A New Way to Shop

I had an interesting idea last year while looking for a hard-to-find product with my Dad while he was visiting California, and it’s come up again, so I’m saying it here in the hopes that someone will read this and figure out how to do it, and take all the credit for my idea and go and actually do it and become a millionaire. Then I can use the system and be happy for having used it. That’s the plan.

OK, so we can all shop online and have those products shipped to us for an extra shipping fee. And we can all call up a local retailer and go “Do you have _____” and shop around for a particular product that way by using online yellow pages to figure out who is closest and call them up, one by one. That’s really slow and you have to bother a lot of people to find the answer.

I think we need to have a system that takes it one step further and really takes advantage of capitalism.

We need a system that would be online and searchable by any Joe Schmoe, and would know the current inventory of every store who decided to install this system. The system would also keep track of the current price of the item, and obviously it would know the location of the store itself. So if this is a national chain, it wouldn’t just give me a cover-all Best Buy price and say “Yes, Best Buy tends to carry this product”, but it would give the price and availability at a particular location, and tell me if they have it in stock or not. So I can go into the system and type in my address and type in “Braun PowerMax MX2050” and it would list all the systems within X number of miles that carry that blender, how many are in stock currently, how much they’re selling it for, and how early/late they’re open.

Wouldn’t that rock? I mean, haven’t you ever been searching for a product and had a really hard time finding it locally, but you didn’t want to pay for shipping and wait three days for it to get there when you could just go a few miles away to some unknown store and get it immediately for less money?

Stores that were further away from urban populations could even use this system to increase traffic to their stores by reducing the prices on their products. So if I see a DVD available for $20 two miles away, but I see the same DVD available for $14 twenty miles away, I might be willing to drive the extra distance to get it for less. Obviously that would work better on products with wider margins than DVDs, but you get the idea.

That website would get a lot of traffic if it existed. Yep… it sure would.

Update on February 8th @ 11:58pm: I should respond to some of the comments I’ve been getting. I’m not at all convinced this idea couldn’t work due to the stiff necks of the big stores. I mean, who thought the record industry would be willing to undersell CDs online? You’d think they would have made them cost more simply for the convenience, no? But instead, they cost less and they’re immediately available on iTunes. Same price as everyone else, of course, but it was done.

Here’s what would have to be done. You’d have to start with smaller chains and Mom-and-Pop shops who wanted to compete with the Best Buys and the Targets and the Wal-Marts. Tell them they can use this system to compete more directly with those other stores and drive traffic away from their competition and through their doors. Maybe people will be willing to pay a few cents more at their store because they know it’s in stock and it’s a few miles closer than a Target might be. Start really dominating that sector. Get it in the “low-end” 80% of stores out there. Then, it’ll be obvious to Target and Wal-Mart that they’re the only one’s who aren’t using it by that time, and they might be willing to talk. The big boys are always the most cautious. They’re scared to go first, and although I think that can be dumb, I can understand that.

Sure, Wal-Mart is probably going to be able to out-do the little shops by about $1.50 on most items above $50, but who cares? That doesn’t mean you’ll always go to Wal-Mart. You just go there because you know the name and you know where it is because you can see it from the freeway. And you know they probably have it in stock because it’s huge and they’ve got lots of shelf space.

I think this system would be an equalizer, and would be kind of a grass-roots kind of retail movement.

The real trick, in my opinion, is to make the kit affordable and still automatic. It would have to tie directly into their cashiering system, so the moment one of those items goes across the checkout, it clicks down by a count of one on the website.

Maybe that’s another selling point. Help keep track of inventory and “shrinkage,” a.k.a shoplifting.

Ah! And another selling point. You could always provide local stores with feedback about what the most common product searches are, so that they would know what their local customers are looking for. I mean, no store can know what you’re looking for before you walk in, right? And if they don’t have it, they’ll never know because you look for it and leave when you don’t find it. This site would at least partially solve that problem too, by telling the store owner “A person searched for this product, and your inventory came up zero even though it’s in within at least one of the product categories you sell.”

Very interesting… I don’t think this idea should be given up on yet.

7 Comments

  1. Posted February 7, 2004 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I love you. That idea totally rules! That would make shopping so easy & cheap! I am getting sick of ordering stuff online, waiting for it to arrive, and paying a ton in shipping. I think it’s so often better to just go to a store to buy it…but sometimes I can’t even find a stupid store that actually sells what I want so I just end up getting it online.

  2. Posted February 7, 2004 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    I’d use your system. I hate waiting for stuff to be shipped. If I can’t go to the store and find what I am looking for, I usually end up not buying it. I know, I know, I am a prisoner to our society’s mindset of instant gratification but what can you do? I know if there was a system in place where i could find what i was looking for quickly and with little hassle, the economy would definately get more of my money.

  3. Posted February 7, 2004 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately I think it’ll take a while for stores to be willing to do that, especially the big ones. 🙁 I remember they used to try and find ways to get rid of groups of people comparison shopping in real time when it first became practical to do so (when cell phones got reasonable some people went all-out). And then there’s how companies like Best Buy react to stuff like their prices being posted on other web sites…

  4. Posted February 8, 2004 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    It’s a novel idea, and one that has been working for virtual stores for years:

    http://www.pricegrabber.com

    I share the feelings that retail would never give out there price and inventory numbers to the public for such comparisons and to be frank I’m sure they don’t like us scraping pages to get it from there virtual counterparts either.

    For in-house I have seen this. While I don’t like the store much CompUSA has a feature on their website that let’s you find a product and do an inventory search for it based on you zip code. The results are all CompUSA stores, less lessing the value of the service but no to zero.

  5. Posted February 8, 2004 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    froogle.com is another attempt at exactly this. Its not very widely adopted yet, but I’ve found some things through it that I couldn’t find on pricegrabber.

  6. Neal
    Posted February 8, 2004 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I think the closest you’re going to get to that is a large company like Best Buy, etc. showing which stores have what you’re looking for (which they already do). Or at least one’s that can afford it.

    Many online places do have free shipping though, so you need to look around for those.

    At any rate, I don’t see most companies as thinking this will be the best for them in the long run, and I think they would probably go after any independent group that tried the same.

    Good idea though!

  7. Neal
    Posted February 9, 2004 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure smaller businesses could see the smarts of this. As a rule, they have less money to spend on things like this, and their stuff usually costs more. Something at Radioshack is *usually* more expensive than Best Buy, for instance.

    I’m willing to drive a little farther to save a few bucks: even with today’s gas prices, you’re still saving money.