How Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Survive the E-Commerce Revolution

How Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Survive the E-Commerce Revolution

By Justin Schaefer

Online shopping has changed brick-and-mortar stores, perhaps for good. As e-commerce takes market share, many companies are closing their stores. In 2015, retail department stores accounted for 1.9% of market share, down from 3.6% in 2005, according to the Business Insider. While there are strategies such as ship-from-store and re-purposing store space for other enterprises, it seems like there are really only two things that can keep a business afloat in this era of digital shopping: time and experience.

The Comfort of Convenience Stores:

My friends buy all their groceries online; everything from salt to string-beans. They choose their purchases online, their groceries arrive on their doorstep and their bank accounts are debited. There is nary a human interaction to be had. They love it.

However, we came across one of the biggest limitations of e-commerce the other day when we ran out of ketchup at a cook-out: you can’t order more ketchup and get it immediately. We had to go to the store, and we came back with ketchup in less than 20 minutes. And that’s the thing: the store HAS to be there to live the way we do today. While the digital marketplace can offer us many things on-demand, it cannot offer us physical goods. For that, you still need to go to the closest vendor and purchase it outright.

It is almost reassuring to know that the store is there, ready to sell us whatever we need at a moment’s notice. And, this is what will keep grocery and convenience stores in business as time goes on. The logistics of managing and stocking a store that caters only to the immediate, even emergency, needs of shoppers may be difficult. It remains to be seen if they can make a business model that works. No matter what, though, we will always need a place to go to get supplies if we run out of consumables.

Never fear, though. Technology finds a way, as we know at PreScouter, where we help companies with R&D by connecting them to emerging technologies and innovative ideas. There are several developments taking place to make on-demand physical purchases near-instant. It should come as no surprise that Amazon is leading the way with AmazonNow, a service that will deliver your purchase in two hours or less. This service is already available in many areas to AmazonPrime members. Wait times are expected to decrease even more once Amazon’s drone fleet is up and running.

You don’t need a cowbell, you need more cowbells!

It used to be that if you wanted to get something, you had to go somewhere. Going somewhere to ‘get something’ is outmoded. Going somewhere to ‘do something’ is now. It’s the difference between ‘getting some food’ and ‘going to dinner.’ No longer are we slaves to the location of food, forced to travel to get our burger or taco. Those things can be delivered to us. However, if you want to wallow in camaraderie and watch the game with fellow fans while enjoying your 100% Angus mesquite-grilled white cheddar and spring greens burger done medium-rare on a ciabatta bun, with seasoned cauliflower curly fries, you probably have to go somewhere. Or, if you are looking for a romantic, dimly lit intimate space for dinner, and putting a sheet over your stand-lamp, sitting on your futon and asking the kids to be quiet isn’t going to work for your significant other, then you MUST (I was reminded by my wife) go out to a nice restaurant.

These are examples of experiential consumerism. You are not buying a burger. You are not buying dinner. You are buying an experience. Food is only one example, though. Retailers must take ambiance to heart no matter what they are selling. It is hardly unimaginable that huge spaces lit by cold fluorescent lights are becoming less popular. Why go somewhere unpleasant to get something you can get at home?

These days, there must be a uniqueness to any shopping experience. There must be a lure to get the consumer away from their digital device to interact with your store. As the title of this section suggests, if you want customers to come to your store, your store has to have something special to draw them. If someone asked me if I want to hear some cowbell, the answer will almost always be a resounding ‘No.’ However, when Christopher Walken says he needs “more cowbell!” in that famous Saturday Night Live skit, I can’t help but think ‘yeah, we all need more cowbell!’ That personality is not what is going to sell your product; it is what will get shoppers to your store. It’s up to you to provide the cowbells.

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