The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

Competing with Amazon. Really?


I have a bad back.  I spend a lot of time and effort maintaining it. I investigate all the treatments, stretches, and devices I come across in the hope of avoiding pain and increasing range of motion. I tell you this so that you understand how important this multi-channel shopping story is to my life and what it says about the future of shopping. Dallas has a couple of specialty retail stores catering to back products. I looked up their websites and browsed through their products. One of them was located a few miles from me, so I went over to check out the merchandise.  Back-related products are all about fit and feel, so you can’t really evaluate the products online. You have to sit in the chairs and feel the vibrations and get into the stretch positions — the effect is everything. So this would be the classic scenario for a specialty retailer to compete effectively against online Leviathans like Amazon, right? Not so much.  Not at all, in fact.  Here’s why. The specialty store product in which I took the greatest interest was an inversion board, one of those devices that tilts you upside down and relieves the pressure on the vertebrae.  My business partner has had one for years and thinks it’s a God-send.  The model I liked was light but stable and had what appeared to be comfortable ankle supports (essential, I am told, when one is in a bat-like position).  It was priced at $799.  There was a lower priced alternative at $479.  Delivery and set-up were another $75. I took home the brochure and typed the model description into Amazon.  The $799 product was, on Amazon, $499 — $300 cheaper, right off the bat.  But wait (as the commercials say). There was the same model equipped with Far Infrared technology (so your cells can regenerate as your spine decompresses).  Only an additional $100.  What a deal!  But wait.  I am a member of Amazon Prime.  So my price, for the upgraded model, was $329.  And as a Prime member I get free shipping.  So the purchase is a no brainer, right?  But wait.  Amazon also has a hook-up with American Express.  So did I, asked Amazon, want to pay for my purchase with AMEX points? Bottom line: I paid in AMEX points so my actual cash outlay was zero.  True, I will have to assemble the thing myself, and if the instructions are not user-friendly it could end up costing me my sanity.  But what the heck!  I’ll trade my sanity for what was essentially a “free” space-age inversion board. This was as extreme an example of “showrooming” phenomenon as I have encountered.  It is also a  vivid illustration of why brick-and-mortar retail (with the likely exception of grocery) is flat out doomed.  It’s only a matter of time before none of us will be able to afford to do business with anyone but Amazon.


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