I’m a fan of Amazon.com. While I’m not happy with some of their business practices [like their one-click ordering patent — a headlock on the competition and a slap in the face of consumers at the same time] the online shopping experience they’ve created is hard to beat. Patent or no.

So I find it particularly disturbing to read of the partnership discussions between Amazon.com and Walmart. Years ago I pledged to myself that I would never, ever shop at Walmart again. Period.

So I caved. Out of desperation I found myself wandering the aisles of the local Walmart superstore, hoping to find -of all things- canning jars. [For storing just-roasted coffee, but that’s another story…]

A Walmart superstore is a cavernous space. It has no in-store search computer. No greeter passing out smile stickers and information, either. The too tall shelves mask all but completely the in-store signage, so I had no choice but to wander aimlessly, hoping for a glimpse of some distant banner that read “canning jars!” or maybe “housewares” or “kitchen”. Nothing of the kind in sight.

While wandering I found the electronics department. Boxed-in completely by shelves [except for the oddly-placed fire exit] the electronics department was a series of concentric security checkpoints, leading to products locked up behind Plexiglas doors, each encased in its own security packaging. It felt quite a bit like a prison.

I found browsing at Walmart a thoroughly dehumanizing experience, from the moment I was herded through the entrance till the moment I passed though the exit checkpoints. I didn’t find the jars I was looking for. I didn’t care. I just wanted out.

How can these companies hope to reconcile their very different views of the customer experience?

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