American Society's Lack of Digital Ethics - The Death of Brick and Mortar stores?
Some of us can remember before the World Wide Web (that's what www stands for, for those who didn't know). There was Prodigy, Compuserve and one other I forget. They were not connected. Then suddenly, www appeared and our lives began changing - more and more rapidly. The world shrank quicker and quicker as the web expanded. But unfortunately laws and ethics did not keep up. Today laws concerning the digital life are woefully behind the times and so are ethics.
Today brick and mortar stores are rapidly becoming the showcase for on-line stores. Sometimes brick and mortar stores and on-line stores complement each other but other times they stand opposed to each other.
In the case of banks, there is no "physical product" there are only services - loans, checking accounts, ATM cards, which do have a physical aspect but in the end they are non-physical services. As services, brick and mortar can compete effectively with on-line banks. On-line service can point to brick and mortar operations as needed and can reduce the need for brick and mortar without eliminating them.
Where physical products are involved, brick and mortar are at a disadvantage unless America develops a "digital ethic". Some examples:
A) E-Readers did not sink Borders; the lack of American Digital Ethics was the larger player. Borders had various problems and all contributed to their bankruptcy and wherever the future takes them but e-readers were only a small part of the problem. The bigger issue they and many other face is the lack of a digital ethic in America. Witness the person who comes in with a Kindle e-reader, which they use because they have poor eyesight and can enlarge the print with his e-reader. They won't be able to buy or download any books from Borders because the Kindle does not use the widely accepted "e-Pub" standard. (at the present, Kindles can only download from Amazon, they cannot read the more widespread standard of "e-pub" books. Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Apple all use e-pub.). The person comes in asking questions and discussing how they hate shopping on-line for books. They like to look at the cover colors and turn the pages. (On-line stores offer only limited browsing of books.) The store clerks assists them and then they leave the store to go home and buy their books on line. E-books are cheaper because they don't require the facilities, space, and personnel support that brick and mortar books require. For e-books, you simply add another hard drive to the computer network and voila, more e-books are available. And the extra hard drives don't even have to be in the same location, spare hard drive space from other locations can be used.
B) Electronics stores (especially camera stores) suffer the same issue. Go to any local electronics place, especially one that specializes in digital cameras. People come in and try out the cameras, examine the size of the bags and the layout of the pockets inside. And when their decision is made, they go home and buy the same product on-line at one of the well-known on-line stores. (If you are a camera person, you know the two I have in mind.) Electronic departments in stores like Target and Wal-Mart are not as aware of this as their workers tend to not have the personal investment in the store that "mom and pop" local stores have. That and they tend to stock the lower price end of products. The specialty stores will have the higher quality products. (Try buying a 200-400mm zoom lens for a digital camera at the aforementioned stores and you will see what I mean.) One large photo chain told me they do not want people browsing Brick and Mortar and then coming to them, they consider it unethical. Nice to see some integrity. That's why I use them. But when I have been in a brick and mortar camera store I always try to buy something to justify my time there.
C) Car Dealers are just beginning to experience this ethical dilemma. A person comes in and test-drives a vehicle. They ask all sorts of questions. They come back and test drive some more. They come back with their spouses and test drive again. Then they go home and send out emails to a three state area soliciting prices on the vehicle of their choice. Then the dealer with a small building, little overhead, maybe only one salesperson, and one or two mechanics gets the bid with his low price. He doesn't worry about a long-term relationship with the customer, they live so far away they will probably never come back. If there are any issues with the vehicle, the customer will most likely be on the doorstep of the dealer they test drove first thing with a loud complain about service. The customer should at least include the test drive dealership on their email list.
Is it unreasonable to expect people to spend in stores they shop in and use the resources of (If you operate a McDonald's think of the people that come in and use the restrooms and leave without buying food.)? No! Germany has an ethic that when I was last there that would address this issue. If you want to see an irritate store clerk, go in and ask a lot of questions about products in their store and then walk out without buying anything. They don't do that but the American visitors do. They don't mind you looking but if you take up their time, they expect you to buy something.
Brick & Mortar stores cannot survive being a showcase for on-line stores. If the trend continues, we can simply close down the malls and turn them into on-line showcases with only one of each item for sale. You can see the color and inspect the texture but then you have to order from the on-line store at the local kiosk that is sure to be there and wait for delivery.
Brick and mortar stores operate with facilities designed to make the shopping experience enjoyable and sale staffs that when trained properly can offer assistance finding the right items and offer recommendations. (Remember buying a printer for your computer and finding out they didn't include the cable to connect to the computer?)
Bottom line, if you shop at a brick and mortar, buy something while you are there.