Do Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?

I recently heard on Radio National's breakfast program that some Australian retailers were considering charging a
'try-on' fee to customers who went to their stores to try the goods on in preparation for buying them at a reduced price on overseas websites. The fee would be refundable if the customer bought the stock.

I have mixed feelings about this shopping behaviour. On the one hand it seems to take unfair advantage of the retailer. On the other hand, human beings are blessed with ingenuity and initiative; we'll naturally seek the cheapest and most convenient way to achieve a particular goal.

As well, Australian retailers have generally lagged behind the world when it comes to online stores; retailers have been warned for years that unless they offer customers a 'bricks and clicks' experience - a combination of bricks-and-mortar and online retail - they'll ultimately be doomed. And recently, following the retailers' complaints about the lack of a sales tax in Australia for online purchases under $1000, they've been accused of price gouging.

When I heard the story, though, I had some sympathy for the retailer concerned. If you go into a fashion store and try something on, you don't have to engage the sales staff and take up their time. But this guy sold sports footwear, so his staff were getting tied up helping customers who never had the slightest intention of buying at the store. He also referred to a retailer of ski gear whose staff were helping people fit ski shoes that they were only trying on for size - a time-consuming exercise, given how specialised this kind of footwear is.

So as a consumer, should you try something out in a traditional store if you fully intend to buy it online? Is it unethical? Here's my suggestion: if you want to use bricks-and-mortar stores to try something on that you'll then buy online, don't do it if it's going to take up staff time (unless the store offers both bricks and clicks, ie they combine online and traditional retail).

If you want to buy something online that you will need help with to try on, bad luck. Take your chances on the internet, and use both your rational mind and your intuition to decide on the right size. Check out the returns policy of online stores before you buy from them so that if a size isn't right you can easily return it.

There is another option. If you enjoy the ambience and service of traditional retail stores, consider haggling once you've decided to buy something. Tell the sales assistant about a lower price you've found on the web, or using a smartphone, and haggle away. In a competitive market, what's wrong with trying to obtain a cheaper price?

What do you think about my suggestions? What's your approach to trying things on that you intend to buy online?

No comments :