Whenever I have a meeting in Palo Alto, Calif., I try to block some time before or after so I can indulge myself with a trip to Frys Electronics. I do the same when I fly to LA; there's a Frys minutes from the Burbank airport. Unevenly distributed around the U.S., Frys are the megamarts of tech. CompUSAs and BestBuys are big too, but they have sanitized, edited product selections. Frys feels like it has everything.
I would not actually buy a PC at this or any computer store; more current and factory-customized models are available online. But when you want to browse cases and power supplies to build your own PC, or scope out soldering irons, handheld GPS receivers, and the like, Frys is a great place to eyeball the goods.
You'd think a geek mecca like Frys would also have an online presence, but only last week did the online store, Frys.com, launch, replacing the previous Frys online store, Outpost.com (see story on ExtremeTech). Is it as rewarding and engaging an experience as the real-world store?
Not even close. It's a flat Web 1.0 experience. There's no sense of community or serendipity when browsing the store, just the nagging feeling that somebody is trying to get you to buy something quick. The site's buying guides are also horribly out of date. Competitor Newegg, by comparison, has a vibrant community of nerds who leave useful comments on products. Newegg also features multiple photos per product, and lets you easily refine a category listing without dropping back to a general search engine. Browsing Newegg is more like wandering the aisles of Frys than Frys.com is.
It is still a lot of fun to explore a physical Frys store. But if you try to extend your Frys experience to the store's online presence, you will be disappointed.