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We reported yesterday on the big jumps we’re seeing in online shopping this holiday season, and commented:

…what needs to be understood by marketers is that an entire generation of consumers is seeing the Internet not just as a shopping option, but as the preferred option.

Which means that retailers have, essentially, two options – though we’d suggest that they actually have to implement both of them. First, they have to be in the online shopping game to some extent, either by creating their own offerings or working with service providers that can make it happen for them on a cost-effective basis. Second, they have to raise the level of their brick-and-mortar offerings, creating compelling shopping experiences that can lure people away from their computers.

MNB user (and technology guru) Ken Fobes responded:

As usual you are right on.

Bricks and mortar retailers can compete against pure play web retailers, but not by operating business as usual. I purchased two digital cameras this week for gifts. I did all my research on the web, selected two cameras of interest, but didn't feel comfortable ordering without being able to point and click the products in real life. I went to my local office goods store, which happened to carry both of the cameras I had selected. I spent nearly 45 minutes, getting comfortable with the fit and feel, as well as the ease of use of each camera, and finally decided on the model I wanted.

I then walked out of the store and went home to order the cameras online.

During my time in the store, not one single store associate approach me. A simple acknowledgment of "may I assist you," would have prompted an extended conversation in which the associate could have formed a relationship and ascertained that I had been shopping online. That would have given the associate an opportunity to give me all the reasons why I might want to purchase the product from his/her store, playing to the typical American's desire for instant gratification (i.e. "we'll match the internet price", "you don't have to wait for the cameras, we have them in stock", "if for any reason something goes wrong you can return it to our store for a replacement of service", etc.)

Instead of resulting in a substantial sale, the lack of attention by store associates turned this particular bricks and mortar retailer into simply a "showroom for the internet."

The interesting thing is I wrote a column for a leading retail publication on exactly this same experience five years ago (in fact it was the same retailer). Seems they weren't listening.

But we are.

Another MNB user responded:

You can tell Mrs. Content Guy and the kids that our family shops for most of our presents on the internet. It's so much more efficient. You know whether they have the item in stock (don't have to drive around five stores to find it, and calling ahead doesn't work these days since there is no such thing as customer service in most stores), the shipping is free in most instances (shop early for normal delivery), and there is no sales tax.

As they say in the commercial "It doesn't get any better than this". And our experience has evolved over time:

When the kids were small I would print out a piece of paper with Santa on it, where the kids could write down what they wanted on Santa's "wish list". A few years ago our kids thought they were too old (in their early teens) to do the un-cool Santa "wish list", so each one put together a PowerPoint presentation with what they wanted. They would go to the website of what they wanted, then copy and paste the pictures to the presentation and add animation. This year they went overboard. Our youngest daughter, now 15, actually shopped on the internet for what she wanted and set up a "shopping wish list" at several sights. She sent us the presentation with the links to the sights, with her account name and password that she set up. All she needed us to do was put in a credit card number. Not much Christmas spirit in this, but it does take out the question of whether she is getting what she wants. And to let you know, we did not get her everything she asked for...


We’re not sure we’re ready for our kids to do Power Point Christmas lists.

Our oldest is 19, and we still make him write letters to Santa. Heck, our youngest, who is 11, loves to be the one who posts the sign on the cellar door saying that “the elves are working in the basement, so nobody under 45 is allowed downstairs.” It’s tradition, it’s fun, and it keeps the illusion alive.

This time of year, we need all the illusions we can get.

KC's View: