American Hustle: Auto parts and online sales

The business of running a big box retailer is not for the timid.

The rise of online sales has made it tough on traditional department stores.

During the first “Polar Vortex,” I opened my car door like I always do. This time, the door handle snapped off just like the car door in the infamous Victory Auto Wreckers commercial.

I called around to a few places. They told me that the part I needed was too “new.” When an auto parts dealer tells you that, you know that you have to make the dreaded call to the dealership.

I called the dealership which shall rename nameless. They told me the part I needed would cost $75. Keep in mind I have not mentioned the price for labor, which came out to just south of $400.

At this point, I’m livid because the dealership tried to get me to pay a lot more for a car part than I wanted to.

I did what any American who thinks a better deal has yet to be found – I logged on to Amazon.com and I found the part.

When someone takes their car to the dealership, the only thing  they really pay for is the convenience.

I even asked some friends to chime in with their dealership stories:

"My Infinity dealership charged me 120 bucks to TAKE LUGNUTS OFF. LUGNUTS."

"They wanted to charge me $125 to change a headlight."

"$150 for a diagnostic check! $100 for a small part when I can get it for less than half the price online. Crazy!"

Ever since I started going to a childhood friend who is a mechanic, I have learned so much about cars. The thing learned the most that I saved so much money by buying the parts myself.

I became a regular customer at places like O’reilly’s, Auto Zone, Advance Auto Parts along with the various junk yards in the city.

This is what most Americans are doing these days. Normally, we would go to a place like Sears.

In 2001, Sears opened a store in downtown Chicago, the goal was to go back to the days when big box stores would reign supreme. Sears’ plan did not work out the way they envisioned. The State St. store is closing in April. Meanwhile, the other stores in the area such as Target, Macy’s and Burlington Coat Factory are thriving. Where did such an iconic brand like Sears go wrong?

The decline of Sears is microcosm of the continuous habits of the American shopper. It seems like they were resistant to the future. After all, what they were doing has worked for decades. They might have been thinking why should some new company on the scene like Amazon.com dictate how consumers shop?

The folks at Sears’ wildly underestimated how many people shop online. People are more computer literate than ever. Due to the amount of options a shopper has in 2014, people don’t have to go to Sears anymore.

According to the Chicago Tribune, revenue at Sears Holdings, the retailer’s parent, has fallen every year since 2005, when Edward Lampert, a billionaire hedge fund manager, merged Sears and Kmart in an $11 billion deal.

The habits of consumers have changed over the years. According to a study done by eMarketer, in 2012, people spent $25 billion on purchases made from phones and tablets, an increase of 81 percent from the previous year.

Another study by the National Retail Federation backs up eMarketer’s claim, NRF’s 2012 holiday consumer spending survey says more than one-third (36.6 percent) of those polled said the most important factor in deciding where to shop are offers for sales and discounts. The big box stores that have an online component, offer more incentives for shopping online.

People will go where the deals are.

Last fall, I went to Dominick’s to take advantage of the 75 percent discount the stores were offering since all the stores were closing soon. As I was walking around the store taking advantage all of the deals, I couldn’t help to think about all of the people working at the store were losing their jobs. Some were surprisingly upbeat about it. Laughing and joking while making store-wide announcements about the deals shoppers can get.

The employees at the Dominick’s stores, like the ones at the State St. Sears store, can be viewed as collateral damage in the battle of retail survival. If a company can cut costs by paying less people, they’re going to do it. The bottom line takes precedent in such matters.

These days, we don’t have to leave our homes to shop. Are we part of the problem? Could the evolution of technology be responsible? Or it is good old fashioned Capitalism.

After all, if the consumer can get a product cheaper, faster and more conveniently, they will go for that instead. That is at the root of the fall of Sears.

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