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Is Brick and Mortar Retail Really Dead?

It’s the big debate in retail right now.

What’s the future of brick and mortar?

Here’s one perspective: brick and mortar retail is on its way out and retailers should get innovative—fast. The brighter outlook is that brick and mortar will be making its return to the throne through that same innovation.

First, a reality check: Clicks have yet to overtake bricks.

E-commerce still only represents a small fraction of total retail sales. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that e-commerce accounted for only $452 billion of the over $5 trillion in retail sales. That’s just 8.9% of total retail sales in 2017. With online brands like Amazon, Etsy, and Wayfair digging into sales that would otherwise go to brick and mortar retail, they’re still not claiming the massive market share that news reports suggest. They are, however, changing the way consumers behave when it comes to shopping and altering their expectations.

 

The Evolution of Brick-and-Mortar Retail

What are customers really looking for?

Customers want inspiration, gratification, convenience, taction (the feeling of trying something on and gaining confidence in a purchase), and overall positive experiences from their shopping journeys. 

Brick and mortar stores still provide a great deal of that and are even layering on sound digital strategies to complement those in-store experiences. Big chains like Walmart and Target have rolled out concierge services, in-store pickup for online purchases, same-day delivery and much more to match the convenience offered by online brands.

Meanwhile, online brands aren’t shying away from developing an on-the-ground presence (e.g. Amazon’s rollout of AmazonGo and the company’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods). Ecommerce is getting physical in many ways, as brick and mortar stores are increasingly seen as a new marketing channel that can lower customer acquisition costs as digital marketing prices keep increasing.

Both brick and mortar brands and online retailers are going omnichannel. 

They’re acknowledging that the customer journey is no longer solely built around in-store shopping. The wave of influencers, in-app purchases, and connected devices have upended the old ways or retail.

With consumer habits changing, brick and mortar retailers aren’t disappearing—they’re evolving.  

 

Software Transforms the Sector

The savviest retailers are allowing emerging technology to transform customers’ retail experiences rather than taking them over entirely. They’re doing this through the thoughtful use of data and the smart application of consumer insights.

Customer experience is still key and blending the worlds of brick and mortar with online retail can enhance that experience in many ways. A strong example of this is Nike by Melrose, which pulled together a local, customized, and social-digital experience for Nike customers.

 

Micro-trips + Delivery = Maximum Convenience

Online brands have really changed the game when it comes to delivery.

They’ve given consumers a much higher degree of convenience when it comes to ordering and receiving their products. At the same time, brands like Home Depot and Walmart have embraced the in-store pickup model through lockers and other options. Whole Foods locations with Amazon lockers experienced an 11% increase in quick customer visits partly as a result of offering this helpful option to customers.

It’s now all about merging ecommerce platforms with physical customer experiences.

Customers are in the driver’s seat and get to decide when, where, and how they’ll grab that avocado—when they’re passing by the store during their commute or by scheduling an online delivery for later. 

These “micro-trips” come in digital and physical forms. Pairing them together at the customer’s convenience is the key.

 

Digitize or Die

Imagine in-store sensors and cameras completing instant purchases so customers have less time to second guess themselves and put an item back on the shelf.

Picture your employees freed up from mundane cleaning and stocking tasks now with more free time to offer personalized experiences to customers.

Envision a partnership with a fellow retailer that offers a pop-up, store-within-in-a-store experience for a customer whose data shows that they love both brands.

The digitization of brick and mortar and ecommerce is upon us. Retailers are setting out to curate an omnichannel customer journey through automation, machine learning, and personalization at scale. They are deepening their understanding of customers and delivering real-time and evolving experiences for them.

Brands that offer the right mix of experiences and buying environments for customers will develop the ideal dynamic between their brand and the customer. This 360-degree focus will only grow in the coming year as the tools available to retailers evolve at a rapid clip.

 

The Future Of Retail: Adapt or Perish

While the future of brick and mortar retail is unclear, retailers are responding in big ways.

They’re embracing new technologies and integrating them into their business models. From AI and mass-customized loyalty programs to store integrations and repurposed physical locations, retailers are taking on the big job of digital transformation.

Retailers are embracing an omnichannel approach and reshaping the future of brick and mortar retail—one data-driven customer experience at a time. 

 

Contributed by Alan Finlay, co-founder of Boomtown, a company that helps organizations reduce the complexity of selling, activating, and servicing technology products used by real world businesses. Alan is passionate about helping Boomtown’s partners achieve value from its platform and spends his time across marketing, customer success, and product. When he’s not working, he can be found kiteboarding or hanging out with his wife and son in San Francisco.

 

 

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