BrainTrust Query: Is Retail Quietly Trending Away From Bricks and Mortar?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from ScreenPlay InterActive’s blog.
Back in the late ’90s when e-commerce was coming to the fore, a fear pervaded among many retailers that they might be torpedoed by the new phenomenon of online shopping.
Over time, retailers relaxed and joined the fray in developing their own true web presences. They stood up to competition from mom and pops and Amazon and other big discounters, so it seemed that the panic was over and that they didn’t have to worry about closing stores due to internet competition.
Now, retail is at another inflection point. Amazon is head and shoulders above all other internet-only competitors, producing its own line of products and services, buying Kiva Systems, and reportedly on track to have nearly 70 warehouse locations in the near future. In addition, the early volleys of tablet wars have begun with an immediate hammer blow to traditional print publishing/advertising and a new era of rich media enabled "catalog shopping" on the horizon.
Add to that the ceaseless growth of smartphones and a youth culture that has an always-on wireless connectivity psyche embedded deep in its soul and, once again, bricks and mortar retail is under pressure. This time though, there’s more than perception behind the changing merchandising topography. This time, there’s less novelty and more early adoption and perceived demand from consumers that are now comfortable with technology as both a lifestyle and beneficial shopping tool.
There’s no immediate threat, but over time — possibly a fair amount of time — traditional retail shopping will be permanently affected. It may be largely innocuous, like a more intelligent store environment enabled by digital signage, electronic wallets, and retail or brand based apps. Or, it may be the first, real, wholesale change to shopping habits since the emergence of the department store or suburban mall. It’s quite possible that retail stores will more and more become, in effect, catalog showrooms, customer pick-up windows, and return desks — scenarios they cannot financially sustain.
Clearly there’s an experience to in-store shopping that can never be replicated by digital shopping. Retail shops are a destination, an escape, a place to touch and feel, a place to be seen by and interact with others, and they offer an immediacy that even young shoppers enjoy. But it’s quite possible that, in time, store footprints will decrease, thin staffs and self-service becomes rampant, and that a number of retailers that are very sound businesses today, will vanish.
Change doesn’t always come quickly or painlessly, but in our society, it comes.
Discussion Questions: Do you agree that retail is quietly trending away from bricks & mortar? How do you see mobile and technologically enabled shoppers affecting retailers in unexpected ways?