Shop Offline, Buy Online

from the reversal-of-fortunes dept

It looks like the rest of the world is catching up with me. For years, now, my method for buying new books is to go into a bookstore and browse randomly until I found something interesting. I’d flip through the book a little and if it looked good, I’d jot down the name of the book. Later on, I’d look the book up online and see what sort of reviews it received, and then decide whether or not to buy it online. I did the same thing with the last car I bought – test driving at various dealers before making the final purchase online. For years, this was backwards of what most people did. They would research items online first, and then go buy at a shop. However, it appears that I’m not so much of an oddity any more. The latest study shows that many more people are researching in stores, but then going to the web to buy. I wonder if there will be a backlash against such in-store browsing. I recently heard about a shoe store that is telling people if they try on a shoe but don’t buy it, the store will charge a $30 fee. They did this because people kept coming in and trying on shoes until they found ones that fit, and then went online to buy them instead. This seems a bit draconian, and unlikely to win many fans (or shoppers!), but it does suggest some of the tactics that brick-and-mortar shops may eventually adopt.

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Comments on “Shop Offline, Buy Online”

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Marty Fried says:

Shop Offline, Buy Online

To me, it seems selfish and unfair (and a bit dishonest) to take up a salesman’s time if you have no intention of buying from him/her. Perhaps if you are casually browsing, and a salesperson asks you if you need help, it may be OK to ask a simple question, but wasting their time just isn’t right. It seems like a case of “Since I can do it, I should”.

Imagine if someone wanted to start a website to compete with you, and expected you to give them lots of free advice about how to do it, perhaps under the guise of being a loyal reader that is just curious about certain aspects of their favorite website. I know I wouldn’t like it too much.

Chris says:

No Subject Given

Part of this stems from the price is the only thing that matters attitude that has become so prevalent, partially because the big retailers continually tell us that price is the only thing that matters. This is the logical fallout from that.

Personally, I’ll happily pay a few points more on just about anything if it means not going to a WalMart or mall.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

Gotta agree, Mike your a cheap skate and basically stealing from the salesman or store where you’re doing your browsing. Now I see where your FREE SHARE MUSIC attitude comes it. It’s all about being Cheap/Free for Mike.

I like the idea of charging a fee for shoe try ons. I’m a runner and have when I decide to buy a new shoe type I have to go to our local running store to try them to see if the toe box fits, check the width on the midsole, heel support, etc. I always buy the shoe from the Store even though I can usually get it for at least 20% cheaper on line. The store provides the extra 20% of value by letting me try before I buy. Shoes is one of those things you can’t buy on line and return and expect a refund … though occasionally you can get like value though most are ‘you wore it, you bought it’.

Mike, it’s really not cool to get up on the world wide web and proclaim to be such a tight wad. I suspect you didn’t / don’t get many second dates.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: No Subject Given

There is, of course, a big difference between being cheap and getting a fair deal. If you don’t understand the difference then you’re probably getting ripped off.

And, as for music, you’re talking to the wrong guy. I spend a lot more on music every year than the vast majority of people. I would spend a lot more on music (both concerts and CDs) if I could find more bands I like, and I believe that I could do that using a file sharing service. I don’t use one, though, because of the fact that most songs on them are up there illegally.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Very disappointing

I’d buy the book in the bookstore if I could get the reviews there. It’s not the price, so much as the data that makes me buy.

It’s basic competition. They don’t offer me what I need, so I don’t buy from them. If they did, it would be a different story.

Truth of the matter is, of course, that I still buy about 25% of the books I own at bookstores, either because I need it immediately, or something catches my eye and I figure I might as well just pick it up.

msykes says:

Re: Hmm...

Well I for one will not fault Mike if he’s never honest again about his buying habits.

It really does come down to what extra service the brick and mortar store is offering, in my opinion. A shoe store clearly offers a large benefit, and having recently tried to buy shoes online due to a gift certificate (luckily from a place with a good return policy), I’m sticking with B/M shoe stores forever. A bookstore does not always offer the same clear advantage. I can browse online in a similar way that I can browse in a store, sometimes with better results and sometimes with worse results. I can read a couple pages in a store, or I can at too. So what is the store giving me that online isn’t?

That said, I happen to buy most of my books offline because I like the feel of bookstores. In my single days I also lived under the illusion it was a good place to pick up chicks, ha!


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hmm...

Actually JD if the price difference was that much the shoe business (mortar) wouldn’t be in business anyway. The difference they charge if price of course is ‘profit’ but if also is a somewhat fair compensation for have inventory on hand that you can try before you buy. The salesman ‘expertise’ is always of questionable value and can usually be found on line.

My tone isn’t meant to be ‘holier than thou’. I’m as much a shopper as Mike is, maybe more so. But if I ‘use’ some special service of the company/business, I’m likely to buy there (and may even haggle over the price if I know it’s a bit to high). However, I do find something very sleazy about going to a car dealer, using their time and resources knowing ahead of time I intend to buy elsewhere.

OldYeller says:

Re: Re: Hmm...

I’m with Mike on this one. What’s at stake in my purchases is MY money, and it’s up to retailers to compete for it.

Anyone who’d buy a car without even trying to shop around the same make/model at other dealers is pretty much leaving money on the table.

If I get a great pre-sales experience and price offer from dealer A I’ll still go to dealer B and see if they can do better on both counts. If so, I’m the winner and A will have to try harder, which is good for consumers. If B’s service is better but not the price, I can use A’s to negotiate it down. If B’s service sucks but his price is better, then I’ll use it to negotiate with A and move his price down a little.

Part of the equation is that you get what you pay for, so a rational buyer has to factor in the service as part of the value, not just the price.

What’s sleazy is taking this too far, either with excessive counter-offers or by misstating facts (like claiming B had a lower offer than what he actually made to put the squeeze on A).

Bottom line is that B/M vendors play to a segment of the market that they have to work hard to keep.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Mike you are a thief.

All of you idiots just keep buying your merchandise at Wal-fart and eventually you will not have any choices as to different merchants.

Mike, You are stealing.
Price isn’t the only factor in making a purchase. People like Mike put the independent retailers out of business by USING them for research and then SCREWING them out of the sale.

Mike (profile) says:


Since I’m unexpectedly getting slammed on this one, I’m curious why no one has asked where I shop? The book shopping that I talk about is at the local Barnes & Noble, and the shopping online is usually done at either or

In situations when I shop at used or small bookstores, it’s usually because they offer something special and I *do* buy from them.

Again, this is a situation where business models need to keep up, and if they don’t, no matter how much people get angry at me, it’s not going to stop the world from moving forward.

suzi (user link) says:

Re: Question

I don’t see what the problem is. Many people will go to several car dealerships when looking for a car. Does that mean they are ripping off the first ones that they didn’t buy from? I don’t think so. It’s competition. So what.

Actually I do my comparison shopping on the internet and sometimes I will go to a store to look at something. But many times the internet site has a better price, no tax and no shipping. If a local store can offer a better deal, then I will buy there. It’s pure business. Competition is good for the marketplace and especially good for the consumer.

Itch says:

Re: Question

Dont feel to bad Mike, I actually do the same thing as you. And suzi has it perfectly right, if you are shopping for a car does everyone just take the first one they find on the lot?
Somethings, such clothes, I will only buy offline. To many times there are small differences btwn each item even if it is the same version. Electronics, books, or other physical objects work just fine for online purchases.

Chris says:

No Subject Given

It would be trivial for BN to put a kiosk in the store that lets your read reviews on If they were really gutsy, they would let you read the reviews on Amazon and guarantee to match the price right there in the store.

A book is a book is a book. They aren’t going to pad their margin on books by having a nice store. They can and do have nice stores and try to add additional margin with the coffee shop, author signings, kids story hours etc. All those things get people in the store but the people owe the store nothing. If you value the extra service you probably should buy there – but it certainly is not an obligation in any way.

Itch says:

Re: No Subject Given

This is actually what Borders does right now. The following information is from a manager friend out west.
The kiosks you can use to search weither or not they have a book, or where it is located, is connected to the exact same database on the internet. So if you cant find it in store, they will allow you to order it and ship it directly to you door.
Weither this works for anything else, I dont know. But for printed material it’s a combination of online availablity and physical accessiblity.

Amazoncom (user link) says:

No Subject Given

I’ve been noticing many other people are now buying online instead of going to a store and browsing. When people visited my webpage at they refer other people to it and view many pages. Instead of drivign with such expensive gas rpcies I guess people are preferring to stay in their comfortable homes and shop and browse online from their computer.

Aaron de Oliveira (profile) says:

Re: stealing?

How in the world is spending time in a store stealing? That would mean that stores made sales to 100% of the customers who come in the door. Sometimes I go to a store just because I know they have things I like. I don’t go specifically to buy something. So if I walk out of the store, have I stolen? Or how about this. I see something I like, but it won’t fit in my budget right now. Then I see it online or at another B/M store for less. If I buy it there, am I stealing from the previous store? The customer is under no obligation to the store.
B/M stores and web stores are competing more closely. Their markets are converging. Just like telephone, cable, net and other electronic sectors. PDAs and SmartPhones are a good example.

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