I was down in Florida for a few days recently and was reminded of how painfully obvious the absence of “sun-protection” is when down there. The sun is so intensely bright and relentless that without the proper precautions, your skin and eyes can get absolutely smoked. My brother, who is still in high school, came to that realization within the first hour.

As we made the short drive from the Ft. Myers airport toward the causeway and over to Sanibel Island, John was squinting so hard his eyes were watering and he had a headache from the strain. Having had the same experience before, I felt his pain and knew what needed to be done…we were on a mission to find John a pair of “keeper” sunglasses.

FYI: I think it’s important for me to make note of my philosophy on making purchases such as these: Go into every purchase with the idea that you are investing in something you will live with for the rest of your life (even if you know that’s not possible)…this means–within reason–you should buy something you like and think you will like for years and years to come, and you should buy something that has the quality (and style!) to last that long.

So, my cousin and I drove my brother out to the mall, which actually had two sunglass shops, virtually right next to one another. We made our way into Solstice first, which had a sort of Sunglass Hut-experience: a fairly small rectangular space with open racks of sunglasses, organized by brand, lining every inch of the walls and a friendly saleswoman making every effort to help get you in a new pair (pictured above). At first, this was nothing special–a very typical sunglass-store experience. That was until, after a good 15-20 minutes of experimentation at Solstice, we walked over to the second store, Tote’s Sunglass Shop–just to make sure we weren’t missing anything…

Unfortunately, Tote’s was such a mess we weren’t even able to make the judgment.  Not only was there far too much variety, in terms of product offerings (especially for a store with the word “sunglass” in the name), but every pair of sunglasses was locked inside a glass case!  To make it worse, even as the three of us began curiously peering into the cases, the salesman remained tethered to his post behind the register, making no effort to help or see if we wanted to “demo” some of the choices. Honestly, even if he had opened the case and let us fish around, the environment was so non-conducive to experimentation–with small, awkwardly placed mirrors pressed up against racks of clothes–that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. The whole place was truly baffling.

Aren’t retailers actually more successful the longer they get customers to hang around, experiment and go through the mental process of picturing their lives with the product in question? Shouldn’t you do everything you can to facilitate that experience? Have Apple stores still not been around long enough for everyone to realize this? What seemed like a no-brainer for the creation of a successful retail experience was completely lost by a clear lack of focus and direction at Tote’s. The experience we had seconds before at Solstice only highlighted this failure.

Needless to say, we spent about 1 minute in the cluster-fuck of an “in-store experience” before returning to Solstice where we spent an additional 10 minutes experimenting before my brother settled on a pair he was happy with; a pair that would protect him from the mean Florida sun and, hopefully, a pair he would continue wear for many years to come.

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