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Tech Talk

Gone are the days of face-to-face buys

9/11/2013

Sam Goody, Suncoast Videos, Borders Bookstores and Circuit City; what do all these stores have in common? They were all brick-and-mortar stores that laid to waste by the rise of e-commerce, and the big box tech store has been hit the hardest. Still I occasionally find myself wandering the aisle of the few brave businesses left that refuse to shut their doors and give in to the “inevitable.”

A couple weeks ago, when I purchased a Windows Surface tablet to test run, I decided to use the opportunity to evaluate the in-store tech purchase experience. In my life, no business has taken more of my expendable cash than Best Buy. The mountains of CDs, DVDs and video games I bought in Best Buys through the years easily ring up into thousands of dollars. However, in the last five years, I bet I’ve spent less than $100.

The disadvantages far outnumber the few advantages of buying a computer in person. For starters, the salesmen push you to the high-commission items and unnecessary warranties. Plus, you never know if the TVs and laptops available on a store’s shelves are the best bang for your buck.

So what did I find as the advantages of my brick-and-mortar experiment? First off, salesmen can be pleasant if they share your interests and can give even the smallest amount of insight into your queries. Second, walking through a tech-heavy big box store gives the opportunity to take stock of other purchases you’ve been considering but haven’t prioritized, such as batteries and memory cards. Finally, returns. As convenient as Amazon is, returning a purchase to an online store is not easy and generally comes with shipping costs. Best Buy — like many of its peers — has done away with the majority of restocking fees, so nearly all purchases can be returned, no questions asked.

Three advantages, that’s it. Should we weep for the big box? Hardly. While it’s sad to think my kids won’t share my experiences of wasting hours playing “Mario Kart” in a Best Buy bean bag, I’m happy to trade that in for shopping online, at home, in my underwear. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @ResponsiblyWild.                 

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