The blue and yellow Blockbuster logo once was as familiar a site as the green and white of the Starbucks emblem today seen across the country. Its disappearance is both a reflection of progress and a reminder of the impact the Internet has had on brick and mortar retailers.
At its peak, Blockbuster had nearly 9,000 stores. As the online video streaming and entertainment industry grew increasingly sophisticated, the need for physical stores diminished. The company shuttered the doors of their last owned and operated locations by the end of 2013.
While this phenomenon certainly holds the possibility of repeating itself with other retail sectors, the probability of an online-only economy is about as likely as a tornado composed of sharks. The brick-and-mortar store still plays a very important role in the ecosystem for many retail verticals, where consumers still need (and want) to talk to an expert and touch and feel merchandise to gain confidence to buy.
Finding the Perfect Balance
What is evident, especially this year, is that many retailers are still working to find that balance between “cyber and cement.” Gap closed more than 200 stores while, in contrast, e-commerce brands such as Warby Parker, ModCloth, Birchbox, and even Amazon have invested in opening physical stores to complement their online experience.
The 2015 holiday season will see an interesting line up of uncommitted retail relationships – or pop-up shops. This month, in the aftermath of the company’s split from Sears, iconic brand Land’s End announced the opening of temporary holiday stores in New York and Boston. Electric car maker Tesla touted more opportunities for test drives with the opening of pop-up shops in more than two dozen U.S. cities. Mattel-owned American Girl announced the temporary expansion of their retail footprint in selected U.S. cities until January, and Rhone, a men’s activewear company founded in 2013, opened its first “foray” into brick and mortar with a holiday pop-up shop in New York’s SoHo neighborhood.
So, why are so many brands jumping on the bandwagon and opening new brick-and-mortar stores? To the passive viewer, this shift seems counterintuitive to consumers’ increasing preference for online shopping. However, brands are discovering that while customers turn to the internet to browse and research, they want the best of both worlds. Customers want the hands-on experience only physical stores can provide – the value of a showroom, physical merchandise to touch, feel and try-on, knowledgeable salespeople, and immediately available inventory – but, that’s all in addition to the convenience of online.
What is the message for retailers in search of that perfect balance between cyber and cement? It’s acknowledging that the future of retail is not a one-size-fits-all approach. With every industry – from furniture and electronics to books and apparel – come different customer expectations.
The solution is building an omnichannel approach that meets the customer wherever and however they shop and making the experience seamless. The customer should have the flexibility to start shopping on a mobile device, head to a store to see a product in person or shop around before making the final purchase from a desktop. As such, retailers need to accommodate that progression – or risk having that customer deviate off that (albeit indirect) path to purchase. Said simply, once retailers make visiting a store as personalized, convenient and efficient as shopping online, shoppers will have the best of both worlds.
Carl Prindle is President CEO of Blueport Commerce