume or rage over this; just say “no thank you”. Don’t be a jerk, don’t make a scene. Simple say, “no thank you”. Use manners and be polite. Do any of you even understand this concept?

  18. HenryES says:

    IIRC, Amazon will start charging tax in VA next year, which I’m fine with. That said, I’ve gotten so spoiled by having items waiting at my door when I get home that I seldom shop in B&M stores for anything I don’t have an immediate need for. Having to pay 5% sales tax isn’t going to change that.

    • dolemite says:

      I simply hate driving…dealing with idiots that have no idea how to drive, then get inside…dealing with moronic salesmen that have no idea about the product they are selling, then inconsiderate shoppers running into you with their carts as they talk on their phones, as their spawn run rampant, then finding an item marked up 20% over what I’d pay on Amazon.

      Nay…even if Amazon were the same price as B&M, I’d shop at Amazon instead.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      Like others have said, I spend enough time in Northern Virginia traffic. I don’t intend to spend more time in it so I can go to Best Buy (and I have a BBY 5 minutes from my house).

      Now if only we got “Amazon Fresh” so I could eliminate that trip too.

  19. brinks says:

    But why would you want to shop online when you can be accosted by a brick and mortar sales associate who is trying to make you buy an extended service plan and an optimization package so he doesn’t lose his job for not selling enough?

    THIS is what the b&ms don’t understand. They put so much pressure on their associates to sell this BS that people who MIGHT purchase in a store get run off and opt to buy online.

  20. brinks says:

    But why would you want to shop online when you can be accosted by a brick and mortar sales associate who is trying to make you buy an extended service plan and an optimization package so he doesn’t lose his job for not selling enough?

    THIS is what the b&ms don’t understand. They put so much pressure on their associates to sell this BS that people who MIGHT purchase in a store get run off and opt to buy online.

  21. Geekybiker says:

    I can shop in my underwear at 3am on Amazon. Try that at your local brick and mortar store. It doesn’t cost me time and gas to travel to the store. I can instantly find what I want and know if its in stock online. Brick and mortars I have been disappointed more than a few times after driving down. Selection is feeble at best in store compared to online. Plus it costs less. Even after shipping. Even after tax.

    Even if they were identical cost after shipping, I’d still buy online simply because there are many non-monetary advantages.

  22. Portlandia says:

    The convenience factor alone is worth shopping amazon.com. Obviously many items are cheaper but for me the convenience of not having to trudge out to a store for something menial is pretty great.

    Example, a couple days before a home improvement project I needed a couple tools and some silicone adhesive. Rather than go to Home Depot I went online and ordered the things I needed and they were at my house in 2 days. I price checked the items and all but one was cheaper on amazon. I ordered them all through amazon anyways so I didn’t have to go to HD, which I hate to do.

  23. gman863 says:

    Although not nearly as common as a few years ago, there are times Fry’s will have insanely low prices on an item – such as $199 for a 32″ HDTV, $19 for an all in one inkjet printer or 42 cents for a 4-pack of alkaline batteries – that are lower than both Amazon and lower than what my electronics wholesalers charge.

    This being said, I still use Amazon as a key wholesaler for my PC and electronics shop. Their pricing on notebook batteries and external power supplies is the best in the US.

    Since I buy tax exempt for resale, the tax (or lack of it) is not a factor in my buying decisions.

  24. Woden says:

    So in other words brick and mortar stores need to push the two advantages they have over online retailers: no wait to get the product you’ve purchased, and the ability to have KNOWLEDGEABLE salespeople available to answer questions, assist in finding the CORRECT (not highest profit margin) option, and provide an all around pleasant shopping experience that makes people want to shop at their store. Of course they’re pretty much completely and utterly failing at this across the board.

    I used to work at a Game Crazy store before it’s owner Movie Gallery went bankrupt and closed down the entire chain. While pretty much the rest of our company was losing money or barely breaking even our store was doing great. The reason? We actually gave a shit about our customers, and they knew it. We did all the crap that places like Best Buy do today (warranties, cards, pre-orders, etc), but unlike Best Buy we didn’t nag you to buy something until you submitted rather instead we informed you about it, explained how it worked, and asked if you were interested. Also, when someone asked us about a product we gave our honest opinion about it whether that meant making a sale or not. If you asked me if a game was good, and I knew it was crap I damn well told you so (in a nice way of course!) and instead suggested others that were similar but less shitty. When something went wrong we did everything in our power to fix it, and if there was nothing we were allowed to do we didn’t just drop it we asked the people up above and got an answer one way or another.

    Good customer service and no wait will almost always make up for the extra cost associated with buying something in a brick and mortar store for me, but the big companies just don’t get it instead they simply want to scam people out of more of their money than before.

    • gman863 says:

      The key statement is “knowledgeable”.

      I worked in big box retail (electronics and furniture, sales and sales management) for almost 15 years.

      In most cases, “training” consisted of either visits from manufacturer reps or a 5-10 minute DVD sent by the manufacturer. Most were dog-and-pony bullshit, designed to do no more than teach salespeople catchy buzzwords such as “high quality engineered finish” (particleboard) or “BLEU” (Mitsubishi’s catch phrase acronym of “Better, Longer, Easier to Use”).

      Now for the fun part: These terms give the salesperson a FEATURE. If a customer dares ask what the BENEFIT is (“Why is this better than the other product? How does the i5 processor compare in speed to a quad-core AMD?”, etc.), at least half the salespeople on any given retail floor will either freeze up with a deer-in-the-headlights look or attempt to bullshit the customer with a questionably accurate answer (remember, I was responsible for correcting this type of shit when I heard it and dealing with customers after the sale who were lied to).

      Unlike many people who use a brick-and-mortar store as a showroom, I start by checking out brands and models of a product I’m interested in on the Internet, THEN I start checking prices.

      In addition to a subscription to Consumer Reports Online, the customer reviews at sites such as Amazon and Newegg give a wealth of information. If a specific product has glitches or is failure prime, user reviews smoke it out.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      There are effectively no knowledgeable people in said stores. Go to a local, one-off, mom & pop computer store…and sure, pop there knows his stuff because he’s the one building the PCs. At BBY? No chance. The high school kid there in the blue shirt will tell you that a bigger hard drive will make your computer faster, and an Intel CPU will download things from the internet faster than an AMD chip.

      …which doesn’t help much with “correct” either. On the other hand, open a chat window on Newegg.com and you’ll actually get someone who knows what the f%ck they’re talking about, and can help you find the correct bit. And of course the online user reviews are invaluable as well – and something there’s no way to get at BBY et al.

      • balderdashed says:

        Sorry, but much as I dislike Best Buy, I don’t share the belief that “mom and pop” computer stores (or appliance stores, or mom and pop anything) are necessarily well run or deserving the romantic respect some customers accord them. Yes, it could be that Pop’s a hard-working son-of-a-gun who cares passionately about his store and his customers. It could also be that he’s hired his incompetent brother-in-law, who couldn’t hold a steady job anywhere else, to work the sales floor. Or that his teenage son, who sits at the service desk with his feet up, eating Fritos when Pop’s not around, is driving away all but the most nostalgically loyal customers. I’ve sadly witnessed both at a certain appliance store in my neighborhood, that is now deservedly out of business. Small and in-the-neighborhood is not always better.

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          Let’s put it this way: at a bare minimum you have a fighting chance of getting someone knowledgeable at a small one-off store. At BBY et al, you chance is somewhere between zero and zilch.

          • CurrentGeekSquadEmployee says:

            This is just inane. That blanket statement just goes to show how biased & stupid people like you are. You assume because they wear a blue shirt that they don’t know anything. That is just ignorant and pathetic.

            I’ve got a guy in my Precinct that I guarantee has forgotten more about computers & repair than 99% of the asshats on this blog, yourself included, have ever known. He works here because he likes to stay busy, likes the discount & accommodations, & likes to help people.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      100% agree. They need to differentiate themselves from the dot com competition. How do you do that? SERVICE!!! Knowledgeable associates who actually can help you get the right item. Best Buy tries to say they have this, but IMO they do not. Heck, in my experience some don’t even know their own company policies on price matching.

      I actually bought my last TV from BBY (they were actually cheaper than Amazon, and I needed to recycle an old one) and it was appalling how little the sales guy knew about the TV. I was talking about the differences between plasma and LED with my wife and this guy didn’t even know the basics. I tried to confirm what I had read about the plasma’s pixel shifting, and he was like “Huh?”. To his credit, he only asked about a warranty once, and didn’t offer any HDMI cables. Thank you AVSForum for doing what a “TV sales professional” cannot.

      When I bought my bookshelf speakers for rear surrounds, I was actually willing to pay more to get some stands for them “today” from Best Buy. I went into the store to see what they had and was in the audio section. I asked the associate working in the area where I could find their speaker stands. “What?” “Speaker stands…the wood or metal things you would put a speaker on top of” “Oh, I don’t know if we have something like that”. I ordered some from Vann’s later that day and delayed setting up my room. When I bought the speakers, I luckily found an area store that actually specialized in home audio and had a knowledgeable sales staff. Online might have been a bit cheaper, but I am willing to pay for service. They were just too far away in Northern VA traffic to try and get speaker stands from (wife bought me the bookshelf speakers for a gift).

      Service doesn’t high pressure sales tactics on extended warranties, hassled returns, and it doesn’t mean going home to inform your parents they paid $50 for a $2 HDMI cable. Guess who is less likely to go back to BBY now? (Luckily my parents told me ahead of time they were buying a new TV and I sent them an HDMI with my Prime membership. They did buy an “optimized” Wii once though.)

  25. Starfury says:

    We do most of our shopping offline. Things I do tend to buy online are DVDs (very rare lately), books, games, and electronics. Clothing is something I need to try on and I won’t mail order food. We are going to be doing a TV upgrade this year (bye bye 32″ tv) and get a 55″ or larger for our front room. I’ll most likely look at Costco/Best Buy to see what’s there and order from Amazon.

    I know that we’ll have to pay sales tax here in CA on our Amazon purchases soon but I’ll still order from them.

  26. balderdashed says:

    When bricks-and-mortar retailers aren’t blaming their woes on the sales tax issue, they cite “showrooming” (customers using their stores to scope out merchandise they plan to buy cheaper somewhere else) as the reason they’re losing market share. These are excuses — both factors are wildly overstated. Looking for a 42 inch TV? Amazon probably has at least 10 times the number you’ll find at any Best Buy. There’s typically no reason to scope out a TV or any other product at Best Buy, unless you want to restrict yourself to a small subset of the brands and models that are available online. Any what can you learn by visiting a Best Buy showroom anyway? The TV’s will generally look equally good or bad. If you’re shopping for speakers, you’ll have no idea what they’ll sound like in your home. And Best Buy is not going to let you grab one of their digital cameras and wander about the store taking pictures, are they? So much for touch and feel. There’s no reason to use Best Buy as a showroom, when more and better information is available online than is likely to come forth from the mouth of any Best Buy salesperson. The last time I stopped in, the salesperson didn’t seem to have a clue whether the product I was looking for was in stock or even carried by Best Buy. And when he checked his computer and it said the store had one, he had no idea where to find it.

    • Cat says:

      “Any what can you learn by visiting a Best Buy showroom anyway? The TV’s will generally look equally good or bad.”

      Because they’re all hooked up to the same Blu-Ray player showing the same thing. There is no other source, like cable or antenna, to see how he TV will perform on these other sources.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I went to Best Buy when I needed a new camera. No, the store won’t let you walk around with the camera, but you can get a pretty good indication of a few basic things without needing to walk around the store. I tested the zoom, stabilizing quality, color quality, and speed while I was in the store.

  27. TheRealDeal says:

    Believe it or not, I think it’s still possible for some brick and mortar stores to beat Amazon or other online retailers. Granted, it’s sometimes in a niche market, but it’s still possible.

    Case in point, I just bought a new racquetball racquet. It was at the price point where normal sporting goods retailers wouldn’t carry something like that. Given that it was decently expensive, I wanted to put my hands on a few different ones to get a feel for my options and if possible, test them out for a bit on the court. Thankfully, I found a pro shop that not only rented demo racquets (with the fee being credited towards your eventual purchase) but also matched the lowest online price you could find. They also had knowledgeable people working there, were very helpful and certainly earned my business. Yeah, I had to pay sales tax on it, but they’ve earned a good bit of loyalty from me at this point, so they’ll be receiving my future business.

  28. chucklesjh says:

    I even ended up buying all of my PC parts from Amazon because it ended up being way cheaper than Newegg. And I had Amazon Prime Student at that time so I spent $0 on shipping and got it all in two days.

  29. Hi_Hello says:

    wait until VR and teleportation are in every home. who needs to ever shop at a brick and motor ever again.

  30. Extended-Warranty says:

    I’m so tired of reading everyones opinion on the internet of how well-versed they are as to why Amazon is the best business there is, and every B&M will go under.

    Do B&M stores have overhead? Yes. What you don’t understand is those physical locations are also an advantage. They help close “need it now” sales and upsell through salesmen and merchandising. Ever see an endcap that is biased with one brand of product? There’s a good chance the vendor is paying the store to put that there. The biggest difference is being a lean company, and having too much overhead.

    If you think Amazon doesn’t have overhead costs, you are mistaken. Look at their recent earnings. Their costs are out of control and continue to skyrocket. Free shipping and razor-thin margins aren’t a profitable model. Even if you think Amazon Prime is a smart way to attract more business, consider how expensive free 2 day shipping is. AP is a huge loss leader.

    You’re also delusional if you think the sales tax issue will have no effect. Yes, there will always be some things that will be cheaper online. Many things are not, especially some big ticket items. Take for instance, iPads and laptops. VERY popular items that drive significant revenue for Amazon. Add sales tax, and there is no more reason to buy. In fact, many of these SKUs are even more expensive.

    Until Amazon makes Apple profits, then I’ll just on the Amazon train. All it’s going to take is one slip up to change the game.

  31. Matthew PK says:

    Perhaps they should stop trying to compete with Amazon on price… if Whole Foods has taught us anything it’s that there *is* a market for B&M, premium goods.

  32. Kenmist says:

    The biggest problem with B & M stores is that they themselves don’t carry enough in the stores for me to shop at. I wanted a good tire gauge and none of the stores even carried them or had them in stock. They carried the cheap stuff so I had over to Amazon and they had what I wanted and I payed the price. The same with a lot of things that B & M just don’t have in stock. If and I say if they would carry good products in store then maybe I would have bought them there. Just saying.

  33. Kevin says:

    There’s no reason brick and mortar locations can’t play the pricing game with the internet but they’d rather let the politicians do their work by forcing Amazon to collect sales tax. Here in VA, that calls for a 5% price hike for Amazon’s profits to stay the same. Who knows how much the full process of compliance costs: collection, deposits, record keeping, etc.

  34. cromartie says:

    All of my media related purchases come from an online vendor. Most of my other me specific purchases come from eBay.

    I still actually enjoy some facets of the B&M shopping experience. I’m not averse to purchasing clothing online, but it’s secondary. I would never purchase a pair of shoes online, shoes, to me, must be tried on prior to being purchased. I’d never buy a car online either.

    Of all the B&M retailers, it’s really only Best Buy and Wal Mart that are horrible. BB for the experience, Wal Mart for their corporate policies and customer base. I avoid those at all cost, except (in the case of the latter) in the wee hours of the morning.

    However, what I constantly try to do that B&M sites make difficult is to comparison shop and determine whether they have an item I want in store. Many B&Ms still don’t get that people want to know if a specific item is in the store before they get in the car to go to the store. Why this isn’t obvious to many retailers, or wasn’t obvious until two years ago, is beyond me.

    There will always be a place for B&M, in my mind, because there will always be things that can only be acquired through them in medium and low density areas. But there will be, heck there is already, a significant contraction in the commercial real estate market. That will be interesting.

  35. Jules Noctambule says:

    As a rare book collector, I’ll choose the thrift store over Amazon all day long.

  36. Draw2much says:

    I think B&M can thrive in an online market world… but… they have to do something about their quality and quantity of selection in their stores AND focus on good customer service. Being cheap is important, but people are willing to pay a little (that being the important word here) extra for quality service and being able to get the item today.

    Best Buy in my town does remarkably well. They’ve got a pretty good selection for some things and their service is reasonably good and their staff is friendly and moderately informed. That’s what the basic non-electronic savvy person wants, and that’s why the masses in my town go there. If Best Buy as a whole is failing, it’s likely to do with how most of the stores are being managed (badly) rather than competition with Amazon.

    (I don’t shop at Best Buy because they’re chronically over priced. I’m not gonna over pay just have the “privilege” of using their generic Best Buy brand. I wanted to buy a DVI-HDMI cable there to use with an old monitor and it was $30+! That was a $20 plus markup! Yeesh!)

  37. HogwartsProfessor says:

    No, because I can’t find anything in the B&M stores. Every time I go looking for something around here, they say “We don’t carry that.” I’m forced to go online. It’s happening more and more.

    Also, creepy staring box… 0_0

  38. SwaggeringCuban says:

    Gotta say I’m liking Danbo’s appearances in the consumerist.

  39. blanddragon says:

    So much for letting the market decide pricing. I love Amazon. They have the things I am looking for, or have deals with companies that have them. So many physical stores advertise a product and then they have to order it. Their excuse is on-line shopping. What they don’t get is if you do not have what I want, when I want it, then why isn’t Amazon an option? I get a better price and I’d have to wait either way so… Last time I went to BB for a DVD they had a very limited selection on hand. Plenty of empty rack space and not product so Amazon here I come again. It’s their own fault for not developing a business plan to compete rather than try to litigate their competition.

  40. balderdashed says:

    Here’s the problem in a nutshell: A few months ago, I walked into a Best Buy looking for a product that would allow me to connect my HDTV and other equipment via wireless HDMI. I usually do my homework first, but in this case I hadn’t. I happened to talk to a young Best Buy salesperson who I’ll call Ann, who was one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met: she was technically knowledgable, articulate, personable, and did a good job of explaining and selling me on the benefits of the product, without being pushy.

    I went back to my car, sat there and thought for a minute or two, then walked back into Best Buy ready to spend several hundred dollars for the equipment she had just shown me.

    But the problem was, Ann was apparently on break, or maybe her shift had ended — I couldn’t find her, and nobody else could. Because she had shown me a number of products, I couldn’t remember exactly where the wireless HDMI product I wanted to buy was located in the store. So I talked to three other Best Buy salespeople, but none these guys could help me find the product I’d just looked at, and two of them appeared to have no idea that wireless HDMI existed. Finally, in desperation I suggested to one them: “hey, I bet you could go to Best Buy’s web site, and type “wireless” and “HDMI” into the search box, and you’ll find the product I’m looking for.” He nodded, then said he was busy, but could maybe help me in a few minutes.

    I left, and went home and ordered the product from Amazon.

    I’m sure there are some good people at Best Buy — but it takes more than one per store. And in my experience, for every “Ann,” there are ten blue-shirted Bozos.

  41. sahovaman says:

    If you stop to think about it, the Internet and technology has ruined many jobs and businesses, If the interent wern’t around, we would be hitting our local stores to find what we need and investing money in small business. I try to spend my money as much as I can in local buisnesses to keep them going even if it means i’m spending a bit more on that item.

  42. webweazel says:

    I don’t give a rat’s ass if an online store collects sales taxes or not. Shipping costs can be an issue and one I keep an eye on. Free shipping to (local) store is one I take advantage of often, so I DO pay local taxes often, and don’t care. I’d rather spend $2 on the taxes and save $8 on shipping! My biggest thing about online shopping is that if I’m looking for something specific, it will be available SOMEWHERE on the net, when I already know with 100% certainty that it won’t be available at any store even remotely local to me.