Sit back and relax. It’s story time. You’re about to hear a tale that boggles the mind …
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 (5:15 PM) – My flight to Vancouver leaves on Thursday. I’m visiting my mother for Christmas and hadn’t yet purchased her a gift (it’s a guy thing). I thought a picture book about Yosemite National Park would be nice. It would give me a chance to show her a bit of our beautiful California landscape.
With only a day and a half left before my flight, Amazon would be too tight, unless I did overnight shipping but I assumed that would be too expensive. So I drove into downtown Walnut Creek to visit the local Barnes & Noble store. Traffic was a nightmare. The parking garage was packed with cars facing every possible direction. The sidewalks were bustling with people, all apparently 5 minutes late for their destination.
The store was a zoo. With aisles upon aisles of books, I didn’t know where to start. I also couldn’t find an information desk, so I casually walked up to one of the cashiers, pretending not to notice the long line of shoppers waiting to pay for their chosen titles. A teenage girl was among those waiting shoppers and gave me a dirty look. I felt like I was doing something illegal.
After a few minutes, the cashier, who was attending to a lady who was paying for her books with a check (annoying), asked me what I needed. I offered the shortest word combination I could muster, “Yosemite picture book.” He pointed to a table about 25 feet down and told me that the information desk was upstairs. To me, the information desk belongs close to the door, no? Anyway, I walked to the table. No Yosemite books.
I found the information desk upstairs and it, too, had a long line. 10 minutes passed before I spoke with someone. He reviewed his computerized inventory and found a suitable book for $34.95. Perfect. He told me I would find the book on a different table. Nope. No book. So I went back to the desk and started to wait for my third attempt at solving my problem. Good news in 4 paragraphs.
Nobody was at the desk now. Both attendants were off helping other customers. I saw one of them walk past with his name badge stuck in his pocket. He obviously didn’t want anyone stopping him with additional questions. He quickly walked past the line-up without making eye contact with any of us. The other one came back after a few minutes and immediately picked up the ringing phone. A baby started crying one aisle down. He got off the phone and asked what I needed. It was the same guy I spoke with 10 minutes earlier but he didn’t seem to recognize me.
I told him the Yosemite book was nowhere to be found. He told me that if it wasn’t on the table, it meant that it was “in the back” and he didn’t have time to get it for me. Hang on! “You mean there is no way for me to buy the book, even though you have it here in the store?” “That’s right.” “Just to be clear, you’re telling me that you currently have a book in the store that I would like to purchase but there is no way for us to complete that transaction?!” “Yes.”
This is unbelievable to me. Incredible. Amazing. Stunning. Can you believe it? The book was actually there! They had it. It was in stock, yet I had no way to buy it. Lord have mercy.
Now, here’s the kicker …
I felt like a stun grenade had gone off. The whole thing seemed so absurd. So I took a voluntary timeout and leaned against the escalator railing.
I took out my HTC Sensation phone (running Android on T-Mobile) and opened my Amazon app. I did a search for “Yosemite” and immediately found a beautiful book by Ansel Adams. It was $55 marked down to $34.65 (37% discount), 30 cents cheaper than the inaccessible in-stock book here at Barnes & Noble. Holding my breathe, I scrolled down to the shipping options. Amazingly, because I have Amazon Prime, I could get next day shipping for $3.99!
With a single tap, the screen advanced to notify me that my order had been placed. I should receive it tomorrow.
My Walnut Creek Barnes & Noble shopping experience had lasted about an hour so far. My Amazon shopping experience has lasted about 30 seconds. Why was I here? Why had I fought rush hour traffic to get here? Why were any of these people here? I’m sure the crying baby would’ve been happier at home. Me too.
Retail is in big trouble. Sooner or later, everyone will have an experience just like this one. And when they do, they will walk back to their car, vowing to never return. Unfortunately, my mother will never understand this tale, but at least she’ll get her Christmas present.
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