The Case for Shopping In-Store

The company I work for, Sturtevant’s Sports, is celebrating their 31st annual Progressive Sale right now. This week, a lot of the ski and snowboard products are 40% off. In-store.

That’s right, the prices are only discounted in our retail stores.

Why, you might ask? Because retail and online stores abide by what’s called MAP policies, or Minimum Advertised Price policies that are set by the vendors.

That means, if you search for a specific item on Google, lets say the latest and greatest 2018 Rossignol Soul 7 HD, you may be disappointed to know that in mid-March, prices are still showing full retail, $749.95.

Again, these are online prices. If you go into a physical store, that might be different. The reason Rossignol (and all other manufacturers) want to keep discounted prices from showing online is easy;

  • It prevents their product from looking cheap and unappealing. If you don’t know much about skis, and you saw one for $350 and another for $700, which would you think is the better product?
  • They want to extend the selling season. Winter sports is a tough industry because the busiest months are November and December (basically the lead up to Christmas). Then in January, people enjoy the snow with their new gear. Some people go out and buy gear and/or upgrade, but it’s nothing like November and December. Then in February, customers are basically waiting for the sales to start. If online stores started discounting products in January, then it would force all brick and mortar stores to do the same.
    • In this industry, you basically have a 4 month selling window before you have to start discounting prices. It’s hard to think of ANY other industry with a similar life cycle. In most industries I can think of, a product is created with a multiple year life cycle in mind (TVs, cell phones), or rarely ever change (beauty products, toiletries, cleaning supplies). I guess the only other thing that comes close to such a short cycle is clothing and fashion.
  • They want to level the playing field. Lets say the Northwest is having a crap winter with barely any snowfall. People aren’t skiing or snowboarding. As a result, all the local stores have tons of inventory left. I’m sure in this case, all the NW shops would love to clearance out their products to the folks on the East Coast or Colorado. But it wouldn’t be fair to the shops in those regions.
    • Also, if Rossignol were to allow this to happen, those shops on the East Coast might avoid carrying products from Rossignol in the future.
  • A race to the bottom. If  MAP policies weren’t enforced, then stores would continually try to discount their products to “one up” each other. Lets say REI decides to show a price of $700 for the Soul 7 skis, then maybe Backcountry.com drops it to $650. It would never end. The whole system would collapse with some stores trying to sell at full retail and others just trying to break even.
  • And the final reason; I think companies like Rossignol actually want you to go into a store, get fitted for the right product, get the right bindings mounted properly, and so on. If you buy online and don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, it could lead to disappointment, unrealistic expectations, poor reviews, injuries, and so on (Not saying this won’t happen if you shop in a brick and mortar store, but it doesn’t hurt to talk to other people for a second opinion). Companies have developed long-term relationships with a lot of their retail stores and it benefits them when the stores help sell their product.

Obviously, there are many cases when shopping online is easier and cheaper. It’s often easier to find rare items (in my case I like to look up old Nike SB products online since they are no longer in the snowboard industry), or odd size items (like shoes for my small wide feet). But when all other things are equal, I like to try and support local small businesses.

I realize it seems counterproductive, almost cannibalistic, for an eCommerce Manager to suggest going into a store, but a lot of the issues we have in the online department; like people ordering products that don’t fit and wanting to return them, or people misusing products and not being properly educated, or people just ordering the wrong item altogether; these types of issues can be fixed with a quick visit to your local stores.

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