Thursday, July 12, 2012

Will Amazon's Same-Day Delivery Kill Local Retail? Price is the Answer

Both Farhad Manjoo and Matthew Yglesias at are convinced that’s push to offer next-day or same-day delivery for free* by opening up a score of more local distribution centers capable of plopping the laptop computer you ordered in the AM on your doorstop in the PM is going to be the death of local retail.


Please, paint me as skeptical. Because here’s the thing that they’re both missing: isn’t always the best deal. I confess I have used Amazon to buy stuff on the cheap. Need a computer cable or a bit of software? Chances are Amazon is your go-to place, and for good reason. A few years ago I ordered an adapter that would allow me to plug a second monitor into my computer, for less than $5 – when no such thing was available locally. Score for me and for Amazon.

But just last week I bought a new laptop computer locally at Staples for a bargain price – after rebates, of course – of $480. I could also have purchased it locally at WalMart for $650. Or from for $606.88. Same specs. Same features. Same everything. Same-day delivery from Amazon is going to kill local retail? I don’t think so. Not at these prices. Even if I blew off the rebates, I’d only pay $529 for the laptop from Staples. Amazon isn’t even touching that price.

Buying mindlessly from any store – bricks and mortar or online – because of the perks is a good way to get taken on price. Comparison shopping is going to be your best bet. And while I have bought a lot of cables and software and such from Amazon and Newegg and other such online retailers, three out of the last four computers we’ve purchased have come from our humble, local Staples store, which has always beat the socks off the big internet retailers in price.

Yeah, I’m boosting a bricks and mortar behemoth rather than shopping at a local mom-and-pop shop. So what? Their argument is that Amazon is going to kill local retail, whether it’s mom and pop or a brick and mortar chain. Not so, says I.

It’s the same thing I argue with WalMart. We have a supercenter within walking distance of our home, but most of our grocery shopping is done further afield at WinCo, because WinCo’s prices on most things are better. Except for the apples. Can’t figure out why WalMart can get apples cheaper than WinCo. Oh well. But even at WinCo, we’re constantly checking prices, and if we can find another store that offers the same item at a less expensive price, that’s where we’ll go. WinCo isn’t killing local grocery stores any more than WalMart is. And unless Amazon takes a critical look at its prices (and the prices of its affiliates) it’s not going to kill local retail any time soon.

*Free, I suspect, to Amazon Prime members, who pay $80 a year for the privilege. So not necessarily free, folks, not necessarily free.

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