Monday, August 24, 2009

Bye, bye traditional shop

I would like to share an experience that I had recently.
As you can imagine I'm a heavy Internet shopper, not only in "traditional" Internet shops like Amazon but also in eBay, where the final shop perhaps it's not so clearly identified. So far I've bought in Internet a flat TV screen, an SLR digital camera, a quite special lens for that camera, a freezer, several computers, my watch (the current one and the previous one), books, lots of books, cooking devices, knives, shoes (I can not resist the on-line outlets), clothing, flight tickets, hotel reservations, rented cars, golf clubs (replicas and originals) and balls... You get the idea. If it can be done in Internet I always prefer that.
I think I've reached a quite high level of virtuosity in on-line shopping. As an example I bought a watch for a friend in Amazon while I was in Indianapolis and I received it in my hotel, avoiding the customs taxes (well, in fact do not send electronics to Europe, so even if you are willing to pay you can not buy). So I do Internet shopping even at hotels!
For four years I did my food shopping by Internet. Now they don't distribute to my current home :(
Well, now I would like to start playing the guitar a little bit so there I was in Internet looking for information, on-line stores, etc. Several colleagues at work play the guitar seriously and they provided me with some very good links: Thomann, Music Store, Musik Produktiv, ... I don't know the reason, but most of them are in Germany.
Together with this they also recommended a very good shop in Madrid: Arde Madrid. They told me they have good prices and sometimes, with the transport cost and so on the price can be the same as in Internet, with the added benefit of being able to talk with an expert and hear the guitar and the amplifier.
So after spending some time in the webs and the forums (like Ultimate Guitar, with a reviews section) I mainly identified my new guitar. Then I called the shop, because they say they can also sell by internet but you should call if you have any doubt or, even better, go to the shop. So I called... several times... an nobody answered. This, in Spain, usually means that the shop is closed because they are on holidays. Well, I was not going to wait so I gave a last opportunity and went to the shop, just in case. It took me some time to find a parking place (in August! It has to be a nightmare any other month), but finally I was lucky and there I was parking just in front of the shop. And they were open! Well, in fact they were just starting to close, it was five to eight and they close at eight. So I was only able to have a very quick chat, a view of possible starting options and prices. I'm not trying to say they were rude, not at all, but clearly they wanted to close and not to spend the time with the stupid guy that just arrives three minutes before they go home. Probably the best part is that when I was leaving they told me to come back and have a try to some of the options: good try, but too late!

So, let me do a quick comparison of traditional and on-line shops to see what looks like a better option:
On-Line Shop
Traditional Shop
Open 24 hours
Open just at certain hours
Huge selection of brand and prices
Limited selection of prices and brands
Buying guides that help you with the process and the selection of the right product. Probably not as good as a professional clerk, but a reasonable replacement
Expertise of the clerks
No transport cost beyond a given amount
No transport cost
You can hear the samples for every product in different styles
You can hear the real instrument and play it
Ratings available based on peoples feedback either in the web or in forums
Only the opinion of the clerk available
Accessible from any computer
You have to go there... and park
Telephone support in Spanish
Support hot line?

So, even a specialized shop, one of the best ones in a country, has a difficult time competing with a sophisticated Internet shop. Only if they are ready to spend a lot of time with you and provide you with an experience that is not possible (at the same level of quality) in Internet they have a chance. And most probably in that case you'll end up buying in Internet after making up your mind in the physical shop because of the price.
At least, so far, they have a future as a repair shop, but I'm not sure how frequently something like a guitar needs repairs.

Most of the traditional shops are already dead, perhaps they still do not know it, but they are.

Even for clothing. You can ask my wife, that is an expert in on-line outlets. Her view: when the price is sooo cheap (cheaper than the gas spend on going down to central Madrid), if it doesn't fit you well you already have a Christmas gift for somebody.