This past week I bought a Mac. Way back in the old days (a decade ago) I was a Mac user. My wife has been loyal to Apple all along and now has a 24 inch iMac. But in my world, first as a lawyer and later in other professional incarnations, a Mac was incompatible with colleagues’ machines and inconvenient. When I left Kelsey in April of 2006 I decided to buy a Toshiba laptop after a fair amount of online research. The model I got was well reviewed and reasonably priced. In the end it turned out to be a mediocre gray box.
The trackpad failed after about a year. And three months ago I got a virus (despite anti-virus software that compromised the machine’s performance). That was a horrible episode, which mortally wounded the computer. I managed finally to extricate the machine from the grip of the virus but then other things started happening. Finally, the machine started spontaneously quitting on me last week.
I literally use my computer 24/7 so there was no time to go out and find someone to diagnose and potentially fix it. It was pointless also to try and contact the manufacturer. (I know from experience.) I was assuming the need for a new hard drive, etc. and a couple hundred dollars at least in repair costs. I also expected that I would also have to replace the machine soon anyway even if it could be repaired. So I cut to the chase, so to speak, and decided simply to replace the machine.
Several friends were somewhat relentlessly lobbying for me to get a Mac. I was open to that but also assuming I would buy a new PC. My thoughts were divided between buying a higher end machine that was presumably more reliable or a cheap PC that I wouldn’t really care about and would last a couple of years: sort of a “beater” to invoke a used car analogy. I decided on the latter category. I fixed my gaze on well-reviewed, but inexpensive boxes from Lenovo and Dell. My conclusion was that it makes no sense to spend more than $2K on a PC because they need to be replaced every two years.
But here’s the rub: neither machine was available immediately. There was no store I could go to to buy either computer. I had to buy them online; and the earliest I could expect to get them was “3 to 5 business days.” That means about a week in reality. I couldn’t wait that long.
Enter the Apple store.
Here’s where the personal story dovetails with my analyst coverage. The Mac’s reputation for quality, the availability of local techs (in store) to service the machine, but especially the fact that I could walk in and buy it today, all trumped the PC’s lower price. Also the fact that there are several ways now to run Windows on a Mac (Parallels, Boot Camp, Fusion) removed the final barrier for me. In addition, I had familiarized myself with the various models up close, by visiting the Apple store many times in the past couple years. The “feel” of the keyboard on the Macbook was especially appealing to me. That’s not something I could have readily experienced but for the Apple stores.
Honestly, had there been local stores where I could have purchased the Lenovo or Dell models I identified I probably would have bought one of them. But there weren’t so once again I’m a Mac user.
Stepping back, my process exemplified consumer purchase behavior at large:
- I did lots of online research, reading reviews at “trusted” vertical sites like PC World and CNET.
- I used search engines to search on “generic” phrases like “Best PCs for under $1000″ and “top rated laptops.”
- I searched on brands and branded models to compare prices.
- I went to shopping engines to look at prices.
- I also visited manufacturer websites.
This is what consumers do now as a matter of routine:
Source: Etailing Group/Krillion, 2008
In the end, I bought the machine at a local store because I could get it today and didn’t have to wait. I also had recourse locally to the Apple store, if the machine had a problem or needed service in the future.
Other than in the Travel category, product-related e-commerce in its original form (buying online from a no-name etailer) is an endangered species. Exceptions include trusted sites such as eBay and Amazon and the emerging trend “buy/reserve online and pick up in store.” But the coming, mass syndication of local inventory data will put immense pressure on pure-play, non-branded etailers and e-commerce only shopping engines.
Indeed, e-commerce is dying. Long live Internet-enabled offline commerce.