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Abt Electronics: How cookies and a fish tank create a consumer paradise.

By Kingsley Tang

February 21, 2011

"How much extra are you willing to pay for a great shopping experience?"

I asked this question to my wife a couple weeks ago as we tried to figure out where we were going to get our new television.

Lord knows I wasn't going to get my new TV at Best Buy. They carry sub-standard brands and my experience with the salespeople there have been lacking. The couple times I've asked them for help they've known less about the products I was shopping for than I did.

The other option was amazon.com. Now I love amazon.com. I remember when this site first launched when I was in middle school and ordering a book from them at a shockingly high discount. I order products from amazon.com probably two or three times a week and it's not just books. I've gotten electronics, cleaning supplies, stuff for Buffy and even considered getting toilet paper from them once.

The great thing about amazon.com is that they have editorial reviews, customer reviews, competitive prices and great shipping prices even if you aren't on amazon prime (which I have and love).

The last option was a store called Abt Electronics in Glenview (1200 N Milwaukee Avenue), which is a northwest suburb of Chicago (probably about 1/2 hour north on I-94). I visited this store about a year ago and bought an air filter and had a pretty good experience and after reading this article in the New York Times I knew I had to consider going back their for our TV.

Diana and I often speak about the changing economy and the relationship between online retailers, big box stores and mom and pop brick and motor retailers. When I asked if she would be willing to pay as much as $80 more for the same product but with great service at Abt, she told me that she thought it was worth it and I'm glad that she did.

Abt Electronics is huge but it doesn't feel like any other electronics store. There is marble tile flooring, an enormous fish tank in the middle of the main room an atrium with a fountain that has shows coordinated to music. The fountain is located in an atrium that lets in natural light (seriously, natural light in a store!!). And on weekends they bake fresh chocolate chip cookies and that smell permeates the entire store.

Now men, who are often the people who like to buy electronics probably don't care about all of these things but their wives and children do. By making the experience better for the whole family it makes the shopping experience just that, an "experience" not just a chore.

The salesman we worked with was Larry Solomon. I immediately felt great about this guy when he explained to us that the only reason that Sony television were more expensive was because of the brand name. Instead of trying to convince us that this TV, which would have given him more commission, he told us the truth and that meant a lot.

Larry had an opinion, which he was not afraid to offer and he clearly knew what he was talking about. I want a salesmen who knows more than me and has made judgments based on that knowledge and Larry did just that. This extends beyond just Larry as Abt is a story simply does not carry mediocre products. You will find a smaller variety of brands at Abt than at Best Buy and that's because they chose to carry the best products.

After selecting a television, I asked Larry about home theater systems. Now Diana and I had talked for months about getting a new TV but this whole home theater thing was news to her. Larry sensing this quickly defused the situation and suggested that we go home see how we like the sound on our new TV and if I wanted to come back and get a speaker system he could get me a great price whenever. This was another example of investing in the customer's experience rather than simply working towards making the largest commission possible. This is exactly why if I ever had any electornics needs in the future I will not hesitate to go back to Abt Electronics.

If you live within two hours driving distance of Abt Electronics, it is worth the drive to go to this store. Abt Electronics has created a consumer experience that cannot ever be replicated online and while other brick and motor stores are loosing out to online retailers stores like Abt never will.

Did Diana and I pay more because we shopped at Abt? Maybe a little bit, but not that much more. Regardless would I pay $80 more for a TV if it meant that I got the Abt Electronics shopping experience?

Without a doubt.

Copyright © Kingsley Tang & the Purple Reaction