Local Shopping and the BBQ Challenge

In my earlier post about Nielsen data, I mentioned that I was going to get a new BBQ this weekend. We had to get rid of our old one several months ago. Our experience in trying to find a particular model in a local store has been interesting and representative of larger issues in shopping and the local online marketplace.

I'm not representative of the larger user population today, but we might have used print yellow pages or a newspaper or simply gone to a local store (e.g., Sears) in the past. Today we started with the Internet with the objective of buying the item we wanted for the best price in a local store.

Over a period of a couple of days, my wife and I used the Internet to compare models and do price research. We clicked on paid and organic links, mainly for navigation. Once the particular grill was identified, one would expect it's a relatively easy matter to find that grill in a local store right? Guess again.

Although many stores that have physical locations near us show the particular grill we want on their websites they don’t actually have the item in the store. They see their websites as a way to reduce their physical inventory and still capture sales. What they don’t understand however is that consumers fundamentally want to buy things and take them home that day. So the Internet isn’t really a big help – although it does identify the potential universe of buying options.

It can tell me hypothetically where I might buy something, but in most cases it doesn’t have local inventory information. There are "proxies" available via ShopLocal, Froogle, CNET and Yokel. Most of this is hypothetical inventory information (available via special order) or on-sale inventory (it may or may not be in the store).

Given that our get-together is on Monday, we don't have time to order it online and have it shipped in time. In addition, shipping a BBQ is potentially very costly. Calling stores, which we did this morning, is generally a terrible and frustrating experience; most salespeople (esp. at the “big boxes”) don't care and are only vaguely invested in helping you on the phone. Consequently, you don't know if the information you're getting is reliable. They can tell you something is there and it may not be the precise thing you asked for; or they can tell you the opposite and in fact it may be in stock but the person has not adequately checked.

Most big box retailers have “deskilled” their workforce in an effort to push costs out of the system and on the belief that people shop price and don’t care much about service. There is some truth to this but it makes for a bad customer experience and ultimately hurts sales.

I checked all the sites and called multiple stores without success. In almost every case I was prompted to order the grill online. Finally, based on my wife’s vague memory that there’s a BBQ specialty store in a nearby community, I did a search on Google for “walnut creek bbq grills.” Based on the description in the text, I clicked the second link, which was for Yahoo! Local. I scrolled and found that the fourth listing (below the fold) was “Barbeques Galore,” which my wife identified as the store she remembered.

I called the store, asked for the particular grill, which to my great relief they had, and put it on hold for later pickup today. The sales guy whom I spoke with was very helpful but he didn’t ask me how I found the store. If he had I would have said, “I did a Google search and ultimately found you on Yahoo! Local.”

The store has a website (it's a national chain it turns out), which was nowhere to be found in organic results. But beyond that site I have no idea where they currently advertise. And unless I go out of my way to tell them about my experience and where I found them they'll have no idea that the Internet was partly responsible for the sale (unless Yahoo! is tracking the number I called, which I don't believe is currently happening).

There you have it: the state of online shopping, offline buying. What a mess!


11 Responses to “Local Shopping and the BBQ Challenge”

  1. Ben Says:


    A little more about this search, at least in Palo Alto, where I have been in that store
    a few times. When I did a Google search for the store, I found a few listings in the natural search results. That included a great Yelp listing. The MerchantCircle listing is a few natural results lower.

    The interesting thing is that not alot of this information was on they web at all 5 years ago. I will be interesting to see what happens as millions of local merchants become web publishers and advertisers over the next few years.

  2. Jay Small Says:

    Sounds like an opportunity area for local media to me. So, Greg, now that you have the grill, what’s cookin’ this weekend? 🙂

  3. Greg Sterling Says:

    Fish and chicken 🙂

  4. John K Says:

    So I guess you didn’t get a Weber Silver Genesis B. I got mine on Amazon last December for $369 – free shipping. All the local Home Depots had them too.

    RE: the de-skilling at the Big-boxes – Weber has a great approach on this: Each display grill has a prominent sign that says: “QUESTIONS? Call this 800 number 24/7”

    I did that in a Sears before buying the grill. It’s a brilliant idea, and I don’t know why more companies don’t take advantage of shoppers’ cell phones in otherwise empty big box retailers.

  5. Greg Sterling Says:

    Good idea re the 800 #. No, we needed something in 24 hours.

  6. Screenwerk » Blog Archive » Taking the Day Off Says:

    […] Screenwerk Greg Sterling’s Musings on Offline and Online Media « Local Shopping and the BBQ Challenge […]

  7. Pamela Parker Says:

    You tell us you did all this research and then you don’t reveal the outcome (to potentially save others the time)? Great anecdote, though. Have gone through similar scenarios at least a dozen times myself. Maybe StepUp.com could eventually help?

  8. Greg Sterling Says:

    I wound up buying a Weber charcoal “one touch gold” BBQ from Barbeques Galore. StepUp certainly would help in the future.

  9. Searching for Windows « Screenwerk Says:

    […] Like the BBQ anecdote I’ve decided to do a little real-world experiment with local search. When we moved into our house in 2002 there was some dry rot in two of the window frames in the living room. Like all good homeowners we pretended the problem didn’t exist. Now we’re forced to deal with it.  […]

  10. barbequepointers.com » Blog Archive » Says:

    […] Screenwerk Blog Archive Local Shopping and the BBQ ChallengeJune 8th, 2006 at 9:41 pm. I wound up buying a Weber charcoal one touch gold BBQ from Barbeques Galore. StepUp certainly would help in the future. Leave a Reply […]

  11. bbq galore Says:

    yeah- big box store = bad. I like the little guys. I bought a Weber Silver Genesis B.

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