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3 Reasons Online Shopping Won’t Kill Brick ‘n Mortar

Why in-store shopping might actually be the future of retail.

It’s all the buzz these days. Watch your social feed on Twitter or LinkedIn and you’ll see it eventually.  Headlines foretelling the rise of internet shopping through use of mobile devices. These conversations often predict grim futures for traditional brick-and-mortar retail shops which has many retailers spiraling into “strategy panic” as they frantically consider their next moves.

We’ve even participated in this conversation here on the Bloom blog with recent articles like Are tablet shoppers killing in-store shopping? and 4 Trends Reshaping China’s Retail Sector. But take a look beyond your laptop and you’ll see that brick-and-mortar shopping hasn’t disappeared. Far from it. In some ways, it’s thriving.

Personally, I love shopping online. I can find all the latest models of just about anything, quickly. I love having goods shipped to my front door while I relax with cool AC and a Starbucks. Forget long scooter rides in traffic, stuck under the hot sun in the middle of summer. But wait…I could really use a new pair of jeans…okay, I’ll take a look online, but will I make a purchase? Probably not. Clothes online always look great on the model, but come on…. it could be another story once they arrive. I think I’ll be making that scooter trip after all.

Online shopping brings us consumers “convenience” as the biggest attraction point, but there’s more to shopping then convenience. Here’s 3 Reasons that the future for brick-and-mortar retail shops might not be as grim as some think it is.

1 - They've got the touch
We all love to touch things. It starts when we’re kids and follows us into adulthood. Nobody wants to look at a new iPod Touch behind glass. We want to pick it up and touch it, literally. Glass cases may have disappeared from Apple stores long ago, but new “glass cases” are re-emerging as laptop and smartphones. They end up acting as barriers between consumers and products.

When it comes to things like personal apparel, it’s hard to have confidence in goods without physical touch. We need to feel the material of the clothes, see the color and style, and try it on.  That’s why some apparel retailers that originally started out only online have moved to open traditional retail outlets as well.  Online men’s clothes shop, Bonobos, is a good example of this. Founder, Andy Dunn, the chief executive, who fundamentally believes “all men hate shopping”, eventually started opening physical stores in New York as customer demand for “physical presents” emerged. You can read the New York Times report here.

Threadless, another online retailer famous for their crowd-surfing designed t-shirts is another good example. The company eventually responded to consumer demand by opening multiple physical locations in the Chicago area where the company was founded.

2 - Highly experienced
It’s not just about the touch. Its about the way a physical location “feels” as well. “Brick ’n Mortar” stores provide more experience from aspects other than just the merchandise itself. Often times, people treat shopping as a leisure activity, social event, happy hour after work, or even a simple escape from reality. Yourself on a mini vacation.

Just like when we go out dining, we sometimes enjoy the process and atmosphere more than the food itself. Apparel shopping definitely involves lots of emotional process from searching for style and color, trying new things, essentially for “free”. Shopping experiences in-store don’t cost a dime, and yet they ultimately impact consumer’s purchase decisions.

3 - They've got those toys too
What some people miss is that, although new technology is changing consumers purchasing patterns, many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t running from it, in fact they’re running toward it. Retailers are finding new ways to use technology to their advantage by using it to enhancing the physical shopping experience. The ability to combine both online and in-store experiences is something of an advantage that online-only retailers don’t have.

It’s called “omni-channel retailing” which integrates different approaches to reach customers through all kinds of channels and devices. It explores the products and creates touch points with mobile apps, QR codes, social network promotions, online catalogs, direct email, traditional commercials, kiosks, and in-store sales. It’s a trendy new marketing strategy for retailers.

A good example is Hointer, a Seattle based start-up that leverages new technologies and mobile devices to create a very “techy” show room for jeans. Using their in-store app on your phone you can browse styles, have items brought directly to you, book fitting rooms, and make purchases that are delivered directly to your home.

All this tech lets them provide the kind of service you could never get online, with the simplicity, speed and low pricing of online. You can watch this video from GeekWire to show how it works. Pretty cool huh?

While the hype of online shopping continues to scare some retailers, others have been finding new ways to use this technology to their advantage. Who knows, traditional brick-and-mortar retail shops might actually be the future of online shopping.

By Sam Ho 
SVP, Data Intelligence

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