Why do some bricks and mortar stores still not get it?

I’ll admit it – I feel a bit guilty when I order things online, when I could get them at a local bricks and mortar store. Yes, I love the ability to buy nearly anything I want and have it shipped directly to my door. But I also love the little safe havens found in specialty retail outlets like bookstores and record shops, where I can go in and browse, absorb a bit of the culture and take part (to varying extents) with a community of like-minded folks in my neighborhood. Plus, I love the fact that these stores make neighborhoods just a bit more interesting.

I realize that none of these observations are new – it’s been an ongoing debate since mega-retail sites like Amazon launched. But it’s been eighteen YEARS since Amazon hit the web, and sometimes it seems like the stores wailing about their imminent death at the bricks and mortar level still haven’t learned much in the meantime. And that even goes for those intrepid retail concerns who have made the leap into the e-tailing space. In fact, their actions occasionally serve as an extended middle finger to the folks who still make the effort to come down to retail establishments to spend their money.

Case in point: one of items on my wishlist has been the final volume in the Complete Bloom County book series, and the only one I don’t yet have on my bookshelf. Since it was released to retail, I’ve been watching my cashflow and have so far decided to hold off. But I figured it’s about time, I deserve a treat. So I headed down to Chapters to grab a copy, because I haven’t been able to spot it elsewhere at my usual indie haunts.

Now, I knew going into my trip today that the book has been cheaper on Amazon. But I decided that I wanted it today, and was willing to pay a bit more to support a local store, even if it was a corporate store. So I double-checked the price on the back of the book – $39.99 as compared to the $26.30 it’s running at Amazon. Brought it up to the cash register. Engaged in a bit of small talk with the clerk about signing up for their loyalty program (no thanks), and then turned to see the damage: just over $52.

What?

Now, Canadians have long known the pain of the dual prices found on books in this country. Even though our dollar is now worth more than the US greenback, we’ve generally paid more for books…sometimes substantially more. And in this case, the Chapters retail stores were still asking $49.99 for this particular book – a full 33% higher than the price marked on the back of the book (strangely left unstickered as to the actual Canadian price…hm).  It’s not like this particular book has been around since the bad old days when our dollar was worth 65 cents US. It was released in October, when the dollar was running 95 cents. That’s five percent. Five. Not thirty three. Huge difference. So that’s strike one right there. But what happened next depressed me.

I noted to the clerk that the book didn’t have a price tag with their supposed price on it. I also noted that it was running $26 on Amazon, which is half the price they were asking. I was expecting that at the very least they would drop it down to the actual price listed on the book. That’s what I was expecting to pay anyhow when I walked into the store, so I would still have done so (especially because it seems fair to pay a bit more for an item at a location that has extra retail-based costs, like rent and info kiosks). The clerk went into his system and did a price lookup.

Then he told me that yes, the prices haven’t been updated yet, and yes, it was running at a lower price on the Chapters website. And then proceeded to tell me that there was nothing he could do for me at the till to lower the price on that particular book. Nothing. Serious question: why even have a price lookup if you can’t do anything about it at the cash register? Alternative possibility: if it is, indeed, possible to adjust the price at cash, why did this clerk think his hands were tied?

As it turns out, not only was the item cheaper on the Chapter site, it was almost as low as the Amazon price. But you know what? I only looked it up for laughs after I had already made the purchase at Amazon. And it wouldn’t have been enough to sway me anyhow, because Chapters already lost this particular sale at the cash register.

It also made me less interested in going back to Chapters again for anything other than browsing…why would I risk paying twice the price for something just because I wasn’t keeping close enough tabs on whether the price on the book matches the one in the point-of-sale system? (Once could imagine a price discrepancy getting past someone buying a stack of books for the holidays.)

I’m not sure whether this discrepancy between Chapters’ in-store and online price is intended to drive more people to their website or whether it’s just a way to allow the company to be more competitive online with their online competition. But it’s really worth remembering – when you’ve got me in the store, I’m already there. If I leave your retail location because I don’t feel that you’ve tried hard enough (or at all) to keep me happy, it doesn’t necessarily mean the first thing I’m going to try to do is go to your online site. I could go anywhere. Anywhere at all. So chances are you’ve lost the sale. How does that make sense for your bottom line?

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About globalhermit

I am a technology journalist and video creator based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
This entry was posted in Blog entry, Opinion, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why do some bricks and mortar stores still not get it?

  1. That is an interesting point. I recently bought an ebook that was priced more than a few dollars higher than the print edition. A buck or two I’ll call a convenience fee because I get it *now* without having to wait. But, honestly, it costs real money to MAKE a book, there’s raw materials, typesetting, binding, shipping it to and from places before it even gets to me. Why does the ebook cost more than a buck more???

    I’m on the US side of life, but I hadn’t even considered how the currency fluctuations would impact pricing, although I did notice that many recent books still have a higher Canadian price than US awhile back. I had assumed it was a shipping cost/import fee kind of thing.

    Interesting post.

  2. globalhermit says:

    Thanks Shannon!

    The higher price of a lot of ebooks has irked me for some time now, but there’s a legitimate reason for it, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense ultimately: ebooks are marked up differently than physical books, and that creates these weird pricing anomalies where sometimes it costs $5 less to get a huge hardcover shipped to your front door than it does to download a small handful of ones and zeroes.

    There’s an article out there that explains this in full and I’ll try to locate it. But there’s also a bit of it discussed here in this Quora post: http://www.quora.com/Why-are-eBooks-often-more-expensive-than-paperback-or-hardcover-books

    Definitely strange times.

  3. Excellent post, Sean! I read a piece several months back that focused on Best Buy, pointing out that while the electronics retail giant blames lack-luster sales on online retailers operating at lower cost, that those online retailers also tend to offer better customer service as well! It’s a sad day when a company can offer better customer service over a phone or the Internet than your employees can in person. It also cited the conundrum of price differences available online that are not available in the store.

    It seems the major problem here is that brick and mortar stores have lost sight of the fact that customers don’t always just care about prices, they want service too. Being in a unique position to offer personalized service, you would think this is where most brick and mortar stores would excel and differentiate themselves from online retailers. Instead, it seems that they are falling back on the obvious advantage of convenience and immediate gratification. If you need something today, it makes more sense to go to a brick and mortar store than it does an online retailer. They really should try to reach for higher than that…

  4. Karen says:

    I work at a Chapters and while I don’t understand why our prices are still so much more than in the US, the main reason that we can make out online prices cheaper than our in store prices is because you aren’t paying for the service there. My manager just says it’s basically to cover the cost of running the store and all the customer service representatives that are there to help you with anything you need.
    So yeah, hopefully that clears your confusion.

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