Originally Posted by Taxman
I think that this will be the new model for ski stores. You will get great prices for equipment through the internet & discounters; however, when you want service you will pay a fee. So currently the free boot fitting you get with a premium purchase of boots will be replaced by cheaper boots (from Internet/discounters) and bootfitting that costs $X per hour. And likewise for skiis and bindings, they will be cheaper to buy, but more expensive to have set up and maintained.
I think that's the issue: implied services/advantages that may/may not be there, that the consumer may/may not be aware of. This isn't limited to ski shops, but a trend affecting all of the retail industry that we see in the proliferation of warehouse-style (or mail-order) discount stores at the expense of specialty shops.
There are great specialty shops that provide honest & insightful pre-sales info, and provide great customer support with know-how & labor included into their pricing. That's the old "Main Street" paradigm of prior-year, where people went to, say, a vacuum cleaner shop to find out, buy, and service their vacuum cleaners. The staff was dedicated to their specialty with some degree of passion and pride, even if it was as mundane as the vacuum cleaner. Most times, a specialty store without know-how and passion did not exist for long, as it was easily out-competed.
The first (and I think the most major) assault on this paradigm was the advent of the department store chain. Note that sports mega-stores such as Sports Chalet fall under this category. Consumers flocked to these for three reasons: 1) visibility, both literal and advertising; 2) convenience; 3) and pricing advantages of economies-of-scale. In the early days, stores actually staffed their departments with people who were at least somewhat knowledgeable their specialties. These were usually ex-employees of specialty stores or hardcore devotees of the specialty. At first, department/chain store shoppers only lost a fraction of the implied services, usually free labor, where the corporate nature of the chain store dictated that all time spent by an employee had to be accounted for. Many consumers did not mind losing what they weren't sure they were going to ever get from a specialty store anyways. (Be honest, the willingness of a specialty store to do stuff for you gratis is often quite arbitrary.)
As time went on and specialty stores dwindled, department chain stores became their own primary competitors. Having lost the advantage of economies-of-scale, they tried to enhance their competitiveness by lowering overhead with cheaper labor. Together with the dearth of knowledgeable specialists (with so few specialty stores left to churn these out) and a glut of desperate non-career "enthusiasts" willing to exaggerate their actual know-how (students and other young people you now find as the predominant workforce in retail) to get a job, consumers lost yet another implied service: expertise. Some consumers didn't mind, as they were (or thought themselves to be) knowledgeable. Some consumers couldn't discern the difference. And some consumers "stole services" by chatting up a specialty store first and giving them ubiquitous "I'll think about it."
This has been happening quietly for years and only the suffering specialty shops have known about this. I think there wasn't quite the outcry that there is these days over Internet sales due to the fact that the department store chains were often priced lower, but not THAT much lower as to override a shopper's consideration of the implied services/expertise that they might get. These days, the pricing differential between the Internet and specialty shops is so high, people will often just walk out of a shop as soon as they see the price tag.
As far as I see it, the advent of the Internet discounter is actually a good thing, as the lack of implied services is quite explicit. A consumer is paying a rock-bottom price for very little know-how and service, period. This is in contrast to the department store chain where know-how is now often faked and reduced to "oh, I like this ski better."