As an American living outside the United States, there has always been a sense of “I can buy anything I want or need in the US”.
That statement was true for me until my last visit to the US. Aisles of half empty shelves and a minimum of brands is what greeted me when I entered the larger retail locations.
Prior to my trip I made a short list of what I needed. Being an A/V technophile my list consisted of a pair of Panasonic headphones, a mira-cast receiver, a speaker switcher, and a tabletop radio for my father (he collects new and antique radios). After visiting a number of locations including Radio Shack, Best Buy, Walmart, and Target among more obscure specialty stores I came back from the states with not a thing on my list.
But why could I not find anything I was looking for? In my mind I should have been able to acquire all I needed from a 15 minute visit to Best Buy. It is also like I did not come prepared, before my trip I did quick searches with leading stores to see if they have what I’m looking for and surely enough it was all present on the retailers’ websites.
Confident with what I was going to buy, I received the same answer again and again, “that item is only available from our online store”, to which I had the same repeated response, “I don’t live here and won’t be in town long enough to receive the order”.
The headphones search is where I received my biggest shock. When searching vigorously for not only the model in question but the Panasonic brand name in general I was greeted with a small number of brands which consisted primarily of Beats, SMS Audio, SOL Republic, and Sony. After sparking up a conversation with an employee at a leading electronics retailer I better understood how conventional retail was impacted by Ecommerce in the United States.
While having certain products available on the store’s website it cannot be purchased in-stores. The employee explained the brands on the shelf are “popular items” which have been proven to outsell other brands, and also explained why pricing on certain products also dictates what will be made available in-store.
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“Take a look at the SOL Republics”, he said, “They cost $99.99. No matter where you go online or offline, they will always cost $99.99”. Other brands have more dynamic pricing which are chosen by the store. “We can’t compete with Amazon when it comes to our prices in-store, but we can on our online store,” he added.
The comment on Amazon pricing peaked my interest as to what happened to conventional retail in the US. After store hopping I eventually got back to my hotel empty handed. I looked up what I was looking for on Amazon, and other Ecommerce websites attached to major retailers. And following what the man said at the store, indeed the items that were available on the shelf were priced the same on Amazon.com. When continuing my search I found everything I was looking for and if I were to order them all in bulk I was eligible for free shipping. Unfortunately however, my time remaining in the states was limited, and I could not wait for the items to arrive.
Traveling around the world I have witnessed Ecommerce come into its own per region quite a bit. From cashless payments for public transportation in the UK to SMS based money transfers in Africa, and almost every place I have been to has had some sort of E-payment solution making life easier for its users, but never to the extent as in the states.
Getting over the idea I would not be able to get my dad his radio due to Ecommerce adoption made me open my eyes more. Standing at a local Starbucks, I saw more people present their smartphone to a scanner to pay for their coffee, than with cash or credit combined. When speaking about cashless societies and Ecommerce driven shopping, the US is closet I have seen to that utopian reality.
Knowing what I know now, my next trip to the US will be planned with having a package waiting for me at my hotel, and more sight seeing than shopping.
This post was written by one of our writers after experiencing the current state of US retail first hand.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia