Why Bricks-And-Mortars Will Live Forever

One word: Apple.

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If there is any proof needed that brick and mortar retail is here to stay, one just needs to look at the Apple Retail Store. As Kim Bashkin of Business Insider highlighted in a recent post, “[the Apple Store] has been widely touted as a major step forward for brick-and-mortar retail. But it’s not just the design that has made it so successful – it’s the entire customer experience.”

In a recent Pando Daily interview, Marc Andreessen predicted the death of traditional retail, and is quoted as saying, “Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice.”

I agree traditional retail is going away, but it will not be completely replaced by ecommerce. Traditional retail will be evolved.  E-commerce will still be around, but it will continue to be a supplement to the traditional shopping experience.

While online technology is making discovery shopping more fun and serendipitous, it cannot replace the real life experience of trying products out, shopping with friends and the immediate access to purchases.

A true key to the Apple Store’s success includes the use of mobile technology, the in-store layout and especially the knowledgeable, friendly customer service representatives ready to give personalized attention. Consumers literally wait in line for this experience.

Recent data by Dimensional Research revealed that 91 percent of consumers shop in a physical store as a result of an online experience such as an email promotion, online coupon or online newspaper circular. Respondents who prefer to shop in a physical store cited getting answers to questions, seeing the item before purchase, ease of making a return and merchant relationships as the top drivers.

Two key points I made in a previous blog post are truer than ever:

  • Shopping is supposed to be fun and all about discovery not price comparison and search.
  • Mobile changes everything, and a tablet on your couch is an even bigger deal.

Truly Evolving Retail

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Heesun Lee’s recent CNBC article highlights how mobile technology is evolving how we shop in brick-and-mortar stores. “Retailers from Bed, Bath & Beyond are investing in new e-commerce technology that encourages consumers — often with smartphones in hand — to shop strategically for deals inside physical stores. Retailers see enormous potential in marrying the physical-store experience with our growing dependence on smartphones.”

While the rising trend of “showrooming” is threatening in-store purchases, retailers like Target are evolving to overcome this obstacle by announcing a new price match policy to match top online retailers’ prices year round.

In a recent Washington Post article on a new Pew Internet and American Life Project report, online sales are rising at a brisk pace, but brick-and-mortar retailers’ efforts to keep even the most Web-savvy shoppers in stores is having some early success. Almost half of the people who comparison shopped with their phones, 46 percent, still ended up at the cash register, an 11-point increase from 2011.

As Mobile Marketer’s Chanel Tode points out, “mobile also presents significant opportunities for retailers to communicate more directly with shoppers in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them, to drive in-store traffic and loyalty as well as to learn more than ever about customers.”

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2013 economic forecast, retail industry sales will continue to increase 3.4 percent, and Labor Department figures show the retail industry led in US job growth last month, with employers adding 32,600 new jobs. While the brick-and-mortar retailers have taken a few blows with ecommerce sales, many are adjusting their playbook with new technology-based strategies, and are coming back into the field to fight like the multi-trillion dollar champion industry they are.

photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

About Ben T. Smith IV

Ben T. Smith IV is CEO Wanderful Media, a startup focused on reinventing online discovery shopping with a social experience. He is also a Venture Partner at Accelerator Ventures and co-founder of MerchantCircle.com and Spoke.com . Ben blogs at btsiv.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @bentsmithfour.