Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Here Is How The Internet Destroys Local Economies

That title is a tiny bit hyperbolic, but intentionally so. I offer you two scenarios from recent experience. The second one amazed me. (I am easily amazed.)

When I need to buy something non-food-related, my preference is to buy it from a store. I suspect that most people actually prefer that to Internet shopping, for several reasons. For me, it's just that I like to see and touch the item that I am buying, to make sure that I'm not getting the first piece of crap some guy in a warehouse pulls off the shelf. Speaking as someone who used to be "some guy in a warehouse" (sort of), I can tell you that that guy doesn't give a damn about what your stuff looks like. He gets paid six bucks an hour to put other people's crap in boxes, and that's about it.

The other reason to buy from a store, of course, is that at the end of the transaction, you walk away with the whatever-it-is in your grubby little paws. If I go to the hardware store to buy a hammer, I pay my $21.09 and drive home and break my thumb with it that very same day. Online shopping would require me to wait 2-5 business days to break my thumb. For a lot of items, like books and CDs, this really isn't a problem. It would be a problem if you cut your finger off and didn't have any band-aids and tried to order them online, but that doesn't happen more than once or twice a week anyway.

First Scenario: I need a keyboard stand for my MIDI keyboard. I don't need anything particularly good--it's not very heavy at all. I just need something that will hold the keyboard at a comfortable height. The first place I went to, of course, was It's a good place to go for stuff like that. I found the perfect thing there, for thirteen bucks. They said it holds "up to 75 lbs." and that's overkill for me.

In a scenario like this, it's actually a little difficult for me to shop locally. Madison Music doesn't sell keyboards (or at least they didn't the last time I was there), so they wouldn't sell stands. I forgot about Forbes-Meagher until I sat down to write this piece. Good Music didn't have any stands on their website. I'm never setting foot inside Ward-Brodt Music ever again. (Which makes me wonder what's going to happen when Lani says "Daddy, I want to join the strings program at school.") There are a couple of other little hole-in-the-wall shops that don't sell keyboards, so it doesn't pay to go there for this. That basically leaves Music-Go-Round.

When I'm shopping locally, I take into account the fact that there's usually no way they're going to meet the online price, let alone beat it, so I leave a little bit of leeway. After all, online pricing doesn't take into account shipping charges; that thirteen bucks was actually "thirteen bucks plus shipping". In this case, I figured that if I could find a stand for about twenty dollars in the store, I'd buy it.

Did I find one? Well, of course not. It looked to me like they had the same stands as the one I had seen online--but for thirty dollars. So I went home and ordered the stand from musiciansfriend. I guess I can't really blame the Internet in this case, since I forgot about one place and didn't actually set foot on the other one, but that's a pretty significant price differential, don't you think? (Later, I noticed that the stand I bought was "Regularly $29.95", so maybe it was just on sale.)

Second Scenario: This is the real mind-boggler. I was considering buying the "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" DVD from Barnes and Noble the other day. Normally, I don't buy DVDs from there, but I had a gift certificate. Anyway, the DVD is $29.99. With the various discounts (15% because it says so on the box, 10% because I have a Barnes & Noble discount card), it comes down to $22.91. This is an acceptable price to me. $19.99 would be better, but hey, it's a gift certificate and that's what it's for. I didn't buy it right away.

The store didn't have some of the books I was looking for, so I decided to go online. Where?, of course. You can use the gift certificates online, which is fabulous! What did I see? The same DVD for $20.83. I've got the additional membership discount, which takes the price down to $19.93. That's right: THEY'RE UNDERCUTTING THEIR OWN PRICES. Not only that, but with the other books I wanted, the total package will qualify for free shipping. That means that even with tax (which I assume I will be charged), this DVD is less than the pre-tax price in the store. Why on earth, even over just $3, would I buy it from the store?

Okay, so Local Economies are not Destroyed over three bucks, but it's interesting to think about why prices are the way they are. I'm kind of glad I know nothing about economics. I might be even more scared!


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