Viral Thread examines price differences between online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores


It’s no secret that the world of online shopping has dramatically changed the way the world works.

While many still try to shop in person or from brick-and-mortar stores that offer real-time service and can answer questions when needed, the cost of items in-store often results in individuals purchasing the same items at a fraction of the price through companies like Amazon.

ONE Reddit thread titled “When You Prefer to Buy Things in Person, But It’s Not Remotely Feasible,” recently went viral. It sparked a discussion about how in-person and online shopping has changed over the years, with particular mention of items that are often necessary in most people’s lives.

The person who created the thread used the example of a box of CAT5e cables, or essentially cables that are most commonly used in local area network connections and typically handle speeds of up to 1 gigabyte.

One image showed a $73.99 box of 100-foot CAT5e cables sold by the Staples company. A side-by-side photo of the same product at the same length from an Amazon store is only $9.33.

A recent Reddit thread discussed the price differences between brick-and-mortar stores and online competitors. A pedestrian walks past a Staples office supply store in San Francisco, California June 28, 2017.
Justin Sullivan/Getty

Aside from the convenience of never having to leave home to make an online purchase, cost disparities like this have left many viewers of the thread wondering why brick-and-mortar stores don’t understand how they’re losing viable customers.

“I worked at Office Depot for years [which is basically the same as Staples] and the problem we had was that the company just never updated the technology prices with the advances in technology,” commented one user. “When I started, flash drives were about $1 a gig [8gb flash drive for $8, 32gb for $32, etc]. By the time I left, those prices had dropped massively, so a 32GB drive is now under $10, but the last time I checked Office Depot hadn’t updated that price range since it was a decade ago was.”

Another user said that the business model of stores like Staples and similar includes key demographic goals including: Knowing who their customers are and what they use to buy products; Customers capitalizing on “last-minute needs”; and keeping margins higher “to accommodate dwindling consumer business.”

“These guys aren’t upset, lowering the ethernet cable to 9.99 won’t result in tons of new buyers,” the user said. “They know exactly what they are doing to continue to be able to afford a physical store.”

A long-used example in the tech world of an item that typically costs a lot more in-store than online is the HDMI cable. Every new TV or games console needs one, and has for years, but the perennial joke in online circles was that “gold-plated” HDMI cables were selling in some stores for many times what they would cost online.

“I remember when HDMI cables became ubiquitous, especially when game consoles made the switch,” said one user. “I went to Best Buy to get one for my new PS3 and it was around $40. I went online and found a two pack from China for $10.”

Many replies pointed out that stores can charge such prices because people in certain industries don’t mind spending that much money and often do so with corporate credit cards.

“As a former Staples employee for over 5 years, I assure you these cables never went on sale,” said one person. “They are intended for companies. The IT guy with a corporate card doesn’t care how much it costs, he just needs it now.”

Others said items could be more expensive if customers are impatient and don’t want to wait for items to ship; The customer base may be older and less knowledgeable about technology in general, or both.

And then there are people who are cash-strapped and unsupported by decades of inflation.

“I dislike Amazon no more than the next person,” said one person. “But I just can’t afford to shop 80 at smaller retailers [percent] of the time, as I will probably spend at least twice as much. If I had enough money it wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m broke.”


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