Last week while traveling I found myself in line at a Starbucks. The woman behind the counter knew just about every customer's name and, amazingly, what they wanted. For example, she would say, "Hi Stacy! An extra-hot caramel macchiato with soy?" I made that up, but you get the idea; she knew her customers and their preferences. People like that barista are worth their weight in gold in the retail world.
The online retail world has spoiled us all by tracking our behavior, knowing what we want and making us feel like old friends when we come back to the website. Some sites offer products that other shoppers who match our profile have purchased. This can either be helpful or a little creepy, depending on one's point of view.
For most people, shopping in a local brick-and-mortar store is quite a bit different from either of these examples. No one greets you as you enter (even Wal-Mart has cut back on that), and they certainly don't know your name. If you happen to find someone in an aisle and ask a question, chances are pretty high that he or she will be absolutely no help whatsoever, unless you're asking where the bathroom is. And once you get to checkout, it's a toss-up as to whether you'll get a smile and a friendly hello or a grunt and a scowl — or any acknowledgment at all. Little wonder we're shopping more online.
Brick-and-mortar stores fret about the growth of showrooming — the relatively new practice of looking at a product in-store and then ordering it online (usually for a lower price). Some brick-and-mortar retailers have taken a Draconian approach of trying to ban cellphone use in-store, or even creating "unique" products with different UPCs than those that appear in online stores. Shoppers will always find a way around these practices, and often the response is to stop coming to the store at all.