Large retail stores are winning not just because they have better prices but because they make the worst part of shopping easier: the return.
I rag on Apple a lot these days because we’re on different sides of the wired / wireless debate. I think computers and speakers and networks are all better with wires. They don’t.
It’s okay, people are supposed to have different views of the world.
Last year I bought a new iMac and it was terrible. Absolute trash. I had been using a non-retina 27” iMac for a couple years and wanted to upgrade to a smaller retina iMac. I wasn’t looking for a speed increase, just a nicer and smaller screen.
So I ordered a 24” iMac with the same specs as my old computer except for a slightly slower HDD. The new one was 5400 RPM vs the 7200 in my current. How much of a difference could that possibly make? I assumed very little.
So much. So. So much. Much so.
The 24” iMac was practically unusable.
I could have been harsh on Apple for making a computer that slow. But I actually gave/give them a lot of credit. Because after a few weeks I packed it up and brought it back to the store. They asked me a few questions, agreed that the computer was not suitable for my needs, and gave me a full refund. All I lost was the time switching computers.
A full refund for a computer I used for weeks and had decided didn’t suit me — that’s what a positive shopping experience looks like.
The Non-Apple Store Version
Recently, a year later, I wanted to try a single computer setup. I’m working on more varied projects and switching between computers with always-slightly-out-of-sync-configs-no-matter-how-hard-you-try can be annoying. Not to mention how much time I lose constantly logging into things.
The solution was to get a 4K monitor to replace the same 27” iMac I tried to replace a year ago.
So I get a new monitor, hook it up, and find that my laptop doesn’t support this monitor at the settings I want. Damn.
No big deal: I’ll return it or exchange it for a non-4K one. Except the computer store where I ordered it doesn’t do refunds on monitors. At all. I didn’t even think that was a thing. A restocking fee, maybe, but nope. No returns at all. It’s final sale unless it’s broken.
So now I have a $600 paperweight in the shape of a computer screen.
At least the experience has taught me a few things:
- You get more than shiny hardware for the money you pay at Apple
- Pay extra for an SSD
- The universe wants me and this iMac to be together forever
- The Big Guys are crushing the retail market because they also make shopping easier, not just cheaper
The last point is worth considering.
Some time last year, I returned a mattress topper to Amazon after I slept on it for a few nights. My back didn’t like it. They didn’t care that I took it out of the package and tried it for a little while. I didn't even consider such a thing could be an issue.
Big stores just don't care about that. Wal-Mart will still take back a microwave dinner without a receipt, even after you’ve eaten it.
A Better Way To Sweater
As last fall turned to winter, I realized I was in dire need of sweaters. I had only one properly warm sweater. So I ordered 8 from the Banana Republic / Gap consortium, kept 4, then returned the others in the same box with the return label that was already included.
It was so much easier than spending an afternoon at the mall.
Obviously return policy isn’t the only thing that matters to the retail experience but it’s a key part of customer service. And isn’t better service the main defending point of the little store model?
“Big box stores don’t give you the same level of service.”
In my experience, it’s the other way around.
The point is, I don’t have time to mess around dealing with the little guy and their strange policies and limited stock. The big guys are getting my business now because they’re actually making my life easier. The lower prices from the economies of scale are just a bonus.
Amazon Prime (which needs a hell of a lot of work in Canada still), Apple, IKEA and GAP — who needs to shop anywhere else for big-ticket items. Get what you need as easy as you can so you can focus on what really matters - your friends, your family, your work, your book collection.
It’s about your life not your things and you shouldn’t have to spend it looking at your reflection in the monitor you can’t return because you didn’t read a little store’s fine print.
(And because it’s been in your head since you read the title of this post, here you go.)