At my core, I'm always optimistic. And for good reason. People are always going to want to buy things, and the retail experience still works. Until Amazon perfects drones that can deliver something in 60 minutes or less, I will stand by that.
It's not just about price, either. Consider Lush, which is thriving and expanding. Bath bombs and sea salt shampoo aren't cheap but when you walk into a Lush store, it's distinct. I'm not even the target market and I like it in there. You are able to touch things and get a sensory experience. Notice I have used the word experience twice already?
Brick-And-Mortar Can Win On Experience
The resurgence of independent bookstores, natural cosmetics and other brick-and-mortar retail stores is making it clear that people will pay a premium for a place they like to go to and buy something that matters to them.
What you are seeing is not the slow death of retail but the quick and merciless end of stores that don't create in-store experiences that provide value over online shopping. All things being equal, I'm going to order something off Instagram because it is targeted, fast, and pops up in my feed. No one wants fluorescent lighting, large vacant hallways, and unhelpful staff when they get something cheaper online and in their sweatpants.
Add the AR tools that online retailers like Wayfair are providing--so people can fully visualize their online purchases--and that accelerates the process at which brick-and-mortar priorities can and will evolve.
"While there are seemingly endless news stories about the challenges facing retailers, it is by no means all doom-and-gloom for companies operating in this space," according to Michael Klein, Adobe's director of industry strategy for retail and travel and hospitality. "Retailers harnessing technology and data have the power to improve both the digital and in-store customer experience in a way that was inconceivable even half a decade ago."
If Toys-R-Us didn't have massive debt and large stores they had to reconfigure, they could have adjusted. But really that process needed to start 10 years ago. Best Buy, which also follows that model, has done a good job of creating mini-experiences inside the store dedicated to computers, mobile, photography, and other divisions. Best Buy almost feels like an electronics mall with separate stores inside it now, proving you don't have to do a full 180-degree turn.
Re-Imagine What A Store Looks Like
A simple shift in thinking and a design-centric approach can put brick-and-mortar on the right trajectory. Consider The Microsoft Store chain, which has been growing during this perceived death of retail.
Its Magnificent Mile store in Chicago is a prime example of creating experience. It's not a storefront. There are no walls. It's just there as you walk into The Shops at North Bridge. It's small and intimate, with personalized attention from associates.
"Ultimately you want your customer to experience your products, love your products, use them, tell people about them, and it doesn't matter how they buy them," said Kelly Soligon, general manager and editor-in-chief at Microsoft Stores. "The biggest challenge facing retailers is reminding ourselves that the customer is the protagonist here, not our channel or our silo, and being able to really organize our teams that way so we can be of service to the customer."