Future of Retail: Will Brick & Mortar Be Here to Stay?

Angela Barlow

12.09.2020

We do a lot of things online today. We can buy groceries, clothing, and other miscellaneous goods, all from the convenience of our couch.

This begs the question: is retail dying? Will brick & mortar stores be things of the past in the not too distant future?

The short answer: no, definitely not. But how come? What gives actual physical store locations such immense staying power? Why do people still go to them as opposed to the alternative of making their purchases from home?

Let’s break it down.

Convenience Goes Both Ways

The definitive argument for why online will take over brick & mortar is because of the convenience it provides. Not only can you find just about anything you need online, but you can now receive your online purchases in as little as a few hours, depending on where you live. Sounds pretty nice, right?

While the speed of delivery is nice, online shopping does have its drawbacks. Who among us has not been excited to get a new jacket or shoes in the mail, only to find that the sizing isn’t right. Returning items can be a pain, and there is always the risk of it not making it back to the online retailer—or they may have strict return policies. In addition, the retailer usually has requirements where they must receive your returned item before they send you another size.

Anyone who has ordered groceries online—specifically produce—has probably received some items that weren’t exactly the ones you’d pick if you were at the store yourself.

At an actual store, you don’t have to worry about any of these issues. While you do have to leave your house to run your errands or go shopping, getting to try-on or inspect groceries before purchasing them can save you time and effort down the road. This is especially important if you’re making a big purchase and want to be sure that you made a wise investment.

As you can see, the convenience factor isn’t as black and white as some make it out to be. Both shopping online and in-person have their own unique benefits.

Curbside Pick-Up Has Proven its Worth

While the percentage of curbside pickups has boomed during COVID, this type of transaction has actually been on the rise for quite some time. Charlie O’Shea, a retail analyst with Moody’s, states in this Retail Dive article that while the pre-COVID curbside pickup numbers weren’t especially large, “…those that try it (curbside pick-up), like it, and that was predating the pandemic.”

While yes, we are at the point where some same-day delivery services out there, which many folks will continue to take full advantage of. However, going back to convenience, curbside allows you to bypass any potential shipping wait time. Curbside purchases can also be returned easier, as you simply have to drive back to the store. Whereas returns online can take days and even weeks to get reimbursed. 

Curbside pick-up is another reason why having an actual physical store location can prove quite convenient for shoppers. 

Branding and Store Experience

A nice website can go a long way towards building up a strong brand image and a company’s overall branding. That being said, it pales in comparison to the shopping experiences of being in an actual retail store. While some stores may be a little more cut and dry, others go above and beyond to create an atmosphere and unique feel to their retail locations.

Perhaps the two best examples of this are Nike and Apple.

Nike loves to utilize cutting-edge technology to create an immersive and unforgettable shopping experience. For example, take a look at this augmented reality display at a Nike store in Paris. The technology allows customers to customize their shoes in real-time. Nike is known for going above and beyond with their brick and mortar locations, and this is just one of the many examples.

Apple is also well-known for its retail stores. In fact, Apple has come out and said that one of the goals of their stores is to create a “town hall” of sorts, where people can receive the best advice on products and know that they are speaking with subject matter experts.

In addition, they employ their “A.P.P.L.E.” philosophy when interacting with customers.

  • A: Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome
  • P: Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs
  • P: Present a solution for the customer to take home today
  • L: Listen for and resolve issues or concerns
  • E: End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return

This also ties directly back to ensuring you’re making the right decision when making a big purchase. At an Apple store, they want to help you make the best choice based on your needs and budget.

COVID and Retail: What It Means

While COVID has temporarily disrupted the brick & mortar industry, many companies have found ways to reopen while implementing safety precautions. For example, using UV-Clean solutions for their point of sales systems or reducing the capacity and enforcing a mask rule. Or utilizing Safe to Pay handles for curbside pick-ups and drive-thrus. 

During this time, brands have been forced to adapt and invest more in their online presence to ensure they are still getting in front of their audience. But, retail stores will still be around for the foreseeable future and are eagerly awaiting their customers back once the pandemic has subsided.

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