Kelowna Lighting Choices: Online or Offline?

I have been intrigued with the recent TV campaign by Winners/HomeSense/Marshalls depicting their shopping experience as “Off-Line Shopping”.  It’s brilliant.  

In many ways it applies to the dilemma that many brick-and-mortar lighting stores face in this current era of on-line competition from massive entities such as Amazon and Wayfair.  

Each offers a benefit.  But when do you, as the consumer, use the dedicated lighting store or the on-line retailer as your supplier source?  Each may offer the same product, but they are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to buyer assistance and assurance.  So your choice really comes down to how much assistance and expert advice do you require, pre- and post-sale?

On-line sellers usually offer the most attractive prices and many offer “free” shipping direct to your door – but not always.  We have heard the disturbing stories from our customers about “excess freight charges” demanded by the delivery driver and receiving products that were not in the best of condition.  These may be true, but the lure of the “cheap deal” is ever present and keeps buyers coming back.

On-line is very good for commodity products that require little in technical support or vary little in quality or function from supplier-to-supplier, like toner or paper supplies.  Where on-line becomes suspect is in the more complex purchases that are dependent on a quality finish, a certain expected look, special functions and other qualities that are more subtle, especially in décor applications.

As a lighting store, we specialize in delivering “impact”.  Many times our lighting specialists, usually with many years of hands-on experience, will spend hours with clients who are trying to assemble a whole-home look.  It is during this dialogue that likes and dislikes surface and the combination of lighting choices becomes critical.  This interaction is missing from on-line purchasing, but not necessarily all the time, as it is not unusual for a client to gather their choices as a quote and then go on-line to buy.

There is, at times, a good rationale for this – it saves money, usually.  However, most brick-and-mortar stores will match on-line pricing because they want to maintain the relationship with the client for future business.  The fallacy of buying on-line is that you don’t always get what you expect; sometimes the products are re-packaged returns, other times they are discontinued stock and not supported.  

Sometimes it makes sense, though, especially when the lighting store cannot physically supply the product because of freight constraints by the manufacturer (many have order minimums which must be met before the shipment is released or they have specific shipping dates), whereas the on-line reseller may be able to supply immediately.  There are times that we, as a lighting store, have bought lights on-line just because we have been unable to get them on a timely basis for our clients from the manufacturer.  Go figure.

Most lighting store customers come because they need assistance pulling it all together, and most respect the effort and expertise required to put a “simply stunning” package together.  When a client is dealing with home that features a lot of fixtures and task lights, it is a daunting challenge.  Many of our clients’ homes feature up to a hundred fixtures, from recessed pot lights (a whole different Blog) to the main impact fixtures for the dining room, master bath (tub light) and foyer, and the task lighting in the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms.  Even the garage now gets specialty lighting.

If you know the fixture, such as a closet LED disc light, and you trust the brandand you have personally, physically seen or handled the exact product – then on-line buying usually makes sense.  

However, if it is a key decorative piece, or with a special function, then it is best to seek out a knowledgeable lighting specialist who can ask the key application questions and supply the product that best suits the needs and expectations of the customer.  

The big fallacy is that off-line, in-store buying costs more.  It doesn’t.  On-line price matching is offered by most quality lighting manufacturers, so your local lighting store can be competitive without losing the customer-store relationship which is usually their mantra: “real” customer service.

Bottom line? On-line has its place and its time.  It’s attractive, seductive.  Sometimes it delivers and exceeds expectations, many times, however, it, it falls short and has hidden expenses attached.  Off-line, or in-store, has its place and time too.  It is safer, less imposing for returns and product issues, and offers advice and service that is simply unavailable on-line.  It also offers a second set of “eyes” that can make sense out of seeming chaos.  

  • If it’s available and cheap, the quality and condition are usually questionable.
  • If it’s available and of good quality, then it’s usually not cheap.
  • If it’s of good quality and cheap, then it’s usually not available.

There are many reasons to consider your brick-and-mortar stores, especially those that are owned locally and not a franchise or branch. One main reason is that all the revenues, outside of inventory costs, are spent in our local community – and in our five years of operations in Kelowna, we have contributed over $4.2 million to our local economy through wages, taxes, leases and supply purchases.  That doesn’t happen when you buy on-line: it’s all exported.   

Aside from that obvious advantages of having real customer service and technical/design expertise, the community re-investment keeps our city alive and prosperous.

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