Today was a major shopping day - everything from books and shoes to food and other goodies. I have a handful of cross-border shopping rules: only buy it if you can't get it at home (i.e. Trader Joe's) or if it is priced significantly less (i.e. DSW Shoes) or if it's an impulse buy (i.e. finding a paperback copy of Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba's Creating Customer Evangelists book). Yup, the last rule gives me all kinds of latitude (I know).
Whether it's a Gap store or navigating a mall or walking through a Target, being offline for a significant amount of the day makes me realize how, without an Internet connection and access to places like Google, Technorati, etc..., finding information in an offline capacity is extremely difficult and frustrating.
Here's where I am going with this: I was in Best Buy and noticed a new Logitech Premium Notebook Headset. I like the sleek design along with the fact that it would travel a lot better than what I'm presently using (which is the Logitech Premium USB Headset 350), but I had one important question: is the microphone quality the same?
I looked around and noticed the sales associate responsible for the area. I watched as he interacted with another customer. No chance this guy has a clue as to how to answer my question. If I had access to the Web, I'd probably be able to check up on some customer reviews from multiple sites or even shoot a quick email off to a group like my CAPOW cohorts to get their opinions.
Having constant access to the Wisdom of Crowds has spoiled me. I've become a retail snob and, along with that, cynical of sales clerks who would still believe that I don't have the power to find out if I am being hoodwinked into a purchase (I know, Best Buy sales associates do not make a commission, but I am trying to drive a point home here).
What if we could see which store does have the right size (and color) jacket we were looking for and at which location? What if we could SMS the restaurant to let them know that we'd like a table in the next half hour (instead of having to show up and wait twenty minutes in line for lunch at 2:00 pm)? Why can't we pay a parking meter via our mobile devices? Why not allow customers to buy extended warranties online on recent purchases made in store? How could we have answered my microphone question without relying on one person who probably doesn't have the perfect answer?
On any given Wednesday, you're more likely to find me online (at work) than acting like a Mallrat, however, when I am in Mallrat mode, all I can think about is how much more pleasant these environments could be (and how much more money people would spend) if we took the simplicity and access to information from the online world and leveraged it (just a little bit) into traditional channels. Think about it, the shopping experience has not progressed all that much since its inception (not taking into account systems that make it easier for retailers to count your money or pump more products down our gullets).
It's a big thought - probably too big for this Blog posting and too small for a book.
I think there are some pearls to be discovered. I know many retailers are grappling with these issues. The winner would be both the retailer and the consumer.