What Can Save Brick and Mortar?

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle got me to thinking again about why most traditional retailers are having so much trouble these days. Still. I have written before on brick and mortar suicide (just search the blog on brick and mortar), but the trend continues some of which is self-inflicted and some as shoppers and the world changes.

But what can traditional retailers do to survive?

Most advice has two components: First and most obviously, blend online and physical as Walmart has done reasonably well. The key advantage, at least today, is that if the customer wants it “now” they can order it and pay for it online and then go to the store and pick it up. Walmart, Target and others do that well. Others could too and that certainly provides two values for the retailer:

  1. They get sales the online only stores like Amazon can’t get.
  2. They can entice the customer to shop their website more often.

All they have to do to make this business model work is create a website with a great customer experience (should not be that tough today) and make sure they can execute in-store for online orders. Again, should not be that tough.

However, there is one other area that most stores are not only failing in, but going backwards: That is in-store customer experience. Shopping for many used to be fun. Most retailers have killed that. Macy’s is in a death spiral in my opinion because, among other things, they destroyed their in-store experience.

Williams Sonoma still makes shopping in their stores an experience. Surprise (not) their in-store and online sales are both strong. Meanwhile retailers such as Sears, Penny’s and soon to be Macy’s are cutting “costs” that make shopping in-store an experience worth having. Destroy that and why should anyone wonder why ‘nobody’ does it anymore?

What does the brick and mortar business model offer that online can’t? Instant delivery and shopping experience. If you don’t provide either of those then why are you surprised when sales drop?


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