A couple months ago I told you about how Jeff Bezos (whether he knows it or not) did me a solid when I’d forgotten to buy diapers for my newborn. Amazon—that retail giant! Saves the day again! It has a lot going for it when you’re in a pinch.

Except when it doesn’t.

Case in point: last week I had an important interview scheduled for a project I’m working on. I like to record interviews, because I find I listen to my subject better when I’m not worried about trying to type the important bits while the subject is talking. I can go back and review the interview, pull out accurate quotes, follow up with the subject if there are things I’m not clear about—you get the idea. Cut to the night before the interview, and I’m gathering what I need: questions, laptop and charging cord, recorder….wait—where’s my recorder?

I searched high and low, but the recorder was nowhere to be found. (I swear I’d just seen it…somewhere…but honestly, there is a toddler in our house, which means it could be anywhere. Don’t believe me? I found a spatula in a box of outgrown baby clothes recently.) It was mildly panic-inducing to be without a recorder, but I figured I had two choices. One, proceed with the interview sans recorder, and try and type and listen at the same time. Or two, buy a new recorder.

Normally I’d log on to Amazon, and within seconds a recorder would be ordered and on its way to me. But not this time, because of a crucial, critical sticking point for me: I couldn’t guarantee that the recorder would arrive in time. Yes, Amazon Prime offers two-day shipping. But I only had one day. And yes, Amazon offers one-day shipping as well.

But as a frequent Amazon consumer, I’ve been burned more than once by having an order not show up in the time that I need it. And when I’ve contacted customer service on more than one occasion and said, “Hey, I have Amazon Prime and I ordered this item on Monday and it says it won’t arrive until Saturday—what gives?” all they say is that they can’t control fulfillment of third-party vendors.

Really, Jeff? You’re one of the biggest retailers in the world and that’s all you can say? #retailfail

Also, it reminds me why in-store shopping can be superior to online shopping: 

  1. You know instantly if the product you want is available or not.
  2. If it is, you can take it immediately.
  3. You can see, feel, smell the product (though honestly, it would look a little weird, me smelling tape recorders, but whatever), or even test out the product before you buy, saving the hassle of having to ship it back.
  4. You can talk to a person about the product you need, rather than rely on comments left by anonymous strangers that may or may not apply to your needs.
  5. Bonus: sometimes you can actually get a better deal in store than online, because of an in-store only promotion. 

It’s interesting, this ongoing tug-of-war between shopping online and shopping in-store. Many retailers today are trying to balance the two, if they have both, while those retailers that are online only, are trying to outdo each other left and right. And especially when those online retailers decide they need to take a detour offline, and have a physical presence. (I’m looking at you, Jeff.) Because as much as online shopping is increasingly pervasive, in-store shopping isn’t dead by any means. New research actually shows that people are spending more in stores than they are online. Partially because it’s that much easier to toss something in your cart when you shop in a store (maybe because we don’t really review our physical carts when we unload at the checkout line, like we do when we online shop? Just a personal theory.) “When shopping in-store,” the report says, “78 percent of men and 89 percent of women reporting that they sometimes or always add additional items to their cart. By comparison, a lower 67 percent of men and 77 percent of women reported adding extra items to their carts when shopping online.” 

Back to my recorder quandary. This was too important an interview for me to risk not having a recorder arrive when I needed it to. So instead, I marched myself over to a brick-and-mortar office supply store, found what I needed, and marched myself back out. When people lament the decline of brick and mortar stores, it’s moments like this when I know that they may decline, and they may evolve, but they will always have a solid, necessary place in retail.

I was able to get the product I needed when I needed it. Truth be told, I probably paid a few dollars extra for my items than I would had I ordered it through Amazon, but the peace of mind I had knowing that I had what I needed in hand—and wouldn’t spend the next 12 hours worrying if the recorder would be delivered on time or not—was priceless.

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