Director of Marketing
What do brick-and-mortar stores have in common with Mark Twain? Reports of their deaths were exaggerated. What had been termed a “retail apocalypse” hasn’t quite materialized. What did happen was a good deal of negative press over a few big-name store closings, like Toys ‘R’ Us. According to a report from the IHL Group, 16 retail chains represented two-thirds of all store closings. In fact, store openings outpaced store closings by nearly 4,000 in 2018.
But everyone shops online these days. That must mean all those brick-and-mortar stores are pretty empty, right? Not quite. A Stratix Corporation white paper published by Retail Technology Review revealed 2017 U.S. Census data shows 90 percent of retail sales still happen in brick-and-mortar stores.
Hearing a few news sound bites can leave a person confused. What’s really happening in the industry? Brick-and-mortar stores, at least the successful ones, are changing how they do business in order to survive. They’re capitalizing on consumer preferences to differentiate the shopping experience. And clearly, online retailers like Amazon and Warby Parker have taken notice, as they continue to experiment with the brick-and-mortar approach.
Understanding consumer preferences
Online shopping offers the ultimate in convenience: 24/7 access, “endless aisles” of products, easy price comparisons, access to product reviews, and free shipping and returns. It’s preferred by people who are pressed for time … but not for all products.
When consumers want to touch, feel and smell a product, many prefer shopping in person. Grocery is a perfect example. Apparel Staff conducted a survey to learn more about why consumers shop at a physical store rather than online. They found consumers prefer brick-and-mortar retailers for discounted merchandise, food, drug, and health and beauty aids, as well as clothing. Shopping online for food presents several challenges, like the need to be home to accept delivery and not being able to use the senses to see and handle the merchandise, especially perishable items like fresh produce, meats and seafood.
Obviously, retailers have the opportunity to create sensory experiences in their stores that can’t be duplicated online. They can also design creative point-of-purchase displays to increase the likelihood of impulse buying. Additionally, by making staff available for personal interactions at critical moments, they can personalize the shopping experience and elevate it beyond digital commerce.
Let’s consider the preferences of two specific consumer groups: moms and men. In an article posted in Yahoo Small Business, Carly Botelho reminds us that, for moms, shopping is often a social activity, one that’s done with friends or family. For men, it’s all about immediate gratification. Writing for Retail Dive, Sandy Skrovan states that men are motivated to shop in-store because they can take their purchases home with them immediately.
It’s a retail evolution
Ultimately, it’s not a question of online or in-store; it’s both. Typically, it depends on the products being purchased and the timeframe needed. This blended approach — buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS) — is gaining in popularity too. Business Insider Intelligence reports 68 percent of U.S. consumers have made multiple click-and-collect purchases. BOPIS makes the brick-and-mortar store more of a fulfillment center, evolving how we may see its place in retail in the future. Inventory integration will become a far more important aspect of a retailer’s supply chain, so they can ensure products are in stock at the selected location.