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Shoplifting for Beginners

Wow – Payments is a hot topic right now isn’t it?

With a few brilliant ideas and a whole host of, well, dimmer ones crowding into the market, our previously introverted corner of the financial services industry is suddenly all over the mainstream media and blinking awkwardly in the glare.

If payment technology was a person, it would probably have had its email and phone hacked by a tabloid reporter by now.

And to be fair, the move from cash to electronic transactions is exciting, especially where it can be used to help the consumer to better control their own money. This stuff will change the way we experience everyday life and few things in life are as emotive as the money in our pockets.

The problem is adoption. Getting cash out of the system means that everyone – the infrastructure providers, the consumers and the retailers have to buy in at the same time.

Vendors’ response is to find all kinds of exciting ways to bring the merchants on board. One of them really bothers me though – bar-code based comparison shopping.

When the web economy kicked off, we were presented with a choice: –

  • Go to a great retail store for pleasant surroundings, knowledgeable staff and the opportunity to see multiple options in the flesh, side by side.
  • Buy cheap on the internet

Inevitably poor retailers have thinned out whereas those which deliver great experiences continue to thrive. At the same time, web sellers have got much better and many now compete on the basis of experience and convenience. A balance has been struck and everyone who operates effectively is a winner.

But those retailers with expensive and delightful environments depend on a personal unwritten contract with the customer – we help you out and, as long as we are offering a fair price, you buy from us. Frankly, if someone has taken half an hour to explain the relative merits of this stereo/bike/guitar/golf club over the alternatives, it takes considerable guts to walk away empty- handed and head for the Google Shopping pages.

But snapping the bar code on a product in a beautifully arranged department store is easy. There is no personal connection, no social contract and no guilt.

So here’s a question: Why is taking up retailers’ professional time, or capitalising on their fabulous facilities and then buying elsewhere any different to shop-lifting? 

After all, it is simply stealing something which has considerable cost to the merchant and value to us.

My concern is that as consumers, we would all be tempted if, with a simple, furtive snap of the camera-phone we would save ourselves a meaningful amount of money. But we would also regret the loss of the department store and the specialist outlets.

The problem is, the former is a smart way to save a few dollars, whereas the latter can be put down to “what everybody else does”.

Back in the 60’s, Joni sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”. I hope she was wrong.

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Comments: (1)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 14 March, 2012, 16:13Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Alas, but I think she was right! The new shopping behavior spurred by RedLaser and its clones underscores the threat to physical stores. Going forward, we'll only only see more - not fewer - "BORDERS moments". But, with less than 10% of all shopping currently happening online, I don't think physical stores will vanish anytime soon, even if they've already entered a terminal decline. 

I don't know how common the practice is but I've heard that some stores have started blocking WiFi / 3G access or otherwise blocking customers from scanning barcodes on products in their shelves. Instead of resorting to such myopic behavior, I hope they concentrate on making sure that the "Shop Online, Pickup at Store" option turns out to be the best deal.