Ever heard the term “retail apocalypse”? With the rise of online shoppers, it’s easy to buy into the popular narrative that brick-and-mortar shops are a dying breed. However, contrary to popular belief, physical stores still continue to matter and even thrive in today’s digitally dominated world. Back in 2014, many brick-and-mortar shops reported a slow holiday season, while online sales during that time were booming.
That being said, an infographic by Rutgers University showed that even though 67 percent of the U.S. population shopped online at least once in 2014, 90 percent of total retail sales in America still happened in physical stores. Even today, a majority of consumers choose to buy products in-store rather than exclusively online. While one can’t deny that internet shopping has had an impact on brick-and-mortars, it is a wild exaggeration to say that physical stores are a thing of the past.
Why Are Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Still Relevant?
There’s no doubt that online shopping is extremely convenient. Shopping from the comfort of one’s home is definitely appealing — after all, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to skip lines, avoid parking hassles, and ultimately have your purchase delivered directly to your doorstep? Even so, with all its perks, online shopping doesn’t really cater to the overall “shopping experience” that brick-and-mortar stores have perfected.
The same Rutgers infographic states that 73 percent of consumers want to “touch and feel” merchandise before purchasing it. Especially when it comes to apparel, health and beauty products, and furniture, the ability to experience the product in person is immensely valuable. With electronic products too, 76 percent of consumers seem to prefer in-store testing as opposed to buying them online.
Secondly, brick-and-mortar stores allow for instant gratification. As soon as you’ve purchased a product, it’s yours to have and hold. Online shopping often requires a consumer to wait days or even weeks before their purchase arrives, with somewhat instant gratification in the form on “one-day shipping” at an abnormally high price. The ability to touch, feel and purchase an item all in one shopping experience is something that consumers have grown to love. Only physical stores can fulfill this desire.
Looking to the Future
Brick-and-mortars aren’t going to go extinct anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to keep up with current trends. As technology advances, it’s safe to assume that more and more consumers will shift to online shopping methods, and so physical stores must enrich the in-store experience to stay ahead of the curve.
One way to do this is to conduct continuous customer research to understand what customers want. Thorough research and strong data collection practices can give a business the information needed to make informed decisions about product features, desired services, and customer pain points.
Secondly, knowledgeable and helpful salespeople who go out of their way to ensure customer satisfaction are crucial to the shopping experience. The Apple Store and Nordstrom are great examples of this. In fact, their biggest competitive advantages are their courteous and professional in-store customer service teams.
Finally, brick-and-mortars should have soothing a store ambiance, as well as implement an integrated approach that combines e-commerce, online marketing, social media, and storefront architecture. This way, a customer can experience the best of all worlds.
Modern retail spaces are now starting to incorporate a mix of lifestyle, art, and culture into the shopping experience. In her video, Syama Meagher, CEO of Scaling Retail, talks about modular retail spaces that are re-imagining the brick-and-mortar retail. She says, “over in Glendale – we’ve seen another great rise of a very interesting retail mall concept called the Americana. Nestled behind a suite of high-end, luxury retail stores, we have a suite of condos again looking to bridge that live-work lifestyle. Not only are there retail storefronts but also restaurants.” Essentially, this allows businesses to capture a customer “who is not just looking to go into a space in order to shop but is also living there, eating there, right, and possibly working there.”
In addition to this integrated shopping experience, it’s important that brick-and-mortar business owners are proud of their stores and visions. Concepts like “Small Business Saturday” or “National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day” that falls on March 29, are perfect opportunities to honor one’s business and encourage customers to patronize physical stores. These days could be used to host live events for your customers or partner with other brick-and-mortars. Offering “thank you” in-store discounts to customers who have contributed to the store’s success or giving them a gift also boosts brand loyalty and customer footfall.
While physical stores are here to stay, simply carrying on in the same traditional way is no longer enough to succeed. Instead, brick-and-mortar businesses must look towards the future and fuel the demands of today’s population so that the beloved in-store shopping experience lives on.