retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

Physical books, or e-books? Boxed wine, or bottled wine? The virtual store, or the brick-and-mortar kind?

It has been interesting this week to see the debate back and forth about which of these people like, which ones are better, and if any of these have implicit value beyond the others.

I love this kind of debate, because it speaks not just to what people think, but how they feel.

Here’s how I feel about it. The discussion is not just about value, but also but values. And we all have different values. We all prize different things, at different times and for different reasons.

And in case you can’t tell, I’m making this argument while riding on a train.

I’m traveling from Seattle to Portland via Amtrak. I could’ve flown, I could’ve driven, I even could have taken the bus. But I decided to take the train, for two reasons. One, it is dirt cheap - just $31 one-way. Two, I love train travel. It appeals to the romantic in me, and while it isn’t the same thing as train travel around Europe, it is close enough. Besides, I get on the train and I think of movies like “North by Northwest,” “Strangers on a Train,” and “From Russia With Love,” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” And I’m a sucker for a good movie connection.

In this case, I choose a fairly old--fashioned method of travel. In picking out a wine, I’m also a traditionalist. When it comes to reading a book, I’m sort of agnostic - I’m traveling with both a hardcover novel and my iPad this week, so I can have plenty of choices. When I check in at the airport, however, I’m perfectly happy to get my boarding pass from a kiosk, just as I prefer to do at least some of my supermarket shopping online.

Faced with all these options, you might make the opposite choices. And that’s fine. Neither of us is right, and neither of us is wrong.

But here is the incontrovertible truth. Things are not going back to the way they were. As one MNB reader said earlier this week, we all have to deal with it.

Another basic truth is this: Shoppers evolve. we can’t expect the shoppers of the future to share our values, or even to assign value to the same things we do. They might, but they might not. And that’s something we also have to deal with.

I think it is healthy that all these options exist, and I hope they always exist. I would hate to see a day when I could not pick up a hardcover book, or a good bottle of wine with a cork, or go to the supermarket to shop for food. But as a marketer, I have to concede that my kids, and their kids, may not feel the same way. And so approaches have to evolve along with the shopper, or marketers lose their relevance.

It is the same as the debate that’s been taking place lately about self-checkout, as some companies move away from this technology. I think that is a perfectly sound idea if you’ve looked at your value proposition, thought about your shopper, and come to the conclusion that they are incompatible. On the other hand, if you’ve made the decision simply because your equipment is old and you don;t want to spend money to replace it, and your customer actually likes it, then maybe you’re making a bonehead move.

Sometimes evolution is a good thing. One of the best things about the Amtrak train I’m riding on, for example, is that it has free Wi-Fi.

I may be sentimental, but I also hate being out of touch.

That’s what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: