Is Circuit City Scared Of E-Commerce?

If the negative things that Circuit City Stores, Inc. has been saying about e-tailers are any indication, the giant brick-and-mortar electronics chain must really be feeling the pressure from online merchants this holiday season.

The company floated a harmless-sounding treatise on e-commerce over the business wire yesterday called “Common Myths about E-Tailers,” but a closer examination revealed a headlong attack against online merchants that dripped with excess vitriol.

Debunking The Myths

The giant retailer contends that the number one myth about e-tailers is that they offer the best price.

“In fact, in highly competitive retail categories, shoppers will generally find the best bargains on store shelves,” Circuit City says.

Well, my experience has been quite the opposite. If one factors in the value of the time wasted in getting to the store and the aggravation experienced in trying to buy an item from an understaffed sales floor, one quickly realizes how well e-tailers compare price-wise.

Not In Stock

The number two myth about e-tailers that Circuit City wants to dispel is that they offer the best selection of products.

“Unfortunately some of the tactics of disreputable, unauthorized dealers — who, for example, regularly advertise products they do not carry or have in stock — have found a place on the Internet,” says Circuit City.

Such sites may exist in various places on the Web, but having worked in retail while going to college, I can tell you first hand that it was a common practice of at least one huge chain — though not Circuit City — to advertise items that it did not have in stock. The store would then tell its sales force to switch customers to a more expensive model when they came in to buy the less expensive item.

Since then, local attorneys general throughout the U.S. have cracked down on such “bait-and-switch” tactics, which were once the accepted modus operandi of many brick-and-mortar chains.

Perhaps Circuit City never advertises something it does not have in stock. However, that does not mean that if an unnamed retailer down the street pulls a bait-and-switch on a customer, all brick-and-mortar superstores should be avoided.

Laugh Riot

Finally, Circuit City hilariously tries to convince us that buying from e-tailers is not more convenient than buying from brick-and-mortar establishments.

And why is this so funny?

Because in a second press release also put out over the wire yesterday, Circuit City touted the convenience of buying merchandise from its own Web site. The confused retailer offered free shipping to customers who order any of its 1,500 online items for the holidays.

Sounds to me like someone’s running scared.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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