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How Smartphones Change Shopping

Last weekend my wife Marion and I realized how the retail experience has changed, rather dramatically, in 2011 just based on the technology available.

No, we’re not talking about shopping for CE, but our adventure was in shopping for outdoor furniture, so bear with me.

We began looking rather casually the previous weekend when we went to Lowe’s in Brooklyn to pick up a couple of plants. We began to look at furniture, basically a four-piece set: two side chairs and love seat with cushions and a table. We didn’t like anything there and went to the nearby Home Depot and struck out also.

During the week Marion went online and suggested we visit Sears. We went to a mall in Queens where Bed, Bath & Beyond has a store. We visited this store first.

Well, the only set on the floor looked perfect for us – comfortable, the right color and had a reasonable price: $300 plus tax and delivery. The issue was if it was in stock.

It took a couple of minutes to find a salesperson and he began checking inventory. (Note to retailers reading this: in the five to 10 minutes we were waiting, two other polite, pleasant salespeople greeted us to make sure we were being taken care of.)

Our salesperson returned and said the store had none in stock, but he was willing to check with two other stores in Queens to ask if they had a set, which they did. He told us we had to go to one of the other locations to buy it.

When I said, “We already know what it looks like, what the price is, and we want it delivered. Why can’t we buy it here and have it shipped home?”

The salesperson politely said that couldn’t be done but would see if he could get one of the stores to put the set on hold.

Finally I had a bright idea: with my smartphone I went on the Bed, Bath & Beyond website and almost made the purchase on my phone when Marion told the salesperson what I was doing.

He returned, checked my phone and said that the store’s system didn’t register that the set was available online. He checked again – it was available – and rang up the sale. We were out of there minutes later.

Now, this was not a consumer electronics or major appliance purchase. Namely, we did not focus on specific model number, didn’t go online at home to check pricing, then check online via smartphone in the store to see if the brick and mortar had the best deal.

But … if I didn’t check Bed, Bath & Beyond with my smartphone, maybe Marion and I would have driven to the other location to make the order. (P.S. Would we have bought the furniture strictly online without seeing it in person? Marion wouldn’t have allowed it.)

P.P.S.  We did visit Sears after we made our purchase. We saw an equivalent set (Bed, Bath & Beyond’s was a house brand) – two side chairs and love seat with cushions and a table – but the colors available were all wrong. And the price was substantially higher than ours.