Okay, bike industry venture capitalists, break out your notepads and checkbooks, because I have an idea that's guaranteed to make someone a hundredaire, and I'm giving it away for free.
First, the back story: Over this blog's recent hiatus, our IT guy (a.k.a. me) was tasked with replacing a failed hard drive (thankfully, the one that backs up the pseudo-important stuff, not the one that contains the pseudo-important stuff to begin with). As it was during the Season of Festive Giving (which often leads me to thoughts of retail homicide), I had no intention of spending time in a store... but I didn't want to make my precious un-backed-up bytes wait for mail order either, especially since Brown Truck Santa runs slow during the holidays.
After a bit of research, I found a "buy online, pick up in store" feature on the website of a monstrous electronics chain store that shall remain nameless because, hey, they have an advertising budget, and if they want a plug, they can pay for it. Basically, I picked out exactly the hard drive I wanted online, confirmed that my local store had it in stock, paid for it, drove to the store, and it was waiting for me just inside the front door. No festive crap, no retail homicide, no pushy salesfolk, just "choose what you want and go get it right now."
And THAT, dear reader, is all I want in a local bike shop. Real-time online inventory. Let me surf your website in my jammies at 1:00 in the morning and see whether or not you have what I need in stock. If you do, I'll pay for it on the spot (still in my jammies), come to your store (with real pants on, you're welcome), and pick it up. If I can't get to the store during your business hours, maybe my wife can -- and she'd be much more willing to make a pickup of something I've already selected and paid for than to try to describe my often obscure and extremely specific needs to a sales dude and hope he sells her the right thing (this is NOT a knock against my wife, by the way -- she just doesn't nerd out on the minutiae like I do, thank goodness. In fact, most bike shop dudes don't nerd out on my brand of minutiae either, which is why I'm wary of phoning in an order at the LBS and hoping the dude translates it correctly.)
To me, this model strikes the perfect middle ground between mail order (which lets you pick exactly what you want whenever you want to shop but takes forever to arrive) and in-person shopping (which provides the instant gratification of getting your stuff now, but only if the shop knows what it is and has it). Is it realistic? Heck, I don't know. I'm just the idea guy. But I know it's possible for a monster-sized electronics chain, so maybe it will trickle down someday.
(For you snarksters who are thinking, "But didn't you just say that you were downsizing and trying to get less stuff?" Yes, yes I did, and extra points for paying attention. But stuff does break and wear out, and with a downsized fleet, being able to get the right replacement in a hurry is critical. So there. Neener neener neener.)