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Let’s Talk Online vs. Offline

Apple Store in Austin, TX

Who Buys Site Unseen?

There is only a small percentage of the economy that buys site unseen– we regular people down here in the middle group that actually make up the larger percentage of the economy can’t afford to make costly mistakes such as not seeing or touching the property.

This notion that a consumer will ever click “buy” and submit some kind of bank order number to complete the transaction in any great number with an email receipt is laughable. Would the top 1% do it? Sure.

Would it be cool as the kids say? Sure, but is it practical? No. Do I believe agents should multiply their reach online and offer great search tools? Yes, and should they provide the most outstanding offline service as well while creating new avenues of communication? Absolutely.

But Let’s Not Forget…

Those Mom & Pop 5/dimes went out of business, sure, but if you look really closely, only the name and size of the store changed- it just got bigger, and yes, it’s called Walmart. Is Walmart foolish for their billions in expansions offline? I don’t think so. They’re profitable.

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They wanted Mom and Pop’s offline action. They do offer a shopping service online, but they spend major coin offline to complete that transaction, and they’re really not that inexpensive anymore when you factor in quality- try one of those offline outlet malls called Prime Outlets that are popping up all over the place.

Or how about the Saks 5th, or two new Nieman’s we have here in town- why didn’t they just stay online? The last I checked however, these babies weren’t reduced priced by any stretch.

Or how about Ikea? It was primarily an online player at one time, but today, they’re expanding big box retail all over the country.

As another example, banks tried to go online all together, but I swear it seems branches are popping up all over the place including Wachovia, Chase, Cap One, and Amp’d, to name just a few. The branch building got smaller and more nimble, but the numbers of box units have doubled in most cases.

I noticed the other day offline branches of those stock trading companies opening shop around the city too, and today we’re using a travel agent to book a hotel in a city we’re not familiar with (that also isn’t online).

We also have at least 6 new super targets btw, and they also have had an online presence, and the last time I checked their prices seem really high compared to two years ago…

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Did the Little Guy Adapt?

But back to the top 1% and Walmart – same crap different day, only the name changes offline and the size of the store gets bigger and bigger. They roll in on lower prices, beat out the middle America guy, and then build a big building on his grave- that top 1% that buys luxurious homes online just made millions. It wasn’t that the little guy didn’t adapt, he just wasn’t in that top 1%.

Even Apple had to get offline to complete the transaction… Oh yeah, and what about Sprint… The list just goes on and on and on and on… and don’t forget those little ebay stores- we have one here in a 60 year old shop on Main, right next door to a mom and pop antique store.

The rapid expansion of commercial development is proof of the consumer’s demand for tangibility. What’s the lesson here?

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.



  1. ines

    June 30, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Funny thing about tangibility specially when you are blogging about it is that we have created ways to make products tangible through a screen. We, as web1.5 agents know the importance of it and work with it on a daily basis. (Although a few of us have learned to adapt to the non-tangible aspect of this medium)
    Did I change your whole concept around or what?? 😉 now I can’t wait to meet you, Lani and the rest of the gang in SF next month.

  2. Benn Rosales

    June 30, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Indeed – The 1.5 Agent I’ve coined is the way of the future. I may infact meet 90% of my clients with some form of online touch, but I will close 100% of them on the ground face to face.

  3. Teresa Boardman

    June 30, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    I have had clients buy site unseen. 🙂 they worked through me, but we used the internet and they did not see the homes they bought first. But I do agree with what you are saying here. I have a couple of sellers I have never met either. They live out of state and I never will meet them in person. They all see themselves as buying and selling over the internet. To them I think I am part of the internet. No I have never had a voice conversation with one of my sellers. I think what is the most important is to find out how people want to be communicated with and do it.

  4. Barry Cunningham

    June 30, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Demographics, Market Share, branding, visibility….that’s the lesson.

    One of the most successful online computer parts company (Tigerdirect) recently bought Compusa’s failed stores. According to Gilbert Fiorentino, CEO of TigerDirect,’s customer base will augment the customer base of, and the CompUSA retail stores will boost the company’s planned retail expansion.

    It will not supplant it’s online business.

    THis post may be better suited for argument if most (I said most) realtors understood the reasoning of these companies expanding their offline presence and further understood the methodology fueling said expansion.

    Is expansion of commercial development is proof of the consumer’s demand for tangibility..or rather a big part of an overall marketing plan to understand Demographics, supplement Market Share, increase branding, and extend visibility.

    As Richard Leeds, CEO of the parent company for TigerDirect said upon his acquisition for the offline stores and name of Compusa…”We believe the value of the CompUSA brand remains very high,” said Systemax CEO Richard Leeds, in a statement. “The company has a long legacy of value pricing, service, and customer loyalty among consumers nationwide. We view this acquisition as a strong complementary business to our TigerDirect operation.”

    Complementary and branding being the operative words in this regard.

  5. Paula Henry

    June 30, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Just as people want to look at, hold and play with an ipod, iphone or new Mac. most want a hands on experience when buying a home. There are exceptions; most, however, need to touch, feel and see a home before they purchase.

  6. Eric Blackwell

    July 1, 2008 at 5:32 am

    I think they want to consumate the deal tangibly. (bricks and mortar)…

    But they key is…Where do they start and how do they decide whom they will work with. I think bricks and mortar (to the extent of a buyer’s agent meeting them and showing them around) will always be part of the game, however, if they are deciding on a REALTOR via the internet and if buyers are more important than lister’s in the current market…what then?

  7. Mack in Atlanta

    July 1, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Eric hits on a very important part of the equation. Most buyers will want to lay their hands on the property they are buying but will shop for the agent that will help them online.

  8. Bill Lublin

    July 1, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    The internet is for porn lead generation and interfacing with consumers and other professionals. It is the tool which allows us to network as business people have from time imemorial – But in a business where each prodict is unique – if only by location, and condition is realtive and subjective, people will want to satisfy themselves that they are getting what they think they are getting. The stakes are just too high to believe otherwise.

    I spoke to an accomplished Blogger yesterday who was helping me through some wordpress manipulations, and he told me that he and his lovely wife were heading to th store to buy an appliance they had shopped for on the internet, but wanted to have in their hands immediately. And he was spedning less then $100 – so how about going into debt for 30 years and investing a large part of you rliquid cash? think you might want to get physical? I do

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