Local instead of Online?
As we progress further into the 21st Century, one thing is becoming clear: internet shopping and big box stores are decimating the landscape of local mom and pop shops. And that is a shame really. Too often I read about (or hear from) shop owners who claim that customers are simply kicking the tires and then ultimately buying online to save a buck or two. This is known as “showrooming“. While this appears to make economic sense if the savings are substantial (like no tax, or free delivery on big-ticket purchases) the reality is that the few bucks you save may be given back in time wasted with frustrating support, return shipping costs if there are problems, etc.. Often the online merchants offer much larger selections to choose from (and accordingly, more “pitfall purchases” to watch out for if you do not choose wisely) but offer no real personal advice to help you narrow your selection. You MAY get to chat with a representative regarding your needs but one must be on-guard when seeking advice from these sources as they often are trying to push you into purchasing certain products because they get spiffs or commission incentives to do that. As always, Caveat Emptor.
Don’t buy a box, build a relationship.
There are some very good reasons to keep the small shop owner in business. First and foremost is service; when you make a purchase from a small local shop, you build a relationship and they will often give you preferential treatment if and when things go awry. The second advantage is product knowledge; I have learned so much more from people with a long history within the industry than from any chat expert I have encountered online to date. With that knowledge often comes a real concern for the customer right there staring them in the face and a desire to see that the customer gets the right product(s) they need for their particular situation. Conversely, the online merchants are separated via phone or internet and won’t feel the same empathy for you. Finally, with the product right there in front of you there is the opportunity to touch it, feel it, smell it, see it, hear it, kick it etc. Find out what it is REALLY made of! Plastic crap and durable metal items look almost identical in pictures, but you can easily differentiate when you hold it in your hand.
Another key advantage of local shops is that once you have established a decent history with your local store, they will often clue you in to special deals and/or gift you with loaners or cheap rentals of the latest gear to wet your appetite to upgrade or expand. Your buying history with a box house doesn’t help at all when you need a favor (such as a loaner or cheap rental). They don’t care about your needs, except maybe how many “points” have you built up towards that free ebook or gift card purchase they offer in the fine print. In our industry, being able to make your loyalty pay off is becoming increasingly difficult. But the Mom and Pop shop still cares about loyalty and they will prove it to you. Let’s face it, when a piece of gear goes down and you have an important production looming isn’t is great to have a local shop that can bail you out with a loaner or rental as opposed to having to pay exorbitant overnight charges for a NEW purchase over the internet?
Often people will see something in a local shop, try it out and then go home, look up the cheapest price they can find on the internet for the product and give THEM the money, for no other reason than price. But that isn’t how it should be done. If anything, turn that concept around: find what you want online thru vigorous research and then see if any local retailer has it in stock or can get it for you at a similar (or even lower) price. You may be surprised. Even if they are slightly higher on price, it still may be a bargain because helpful knowledge and preferential treatment need to be taken into consideration. Not to mention the satisfaction of keeping your money in the local economy to support local taxes and infrastructure, instead of sending it out of town.
Local dealers can also be negotiated with to get the best deal. Notice I did not say best price, for the deal can often be about more than just price, it can be about a bundle with other gear, training, support etc.. Plus there is no shipping to pay, no waiting for gear to arrive, and a more personal experience overall.
In summary, it is to our advantage to support “the little guys” and keep them alive, for once they are gone REAL customer service will likely go with them.
Remember this rule when it comes to buying equipment: you can get it right, you can get it fast, you can get it cheap – pick any 2 out of the 3. You will NEVER get ALL three!