Argentina vs Amazon: Striking the Balance Between Consistency and Individuality

Like many online citizens, I did some of my Christmas shopping this past season online. You can’t beat the combination of price, convenience and fast delivery. With the likes of Amazon, Best Buy and Husdon’s Bay, you always know exactly what you’re going to get, and that consistency is the reason I come back again and again.

Busy people value consistency. In a hectic world filled with difficult choices, we appreciate having one less option to worry about. Where I live, we love Tim Hortons, a network of more than 4,600 coffee shops, most of them in Canada, that provide an assortment of delicious pastries, sandwiches and drinks. I can go into a Tim Hortons in Montréal and know that the coffee and danish I get there tastes exactly the same as it does in Saskatoon. The same is true of Starbucks, McDonald’s or any other business that places a premium on consistent quality across its network.

But is consistency all that matters? Last month I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Argentina, which also has lots of coffee shops. But there are no Tim Hortons in Buenos Aires. Instead, the streets are dotted with independent barristas, each with its own unique blend of delicacies and coffee flavors. I sampled many of them. Some were fantastic, others not quite my taste. But discovery is part of the experience. Buying a coffee at Tim Hortons is a transaction; in Argentina, it’s an adventure.

Which brings me back to the topic of consistency. Even as Amazon was closing out another record holiday shopping season, Sears Canada was shuttering the last of what had once been a 190-store retail empire that spanned the country. CBC noted that Sears “struggled in recent years to adapt to the internet age and a changing retail environment.” One retail analyst summed up the competitive environment posed by e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba this way: “You can't see them, but they're there. And they are gobbling up market share at a horrific pace."

That worries me just a little. I don’t mean to criticize Amazon. The company provides a fantastic service and has earned every penny of its success. But I sometimes worry that every time I press the “Buy now with 1-Click” button, a local store owner on 8th St. in Saskatoon feels a punch in the gut.

Sears may have failed to fend off the e-commerce giants, but a lot of teenagers I knew in high school, got their first jobs there. They learned how to take responsibility and direction, but also how to deal with the public. Will they learn those same skills working in an Amazon or Alibaba warehouse?

The local merchants on 8th St. attend the same churches as their customers. Their kids go to the same schools, they pay property taxes and they invest in their community with their presence. The experience of doing business with them may lack consistency, but that’s one of the appeals. Each is different, and each brings a little of his or her own personality to the equation, like City Perks my local coffee shop in Saskatoon.

The computer industry has had a successful hybrid approach.  Large companies like Microsoft, IBM, Google, Oracle, VMware, Cisco, AWS and SAP use the channel to add customization and agility to look after clients locally.  IT partners like Horizon can delight you with personalized service, innovative ideas and even surprisingly aggressive pricing.

For more than 20 years Horizon has served western Canada with end-to-end IT solutions, backed by a trained and talented staff that’s rewarded based upon customer satisfaction, not sales of add-on services. I like to think that, like the local store owner on 8th St., we deliver an experience that reflects the personality of our company. We obsess about each and every customer.

So go ahead, press that 1-click button. But before you do, consider whether some of the dollars you spend would work harder for you if invested locally. I assure you that we appreciate the local businesses that invest in technology with us.