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Consumer Expectations For Offline and Online Retail

It’s interesting how many e-shops have been emulating physical store layout by using familiar naming and organizational metaphors — aisles, shelves, departments, shopping carts. This, of course, is done to match expectations of customers who are used to shop in the brick-and-mortar world. The flip side is also worth exploring: while doing something online users must be developing new expectations for the activity’s offline equivalent.

It’s interesting how many e-shops have been emulating physical store layout by using familiar naming and organizational metaphors — aisles, shelves, departments, shopping carts. This, of course, is done to match expectations of customers who are used to shop in the brick-and-mortar world.

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The flip side is also worth exploring: while doing something online users must be developing new expectations for the activity’s offline equivalent.

Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, if paper maps could display directions on demand, or if you could send a breathtaking view to a friend (easier with camera phones these days), or click on a bus schedule to get more information, or drag and drop stuff from a real desktop into self-organizing folders.

Consider music retailers. If you have been a customer of iTunes or, well, allofmp3.com for any length of time, you expect certain things from your next shopping experience. In particular, you know you will have all artist and album information at your fingertips and will be able to preview short bits of music and explore recommendations for similar products.

I recently visited a major brick-and-mortar music store for what must be the first time in a few years hoping for the same kind of amenities. Tough luck. If you are looking for a particular artist, you have to figure out the genre, then to find the shelf, and then to locate the CD among hundreds of alphabetically arranged others. If the artist is particularly prolific, you have to shuffle through a stack of albums. There’s no way to preview (pre-listen?) anything but the few of the newly released albums. If you want to locate a CD by a few words stuck in your head and perhaps an artist’s name, the task becomes even less manageable.

With so much product information available online and with so many retailers now operating outfits on both sides of the virtual fence, one wonders why the two worlds aren’t better integrated. Would the decline of CD sales be less dramatic if music stores had a monitor with a barcode scanner connected to their own websites?