How About a Tester Store?

Recently I bought a Canon camera from Costco. (It’s an Elph 110 HS, and so far I’m quite happy with it.) I bought the Canon after buying and returning a Nikon to the store; I didn’t like the Nikon’s video abilities.

After my experience with the return, I thought I’d try to avoid that with the second purchase. Returns are costly for me (as I have to box up the item and drive it back), costly for the store (which at a minimum has to process the return), and costly for the producer, which has to repackage or perhaps eat the item.

So I asked the Costco team to unhook the display camera from the board to which it had been wired (for security), give me the battery and flash card, and let me play around with it for a while. The staff was happy (or at least willing) to accommodate my strange request.

So I shot some stills, took some video, then uploaded that content to my laptop (which I’d brought along for the purpose) to check out the results. I bought the camera much more confident I’d be happy with it. (It has only a 5x zoom, but, while I’d wanted more, I’d also read numerous reviews claiming that longer zooms tend to have problems with sticking.)

This got me thinking. While in my youth it seemed like catalog buying would become a thing of the past, today it is back in a serious way, with Amazon leading the way. I buy a lot of stuff online simply because I can’t find it locally—or because the local prices are significantly higher.

But internet buying creates a problem for brick-and-mortar stores: people come into the stores to try out products, but then they buy the products online—often on their mobile devices in the store itself.

So I thought to myself, why doesn’t somebody try separating out the service of letting customers try stuff out from the service of delivering the product?

What I envision is a “Tester Store.” It’s a large, warehouse-type “store,” filled with display models of loads of products, only the “store” doesn’t actually sell any of the products. You just try stuff out, then buy the stuff online.

Why would anybody do such a thing? Where’s the profit? When I mentioned this idea to a friend, he pointed out that such store could potentially become the world’s largest Amazon affiliate. (I mean, not in Colorado at this time, because our idiot legislators imposed an “Amazon tax,” but in other parts of the country where the legislators aren’t quite so painfully stupid and destructive.) The whole point of the “store” would be to actively encourage shoppers to order stuff online.

There is a range of products for which this would be useful. Obviously books are out, because you can just read previews digitally. But anything you want to handle before you buy it, such as cameras, clothing, air conditioners, cookware, etcetera. The whole point would be to make the stuff easy for people to check out, try on, put through the wringer.

I envision something like an Ikea, someplace with food, that’s sort of like a playground for adults (and kids, too).

Other than the “Amazon affiliate” strategy, there are a variety of ways such a store could make money. Perhaps many or all manufacturers would provide free floor samples to keep costs down. The store could sell old floor models, or not, depending on their condition and on agreements with manufacturers.

Think of how much better this would be than today’s typical model. Often I’ll look at products online at various stores (Walmart, Home Depot, Costco), but the local store won’t cary something. So I have no ability to try out that stuff before I buy it. Instead, why don’t stores just carry one or two copies of an item for people to check out, then ship from a central location?

Obviously this eliminates the “instant gratification” of real-store shopping. But usually I don’t want something right now; I want something I know will work for me. (Here’s another idea: the store could sell limited items at a premium to those who have got to have it now.)

I don’t know whether this idea would work (and I certainly don’t want to spend the effort to try it out). But it seemed interesting enough to me to blog about. If somebody else wants to run with it, be my guest.