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Internet Research & the Sales Floor

Is One Killing the Other?

There was an interesting comment on one of our “Talkback” threads which I think is worth calling out. It comes from Adam who writes, apropos of Circuit City’s recent financial:

“The poor service at the store level, created by the retail corporate executives, is what’s driving the popularity of Internet based research.”

Now, I love chicken-and-egg arguments so: is it true that Internet research is popular because store associates (for whatever reason) are not helpful? I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer, but I tend to think that if anything, it’s the other way around.

Put simply, the Internet just knows more than a single salesperson. It can organize greater amounts of information and present it quickly. I think there is an inherent level of, if not distrust, than wariness among some consumers when it comes to store associates. Many consumers put their guard up in-store because they know what a salesperson’s job is: to separate you from as much of your money as they possibly can. We can wrap that practice in whatever euphuisms we want, but that’s the truth. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that either, but consumers, I think, understand the game.

The Internet offers what looks like unbiased advice, the ability to solicit a wider array of opinions (both informed and uniformed) about a product and the tools to quickly compare product specifications. All in a relaxed manor, with no pressure (either real or presumed).

This doesn’t mean that there’s no role for an informed sales floor, if anything the opposite may be true: smarter consumers would presumably be irritated if sales associates knew less about a product than they did. But I think it does mean that no matter how knowledgeable and approachable a sales associate is, the Internet as a research tool is just intrinsically superior.