Three Strikes and Online Shopping is Out!

Online Shopping

I recently decided to buy a bicycle for my wife online. I really don’t have the time to go to the store and I knew exactly what size, tire rim and features, including colour my wife wanted.  Simple task… or so I thought.

As a Canadian, I started my online experience at Canadian Tire. I found the site easy to navigate, lots of product information and even videos about getting the right fit, but looking through the FAQs, I found they did not have the right size tires on the bike I wanted.  I called the store to speak to a sports representative and I am still waiting for them to call me back… (Strike one.)

Next.  I tried online shopping at Wal-Mart. The American site was far superior to the Canadian site with a lot more brand variety. Not as much product detail, but still easy to navigate, I found they didn’t even carry the brand I wanted. I called the store to double-check and was told they thought they did carry that brand, and I should check online.  I asked them a few questions and was told to come into the store. (Strike two.)

By now, this online saving me time experience has turned into over an hour, but I was not quite ready to give up.  I decide to give up on the large stores and go to a few smaller sporting stores and bike shops.  Needless to say, after invites to come to the store, and a few more phone conversations, I gave up looking online. (Strike three.)

I did what I usually do and drove over to my local Canadian Tire and low and behold they had the bike I was looking for right on the floor display. When I asked the sales representative why the bike was not online, he said, “It isn’t?”

As a marketer, I was surprised at my experience. I thought that large retailers were trying to push online sales, I see consistent online specials and even free delivery for online purchases – so it seems the strategy is to push incentive-based online sales. However my experience was not unique. Frontline personnel do not necessarily know what’s online and it seems the online system does not account for storefront displays or new arrivals.  This raises many questions – was I naive to think my online and in-store experience should be roughly the same? Am I expecting too much from online shopping? I am expecting too much from the store staff?  There is no push online to send me to the store, yet lots of push in the store to push me to online.

Online shopping has existed for many years now and yet I feel it often falls short of my needs and expectations.  As a key deliverable to customers, I expect integration between the store and the website at the very least.  Is this the online strategy (or lack of strategy) or simply our need to ultimately “see for ourselves” and interact with a product, to touch it, feel it and truly experience our product in the store?  Ultimately, online shopping has raised more questions for me than answers.

What has your online shopping experience been?  Do you think online shopping takes away or builds your trust in a brand? I look forward to reading your comments below.

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