A Little Digital Story

Once upon a time … well, actually, last Friday afternoon …

I had it on my to-do list to buy a new weedwacker to replace my old one that died last fall.  That’s how it’s spelled at Sears.com, although I would have spelled it “weed whacker.”  Before it died last fall, my old battery-powered weed w(h)acker was just a little too limited.  I wanted a new one that would run longer, and chew up more vegetable matter.

So I pictured myself going to this one Sears store close to two other places I had to run errands.  I mentally pictured myself asking questions of the sales rep there to learn more about what features I needed to, and comparing the prices.

When I got to Sears, I had about 30 minutes or so to get this errand done.  I had the dog in the car, and we were going to a vet appointment after stopping at Sears.

Here's Rosie, who was headed for the vet that day.

I get in the store, and there is one … ONE … sales rep in the lawn tools department.  He’s helping one guy who has a ton of questions.  There are three or four other people milling around in the department, all seemingly doing what I then start doing, looking aimlessly at various pieces of equipment.  Unfortunately, the display models don’t have enough information posted on them to make any real comparisons or decisions.

Ten of the thirty minutes that I have to spend at Sears pass, and the one sales rep is still helping the original customer, who is getting no closer to actually buying something or moving on.  Other folks are still hanging out, as am I.  I pull out my phone and start looking up meaningful information online.  I’m searching out product attributes, reviews … even recommendations on what to look for when you need a fairly heavy-duty week whacker.

Another ten minutes pass by.  I’m now smarter than I was, but no closer to getting a weed whacker.  There’s still only one sales rep, and he’s still helping this one guy, who has now pretty much decided what he needs and is thinking about buying some other stuff, too.  I have only ten minutes left to get my weed whacker.  I know I’m not next in line to be helped.

However, I know what I need.  Based on the research I’ve done on my phone, I’ve figured out what model I need, and that I can even get an edger attachment on the weed whacker I want.  But I don’t have time to wait, buy it, and get my dog to the vet appointment on time.  So, I leave.  With no weed whacker.

Later that afternoon, I get on the Sears website.  I buy what I know I want.  I even get an extra spool of weed whacker wire, ’cause I know I’ll run out at some point.  I arrange to pick it up at a Sears store that’s a few minutes closer to me than the first one I went to.  Several minutes later, I get a text message confirming it’s there.  I drive to Sears, scan the bar code on the confirmation email, and a clerk’s bringing out my boxes in a couple of minutes.

Did you get that this is a story about both branding and digital commerce?

I’ve had better luck getting reliable lawn tools at Sears than other places, like Home Depot or Lowe’s.  Your experience may vary.  While it was inconvenient to stand around in the store for 20 minutes and then have to leave, it’s not like I didn’t make progress.  I got to see what they had, how they were grouped together, and then make a semi-scientific guess about where to start researching online.  Yeah, I could have done that at home, but I got to see the actual models in the store, so that when I made my purchase online later in the day, I KNEW what I wanted.  I wasn’t just guessing and hoping.  Ever just guessed and hoped about an online purchase?

That 20 minutes on the store floor was also nothing compared to the years of use I hope to get out of what I bought.

My weeds now quake with fear.

At the end of the day, I still had what I wanted.  I had indeed wasted 20 minutes of my time at the store near the vet.  I had to make an extra trip to get my weed whacker.  But I saved a few bucks buying it online.  As I’m sure you realize, it was fast, too.  There was no spending time talking with yet another sales rep in yet another store to get a handle on what models they carried, and making a different decision.  Click, click, click, sold.

Their website was very usable on my phone.  Online, everything worked like it was supposed to.  I was willing to overlook the one-overburdened-sales-rep thing because I was still making progress online.

Do your digital tools work like that?  Do you consider things from your user’s perspective?  My firmly held belief now is that Sears.com is an excellent website, because I was able to do what I wanted there.  Their website ended up being the extra sales person on the floor that day for me.

So often, we tend to look at our websites and think, “Ooooooh, look at that.”  Instead, we can think, “Now, can anyone DO anything with this?  Will it make a difference in anyone’s life?”

What do you think?  Feel free to comment below, or on the Chris Miller Digital Facebook page.

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