In 2017, do we still need physical retail stores, especially in a digital age when it consistently saves time and energy to order online? How often do you find yourself going to Walgreens hauling 12 rolls of toilet paper when you could be placing an Amazon Prime order in the comfort of your bed and at a cheaper price? On a surface level, it seems like the effort of shopping in-store is considerably higher than that of shopping online.
The announced closures of 100 full-line Macy’s department stores — one of the largest department store chains in the United States — and the impending liquidation of American Apparel provide just a few examples of how physical stores are faring in this digital age.
Seeing as major retail companies are falling into economic hardship and closing down many of their physical locations, one wonders if the era of the brick-and-mortar storefront has come to an end.
But brick-and-mortar is not dead — it is revolutionizing itself to serve a different function. One example is Sonos, a consumer electronics company that prides itself on its high-quality speakers, which has its flagship store in Soho, housing three well-equipped listening rooms. They allow consumers to experience sound in a setting that resembles one’s home, and not the average retail store. The rooms were designed to be covered in sheetrock and custom-beveled glass to ensure they are both soundproof and acoustically perfect. The work Sonos is doing with its store is exactly what other retail stores are aiming for now. Retail stores in general are shifting their focus to provide a signature customer experience in their stores, where they previously focused on distributing and selling products.
Another example is Apple, whose mall locations are always crowded due to their exceptional in-store experience – Apple provides a unique experience for customers. Customers don’t necessarily have to buy anything when they enter an Apple store. Instead, visitors can test products, discuss questions and concerns with sales associates and learn more about popular Apple products. Also, Eataly, the biggest Italian marketplace in the United States, performs well in providing its clients with a tailored, creative experience. Customers can eat in a variety of restaurants, shop for retail items and learn to cook all in one place.
And according to a 2015 PwC study, shoppers still rely on physical locations to make major final purchases. It showed that 60 percent of consumers shop in-store to receive a product immediately, while 61 percent shop in-store, because they want to see the items in person and try them on. Because of these key factors of in-store shopping, any solution that results in the complete elimination of retail stores should offer a chance to inspect the product. It is true that the retail industry is in crisis, but it can implement changes. Retailers need to know their customers to be successful. The best way to achieve this feat is to leverage technology into the in-store customer experience and integrate online and offline buying channels.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 6 print edition. Email Chloe Tran at [email protected]