Are You A Complainer Or A Realist?

by Colin Shaw on May 18, 2018

A difference exists between what people say they will do and what people do. People say they want salads in theme parks but order hamburgers. People say they want to save the planet but then ignore the recycling bin. People say they want many choices but then complain that there were too many choices to decide. In short customers are irrational! We recently enjoyed debating this in our podcast Why Are Customers Irrational?

Barnes and Noble is learning this concept the hard way. People say they want major brick and mortar bookstores nearby, but then they don’t buy anything there!

However, it is not just bookstores that suffer from this difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do. Toys R Us learned the hard way, too, as did British Home Stores in the UK. Last year, the Staples stores in England experienced it, and around ten years ago, Woolworths did, too. Some other major retailers would be wise to take notice, also, like Sears and JCPenney, and maybe even Macy’s.

The Symptom Not the Cause

Barnes and Noble could be next. As the largest book retailer in the U.S., it has more than 600 stores. Recently, their stock price dropped 8%, and everyone knows they are in trouble. The NY Times pleads, “Save Barnes and Noble!.” and cites Amazon and other corporate behemoths like them as the problem for these failing retailers. Furthermore, the NY Timesgoes on to lay blame on lenient policies in Washington for technology companies that allow them to grow into monopolies.

However, Amazon and the other behemoths like them are a symptom, not the cause of retail’s struggle. They are only the new villain, painted with an unscrupulous brush. The public outcry about the fate of the retailers is not new, either. It represents a fear of change. When the automobile first appeared over a hundred years ago, I am sure people complained about the disappearance of the horse and cart. After all, it led to this nonsense:

It’s called Smith’s Horsey Horseless; it was designed to be less scary than the car. The horse’s head also was a fuel tank, by the way! To read more about it, please click here.

The Horsey Horseless is funny now, but it was essential at the time. it helped people transition to a new mode of transportation. The need for the Horsey Horseless demonstrates how progress can be painful and scary at first, but in the end, letting go of the past makes, well, horse sense.

Everyone complains about the loss of stores on their Main Street because [Fill in the blank entity] is taking over. First, it was shopping malls. Then, it was Walmart. Now, Amazon. However, this effect could be reversed if everybody returned to shopping on Main Street again.

So, why don’t they shop there? Quite simply, Customers don’t shop on Main Street anymore because they like the new experience better. Customers who buy everything on the internet do so because it is faster and more convenient than retail shopping. It also causes commoditization of the products they purchase and drives down prices. It is called digitalization, and it is everywhere. Per McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, “Customers have been spoiled.” and digitalization is the result.

If everybody were to quit buying from Amazon and instead bought from all of these stores, digitalization would stop. But they don’t. Instead, people complain these stores are disappearing and continue ordering online.

Wanting Progress and Regretting Change

Human nature is funny. We want to progress from what we have now. Then, once we have progressed, we look back with nostalgia on what we had, feeling sad for what we have lost.

It comes down to managing change. Unfortunately, human beings are not good at it. Change feels like we are losing something, a feeling people don’t like. Then, because we are unhappy about missing something (in this case going to the store), our memories color the task as a sweet adventure.

However, let us not forget the reality of shopping in a store. Shopping at a store can be a hassle, starting with parking the car. Once you make some purchases, you walk around with numerous bags clutched in your hands and maybe a jacket over your arm. Did I mention all the screaming kids present?

I would rather sit in my lounge in my comfortable clothes (read: sweatpants) listening to music and ordering things online. The only thing I hear in my shopping experience is the ringing of my front doorbell with the delivery of my purchases.

So, yes, it can feel sad that Barnes and Noble is struggling. Or that Toys R Us is gone. Or that the automobile replaced the horse for transport. On the other hand, it feels exciting because we are making progress to a new way of doing things. The reality is people prefer to buy a book on Amazon rather than at Barnes and Noble, and they will continue to buy them on Amazon until something better comes along. It won’t be sad to leave Amazon behind then either. It will be progress.

What do you think? Is Amazon the problem or is it misguided nostalgia? I’d love to hear your view in the comments below.

Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX.


Helmore, Edward. “Barnes & Noble: why it could soon be the bookshop’s final chapter.” 12 May 2018. Web. 15 May 2018. <>.

Leonhardt, David. “Save Barnes & Noble!” 6 May 2018. Web. 15 May 2018. <>.

Berger, Jonah. “It’s Easy to Laugh at a Fake Horse Head Glued to the Front of a car…” 11 January 2018. Web. 15 May 2018. <>.

Markovitch, Shahar, and Paul Wilmott. “Accelerating the digitization of business processes.” May 2014. Web. 15 May 2018. <>.

Colin ShawAre You A Complainer Or A Realist?