It's difficult not to read the tea leaves of the explosive e-commerce trend and prognosticate a time when the brick and mortar store will go the way of the dinosaur. As we approach the heaviest shopping season of the year, many of us will do our holiday shopping from the comfort of our homes, taking advantage of the Cyber Monday deals, or praying Amazon makes that last-minute delivery in time for gift giving. But can we imagine the holidays without the decorated storefront, the Black Friday Store rush, the mad dash down Main Street to grab the last present? Will there really be a time when physical retail space will gasp its final breath and finally succumb to its slow, agonizing death?
While some would argue that the online migration will finally destroy our physical retail spaces, experts on Wall Street remind us of the economic and cultural power of brick and mortar. Lauren Thomas at CNBC says that 85 percent of sales still happen in the physical store. Furthermore, Matthew Fassler, an analyst with Goldman Sachs, points to Amazon's recent acquisition of Whole Foods as a sign that the strongest ape in the e-commerce world understands the economic value of breaking into the physical retail realm. Need more examples? How about brands like Warby Parker, Bonobos, Athleta, all companies born and bred online, who have reached through the digital wall and embraced the brick and mortar store? The dinosaur is alive and well.
One reason to explain this clinging to physical retail spaces is that most shoppers still prefer the lived, tactile experience of a real store. But let's not fool ourselves: e-commerce has arrived on the scene and it's here to stay. Instead of viewing this as a false dichotomy, it's time for the brick and mortar store to adapt to the digital world to assure that it keeps up.
While many brands mentioned above have their foot in both worlds--selling product online and in stores--the physical retail store can use technology to its advantage. Obviously, a brand can sell its product in both spaces. But beyond that, brands can get smarter about using technology in the physical retail store. The web and social media can direct customers to in-store only deals. Or you might use a tablet or computer in-store so a customer can order something customized, or an item not currently in-stock. Instead of thinking of the digital retail space as the competition, embrace it. Make them work hand in hand.
Get Lean & Mean
Don't retail hard, retail smart. The digital revolution can help you sell product on the front lines, but you should also be utilizing it behind the scenes. We now have the tools to collect various amounts of data, including measuring foot traffic, the duration of someone's stay in store, where they go, and inventory levels. Not only can we measure the data, but analyze it, knowing exactly who is buying what and why. Adopting an analytic approach will help keep your store lean and mean, cutting costs and raising profits. The smartest retail spaces are the ones that will survive and thrive into the future.
Embrace the Space
Hand-wringing cultural critics fret over how the internet is changing us. And they should. It's a technology we created, and one we don't quite understand. But we are physical beings, occupying a space, and we will always be more comfortable with the physical environment. In the retail realm the brick and mortar store still offers the best opportunity for discovery, of stumbling on the brand we always wanted but didn't know existed. Take advantage of the physical space. Create the eye-catching display that utilizes all the dimensions not available online. The in-store experience is still the best and only way to build relationships, eye-to-eye, and a customer who has a positive, visceral experience in your store, is the customer who will come back again and again.