By Adam Pryor
In the fast-paced digital age, it is often claimed that brick and mortar retail is on the brink of extinction. However, a closer look at the data reveals a different story. Contrary to popular belief, physical stores continue to hold a crucial place in the retail market. In this article, we will delve into the statistics and examples that highlight the enduring importance of brick and mortar retail, examining how companies have successfully adapted and thrived in the face of changing consumer behaviors and online competition. We will also be leaning on the expertise of Brea’s very own Director of Community Development, Jason Killebrew, for his insights on how companies can adapt to the changing retail landscape.
We all know the advantages that e-commerce offers like convenience and a vast array of products, but it lacks the sensory and immersive experiences that physical stores can provide. According to a study published in the Journal of Strategic Marketing, “Future of brick and mortar retailing: how will it survive and thrive,” customers value the ability to touch, feel, and try products before making a purchase. In fact, 68% of consumers prefer shopping in physical stores because of the tactile experience they offer. This hands-on approach fosters customer loyalty and builds lasting brand connections which brick and mortar stores can use to generate repeat customers and build a rapport with their local communities further strengthening their own bottom line. This sentiment was echoed by Jason Killebrew, Director of Community Development: “Although e-commerce creates a more convenient shopping experience for consumers, it lacks the human interaction and knowledge of the product that is the core of brick and mortar retail existence.” Furthermore, according to a report by Small Business Trends, 90% of retail sales still occur in physical stores, demonstrating the continued significance of brick and mortar retail in driving consumer spending. Apple is a prime example of a company that has embraced the power of in-store experiences. Their sleek and interactive stores allow customers to engage with cutting-edge technology, providing a unique opportunity to explore and test products firsthand. It can be pictured as an interactive billboard of sorts because the space itself is advertising the products through the window of the store, but potential customers can go inside and check any products that may have caught their eye.
Another strong suit for brick and mortar retail is borne out in a report from Accenture titled, “Members of Customer Loyalty Programs Generate Significantly More Revenue for Retailers Than Non-Members”. It highlights the significant revenue generated by customer loyalty programs. Members of such programs contribute more to retailers’ bottom lines than non-members. This demonstrates the importance of building strong relationships with customers, which brick and mortar stores are well-equipped to do. In-person interactions, personalized service, and expert guidance offered by store associates create trust and loyalty. This is something that Nordstrom, for example, has done very well and has become renowned for its exceptional customer service. Their knowledgeable and attentive staff provide personalized recommendations, making customers feel valued and understood. This personal touch fosters a sense of loyalty that cannot be replicated in online transactions. Moreover, the Small Business Trends report reveals that 64% of consumers believe the personalized customer service they receive in physical stores is the primary reason they continue to shop there. The power of personalized experiences, coupled with brand loyalty generated by the use of loyalty programs can be a powerful tool for brick and mortar retailers. This does not just account for the older generations, however. In fact, according to this same analysis, 81% of Generation Z prefer to shop in-store as a means to escape the digital world and discover new products. The same survey found that 80% of retail shoppers are more likely to buy in-store when the item has a higher price, while 54% say they visit a brick-and-mortar store to check a product’s quality, and 46% say they prefer shopping in-store for instant ownership. So it seems that brick and mortar is at a competative advantage with e-commerce when it comes to customer experience and consumers seem to value that very much. “The advantage that brick and mortar has over e-commerce is the human intyereactions and the ability to feel the products you’re browsing. E-commerce doesn’t generate a lot of consumer confidence,” said Jason Killebrew.
The points presented so far are not supposed to create a binary choice between e-commerce and brick and mortar. In fact, many consumers are blending the two together and companies are starting to take notice of that. The blending of online and offline shopping experiences has given rise to the concept of omnichannel retail. To put it simply, omnichannel retail is the mix between online shopping tools and in-person, shopping experiences. The best example of this would be ordering a pizza. You can do it online, over the phone, or in-person. You can have it delivered, you can pick it up and take it home, or you can eat it in the store. Combining these different methods leads to omnichannel retail. The study published in the Journal for Strategic Marketing highlights that 77% of consumers browse products online before making a purchase in-store. This showcases the interconnectedness of online and physical retail spaces, emphasizing the need for a cohesive and integrated approach. Additionally, the report reveals that 80% of consumers who search for a product locally on their smartphones end up visiting a store within a day. This demonstrates the symbiotic relationship between online research and in-store visits. Target is a company which has a robust brick and mortar operation but has successfully embraced the omnichannel model by offering options such as in-store pickup for online orders, using digital platforms to provide personalized recommendations based on customer preferences, and in-store returns on items purchased in their online store. This seamless integration of online and offline experiences creates a convenient and efficient shopping journey.
Examining the fate of companies that failed to adapt to the changing retail landscape offers valuable insights. One notable example is the decline of Sears, once a dominant force in the industry. Sears failed to innovate and adapt to the digital era, leading to a significant decline in its market share and eventual bankruptcy. This serves as a cautionary tale for businesses that ignore shifting consumer preferences and the importance of embracing new technologies and strategies. In contrast, companies like Ralph’s have successfully navigated the evolving retail landscape by investing in technology, enhancing customer experiences, and implementing omnichannel strategies. These adaptations have allowed Ralph’s to remain competitive in an increasingly digital world.
Despite the proliferation of e-commerce, brick and mortar retail continues to thrive by offering unparalleled in-store experiences, building strong customer relationships, and embracing omnichannel strategies. The statistics and examples presented in this article illustrate the enduring importance of physical stores and the success stories of companies that have effectively adapted to the changing retail landscape. As the retail industry continues to evolve, it is clear that brick and mortar stores are not dying; they are transforming. By understanding the desires and preferences of today’s consumers, leveraging technology, and creating seamless experiences across multiple channels, businesses can ensure their longevity and continue to play a vital role in the ever-changing world of retail. As Jason Killebrew said at the end of our interview, “Shopping isn’t just shopping. It’s not just about going to buy something from someone. It’s a sense of place. An opportunity to go out and experience life while also getting some retail therapy done in the process. Everybody wins when brick and mortar retail wins.”