We're Empowered, By the Internet and Intense
We're Empowered, By the Internet and Intense Competition
By Margaret Webb Pressler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2003; Page F01
Lorene Watrous, a 25-year-old government employee, went to the Ballston Common
mall in Arlington last month to buy some makeup at Hecht's. She picked July 29 as the
day to shop because she knew that was when Estee Lauder was having a gift-with-
purchase promotion. Watrous said she would never pay the "exorbitant" prices on Estee
Lauder cosmetics unless she was getting something else thrown in free.
That's how she shops for everything, she says. When Watrous wanted to buy a used
Honda, she went first to CarMax and checked prices. Then she did some research online.
Finally, she bought her car at a dealer in Pennsylvania and "saved $2,000," she said.
When Watrous bought a cell phone, she compared all the models and rate plans online
and found that T-Mobile had what appeared to be the best deal. So she went to a T-
Mobile store and signed up. She wanted a cover for the new phone but rejected the $20
she was quoted at the T-Mobile store in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City because "I
knew I could find it cheaper." So she kept looking, and a week later picked one up at a
kiosk at Ballston Common for $15.
"I'm just a bargain shopper," she said.
In fact, Watrous is more than that. She is emblematic of the power that consumers enjoy
today thanks to the Internet, intense retail competition, the demands of baby boomers and
the stresses of the weak economy. That last factor, the economy, also means there are
many Americans who hunt for bargains because they have little choice, having been cut
back, laid off or maybe battered by the recent bear market. But many of today's
consumers have choices, control, information and expectations, all of which are likely to
stick around for good and change the way businesses of all kinds serve their customers.
As consumers, "in terms of breadth of choice and selection and opportunity to get the
lowest price, we've never been in a better spot," said Jeff Rusinow. The former president
of stores for the Kohl's department-store chain is now a part owner of several Internet
ventures, including the Web site Buycostumes.com. "The consumer has been enormously
Where American shoppers stand today reflects an evolution over many years. Marketing
professor Roger D. Blackwell of the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University
explains that in the late 1700s, the "power in the channel," as he calls it, rested with