At this time of year, the tensions run high. Brawls in shopping malls and near-death experiences in the parking lot. In all of this, the face of shopping continues to change.
Sometimes, the transition in human behaviour happens very fast (like how quickly we moved from regular DVDs to Blu-ray), while other innovations happen more slowly over time (like how we went from landlines to mobile phones). Sometimes, the change is slower because the technology is more advanced, while in other instances it's more behavioural. Ask yourself this very simple simple question: if you wanted to buy a copy of my business book, Six Pixels of Separation, where would you go? If you don't want hassles, if you want the best price and you want to be one hundred percent certain that it's in stock? The answer is simple: online.
Here's a true story about just how much shopping has changed...
Last week, I presented at the Word of Mouth Supergenius conference in Chicago (organized by Andy Sernovitz and his team at Gas Pedal). At the pre-conference dinner, Sernovitz was talking about a product he recently purchased with another conference guest. As he tried to explain it, he whipped out his iPhone, hopped on Amazon.com and showed the person what, exactly, he was talking about. The person then took out their iPhone, fired up the Amazon iPhone app and instantly bought the product. Both people are also members of Amazon Prime ($80 gets you unlimited and free two-day shipping, or you can pay $4 more for one-day shipping. There is also no minimum order size, and Amazon always offers a no-hassle return policy). Sernovitz described this as the ultimate "impulse buy" proposition. You can buy it, have it in your hands in less than 48 hours and return it if you don't like it.
This is not a paid advertisement for Amazon. It's a statement about what this means about shopping and how much it has changed.
It's not just Amazon. Many retailers and online merchants are doing more to help their customers to buy from them. That's not what we're discussing here. There's also value in the "town square gathering" that is the modern day shopping mall. It's about more than price... it's a social and community experience as well. It also gets you out of the home, it gets you interacting with people and more (full disclosure: I'm a Mallrat). Those are two diametrically opposed ways of shopping that get you to the same result: getting a new product into your hands. So, would you rather endure the parking lot pressure and pushing and shoving through the aisles only to discover that your product is either not in stock or sold out, or would you rather do some basic comparison shopping online and get what you need, in your hands, in a day or so? Don't answer that... they're both unique experiences in and of themselves. The important thing to understand is that one of those ways of shopping is still very new, but it's quickly become the most reliable and stress-free way to do things. It also provides a platform for intense competition. Some might see that as a race to the bottom in terms of price and quality of goods, while others will see this an opportunity to really provide great customer care, quality of service and a better overall experience (think Zappos - which Amazon bought for 1.2 billion dollars this past year).
We have to re-think how we think about shopping and we have to re-think how we market the idea of shopping to consumers.
What do you think?