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The Downsides of e-Commerce

Last year I was in a bookstore and looking through some books with Andy Warren of End to End Training. I didn’t have the Kindle with me, and was waiting while Andy found a few books for his flight home. But I was still browsing since I hadn’t been in a bookstore in a long time and was enjoying the experience.

As I picked up a few books to glance through, I found a few that I wanted to buy later for the Kindle. It’s not that I don’t want to buy books, but the Kindle is very, very convenient for me. I had my phone, so I started to type in the title and author, but Andy suggested that I take a picture. So I did, actually a few pictures, and I ended up buying 3 of the books from Amazon later.

As we stood there, we talked about how if I had an iPhone, I would have just bought the books there with a very convenient and easy to use browser. I also mentioned that I saw an app for iPhones that would take a picture of the bar code and then search out pricing for you.

That’s cool, and I can see that it definitely makes things nice for bargain shoppers or those without much disposable income, but what if that practice and application became widespread? It’s an example of an idea that doesn’t scale.

If too many people were to “browse” for products, whether it’s books, toys, or auto parts, pretty soon the brick and mortar stores won’t be able to support themselves. If you go to a store, check out an item, and then decide you can save $10 or $20 by purchasing online, you are doing a dis-service to the store, and eventually you won’t be able to patronize or even check things out in the store.

I know I’m sounding more like a business person, but it’s also a common sense thing. The specialty stores, the local stores are dying out in many ways. They’ll never completely disappear, but even now there are many, many fewer of them. And it’s not just Wal-Mart, it’s also the pressures of purchases across the Internet. After all, how many of you can go to a store and check out music now? There’s some in Wal-Mart, and some in larger Barnes and Nobles or Borders, but I can see that disappearing. Browsing around, looking for music was something I used to really enjoy, just as I still do with books.

eCommerce can make things more efficient, but it can also get rid of some of the richness that we enjoy in this world. Browsing physical objects is still important in the world and I hope that businesses look to evolve to support both models.

The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


Posted by Aaron Alton on 26 February 2009

That's a really great point, Steve.  I believe that the push to e-commerce is inevitable, but there are some things that "brick and mortar" retailers can do to stay in the game.  

For instance, the largest book retailer in Canada is called Chapters.  They have both an online and a retail presence.  Once you've been shopping there for a while, you realize that the online prices are consistently (exactly) 30% less than the instore prices, so they can compete with Amazon.ca

So how can they afford to keep the stores open?  Well, there are always some people who won't want to buy online, but more and more, a "brick and mortar" location needs to provide a face to an online retail presence.  I buy almost all of my books from their website, after going to a retail location to check them out.  Why?  Well, they're competitive online (reduced overhead), they aren't a nameless face, and they make sure that the online service that they provide is in line with the service you can expect instore.  

Of course, the barcode reader app flies in the face of this kind of loyalty - or does it?  If the barcode reader app could find me the same book at half price, I might be tempted.  More likely, I might save 5% somewhere else, and have to deal with the uncertaintly of buying from a new online retailer.  For 5%, I'll buy it from my "real" store's online presence (if they're smart enough to have one).  Or maybe that's just me - what do you think?

Posted by Steve Jones on 26 February 2009

I think the integration of online/offline is a great idea. It's allowed a lot of smaller stores to keep going by moving lots of their sales online. Ebay, Yahoo, Amazon, all have helped home based businesses, but also local businesses extend their reach.

I think that you can't necessarily get all customers that want/need to save 5%, but you can add in some good customer service and help/information, perhaps convince a few people that they like your store and would like to spend time browsing/talking with you. Coffee in the bookstores is a great idea.

Posted by Aaron Alton on 26 February 2009

Coffee everywhere is a great idea ;-)

Posted by Anonymous on 26 February 2009

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Posted by David Benoit on 27 February 2009

The main hope that the "brick and mortar" stores have is the  impulsive nature of the human desire. :) Gotta have it now will keep many alive for a time to come.

Me, I have learned / am learning patience so, waiting for a book, etc is not a big deal.

...and I can enjoy some fine Costa Rica coffee right here at home in my French Press.

Posted by Amit Lohia on 27 February 2009


I understand from where you are coming but in reality ecommerce is still growing. In your own example, you prefer Kindle because it is very very convient for you but if everyone start using kindle what will happen to publishing industry? Consumer will buy the cheapest or the product which are convient for them. I may buy things from Costco or convient store. It will depend if I am looking for convience or want to save money.

Barter system and use of cash is still not eliminate completely. In same manner, number of stores will decrease but it will not be eliminated completely.

Posted by Steve Jones on 27 February 2009

I actually am working on a blog on the Kindle there as well. I'd like to see brick and mortar stores selling Kindle titles. They could sell them as a quick download (via USB), make some profit, and I'd be happy to buy them there. I'm sure Amazon wouldn't like it, but it would be a great way to promote and get more sales of both regular and e-books.

Posted by Anonymous on 19 March 2009

I was browsing the March 2009 issue of Visual Studio Magazine today and found that it's changing

Posted by micagordon20 on 5 July 2015

Bar code is really cool. www.keepdynamic.com/.../pdf-417.shtml

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