Hands-on With TigerDirect.com's Brick and Mortar Store
It’s not often that you hear about an online store getting a brick-and-mortar counterpart—it’s usually the other way around. However, TigerDirect.com has taken over CompUSA and is beginning to transform some of their stores into TigerDirect.com retail stores, which the company calls "Retail 2.0." Right now, there are stores in Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, and Puerto Rico.
So what’s the difference between a TigerDirect.com retail store and TigerDirect.com? The retail stores have many of the same products that are available online—including DIY computer geek necessities like processors, graphics cards, motherboards, and power supplies—at the same price as their online counterparts. This is a great feature since we’ve heard tales before of stores like Best Buy charging different prices online than they do in store—even going so far as to having an internal store website that displays different prices than the regular website.
Other unique features that TigerDirect.com touts as part of an experience it dubs "Retail 2.0" are the ability to research products and read online reviews in-store, interactive devices that sell themselves, and special kiosks that offer buying advice. The entire concept is designed to create more interaction between the shopper and the products.
We recently visited one of the newest TigerDirect.com stores on the Northside of Chicago to see if it lived up to the hype. The first thing we noticed? This location was a Circuit City a few years ago, but inside was a completely different experience.
Walking into the store, we were greeted with a massive display of HDTVs, all of which had keyboards with touchpads attached to them. All of the bigger ticket items, including the televisions, laptops, cameras, and monitors, are connected to the Internet and instantly display their specs, pricing and customer reviews from their webpages on TigerDirect.com. Information about every other item in the store is available via barcode scanners connected to computers at the end of each aisle. The idea is to bring the experience of researching products at home on the Internet into a brick-and-mortar store.
This store is a boon for indecisive shoppers who like to do a lot of research before purchasing anything. At the end of nearly every aisle is a computer that alternately displays what’s located in the aisle and store specials. Each of these systems also has a barcode scanner attached. Although the price was listed on the shelf, we scanned a D-Link router. TigerDirect.com’s webpage for the router appeared. All of the information about the router as well as customer reviews appeared. We were also able to go to other websites to comparison shop or just surf without restriction. While many smart phones can do the same thing these days, it was easy to use and nice to see it on a full size screen.
Of course, we were there to check out the computer stuff, so we headed to the far end of the store, which has a warehouse-esque feel to it. There are rows upon rows of basic metal shelves, roughly five feet high, in the center of the store and taller bare-bone shelving housing larger items, like desktop housings, along the walls. It’s no Apple store, but it gets the job done.
This level of interactivity with the store and products carries over to their laptops, too. Each laptop is running a screen saver with its price and specs and encouraging you to touch it to learn more. When you touch the keyboard, the system goes to a specs page for its configuration and displays other configurations available online. As with the barcode scanning computers, you’re free to view TigerDirect.com, browse the web, or share the deal with friends. A store representative also told us that the laptops on display are inventory aware. So when the display model is the last one in stock, it will automatically display a price discount onscreen.
While there was a whole aisle dedicated to just laptops, most of them were popular, but run-of-the-mill configurations from the likes of Sony, HP, ASUS, Acer, and Toshiba, among others. We didn't see any Lenovo notebooks on the floor during our visit, but TigerDirect.com does sell them on their site. In other words, don't expect to find niche system configurations with an SSD and a hard drive inside. While there were approximately 30 different notebooks and netbooks on display, we would always like to see more. The selection was pretty similar to what you'd see at Best Buy, but much larger than what you'd find at Staples.
A Haven for Do-It-Yourself Enthusiasts
There’s also a lot here for DIY enthusiasts. Not only is there a huge selection of fans, motherboards, processors, and other components, but TigerDirect.com will actually assemble purchased hardware components of your system for free. Of course, you still have the option of assembling it all yourself, but it's nice to know there's help nearby if you run into any issues.
Likewise, if you’re looking to build your own AMD Vision rig, there’s a touchscreen kiosk to help you and we saw a steady stream of people using it during our visit. There are several different tiers of AMD's Vision platform so the kiosk will recommend a performance tier (Vision, Premiere Vision, Ultimate Vision, or Black Vision) based on your input. The triple touchscreen display asks you to choose from a list of tasks you want to do with your new system, such as conducting webcam chats, listening to music, editing video, or recording live TV. Based on your choices, it recommends a performance tier and then directs you to choose compatible AMD processors, ATI graphics cards, and motherboards. First you're given a choice of several processors; then compatible graphics cards, and, finally, the motherboard. When you’re done, you have the option to print out a receipt listing the three components you chose along with their total cost.
TigerDirect.com’s interactive theme truly carries through the whole store. Their camera selection is limited to part of an aisle, but there’s still a system attached that senses which camera you’ve picked up and immediately goes to the webpage for that product. The same is true of their unlocked phone selection. The aforementioned HDTVs function as giant monitors, too—dutifully displaying their online store webpages along with customer reviews and the freedom to search other sites. A store representative also told us that they’re adding a smart phone comparison kiosk in the near future that allows you to pick up to two phones and see their specs compared side-by-side onscreen.
There’s a lot to like about TigerDirect.com’s “Retail 2.0” model. The majority of their laptops, monitors, cameras, and televisions were out on display and working. Even the mice and keyboards were out on display. We were able to pick up the laptops in our hands to feel their weight in addition to taking their keyboards for a spin. The interactivity of the products is definitely useful and cool, but at the same time we could accomplish most of the same research on our smart phone. Nevertheless, if you like the tactile experience of playing around with products before you buy them, instant gratification, and not having to stalk the local UPS guy waiting for a package, you’ll enjoy TigerDirect.com retail stores.