I Don’t Think Retail Stores Are Going Anywhere

photo from Corbis.com

photo from Corbis.com

Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think physical “brick and mortar” (as the cliché goes) stores are going anywhere. Though, with a degree of good reason that does seem to be the word going around when having casual conversations about retail, or perusing the retail industry news sites. After all, online is prevalent, new and convenient. Stores can be a messy ordeal, limiting and inconvenient.

I recently met with several independent retailers and had some really nice conversations. Though one of the merchants I met had mentioned that they thought retailing wasn’t what it used to be like; that online retailers were going to put them all out of business. They were just waiting for retirement, then they’d close up their shop. As a retail designer, whose livelihood sort of depends on this sort of thing, I didn’t really know what to say. I mean after all, I may be biased. But frankly, in the scope of the daily tasks for my life’s work I don’t get to hung up on the online vs. brick-n-mortar battle.

So I’ve been thinking about it.

First of all, the economy tanking didn’t leave too many sectors untouched and certainly retail took a hit, regardless of where consumers were buying their goods. On the other side of the recession no one would argue the world is a different place.

Here we have online retailing presumably booming and old-fashioned stores on their supposed deathbed. Here are my thoughts:

It Depends On What You’re Shopping For

When I need a water filter, or rare commodity such as food safe bins for storing honey frames, yes I shop online. I need these items at the lowest price and I don’t have time to hunt all over Northeast Ohio for them. But if I, or anyone for that matter hopefully, needs something unique, immediately or something that tangibly needs to be evaluated, it’s hard to beat a traditional store. Especially if I want it today. On any given weekend I will goto Lowe’s seemingly fifteen times. There are customers who will not wait for Amazon to deliver a peach tree, car battery or children’s book. And of course there are those that will wait. Point is, for everything you can wait on, I’ll need today, and vice versa.

Some People Still Like To Shop

I love shopping. I don’t know if it’s because of my job or my job is a result of that love. I enjoy going to the store, hunting…pecking…talking to merchants, discovering and bring one or many things home with me. I like feeling special in well done store environments. I like spending time with my family in the car, going to the store and having a shared experience I can’t get whipping out my credit card and typing on my Apple keyboard at home. I think that people who like to get out in the world and interact with humans aren’t limited to just one demographic. There may not be as many as there used to be, but they still have a lot of buying power.

People Want Authenticity

I believe there is a large enough group of shoppers that, if they are going to spend money, they value the story behind what they are buying. They want to tangibly hold it, learn about it and buy it in person. Whether it’s locally grown food, unique crafted items, or an expensive handbag. Online has it’s limitations and doesn’t check off all of our emotional and primeval needs as humans.

Keep in mind, I do believe the marketplace is changing, so merchants need to adjust as well. But also remember, despite the adversity, there still are a lot of people in this world; you only need a small percentage to buy your goods or services to flourish.

So what to do?

Determine Why You Exist

I rhetorically ask this of clients all the time: why do you exist? Take the example of the shop owner who thinks brick and mortar is done for. Of course it is, unless you change the game in your favor. Looking around, why would anyone get in their car or hop a train to come here and buy this stuff? Why do you exist? Differentiate your product and your customer experience based on what sets you apart. Otherwise I’ll just go on Amazon or Etsy, click, click and wait for the UPS guy to ring the bell.

Communicate Your Special-ness To Guests

If your store looks the same as it always has: slat wall, a handful of display cases, prescribed layouts, random crap everywhere, then I have little incentive to once again travel all the way out to your place. If guests have to deal with down-trodden associates, poor customer service and a maddening shopping experience then yes, retail stores are dead. Guests are savvy and they don’t have a lot of money, give them reasons to get butterflies when they visit your store. Show them why your place is the only place to get that item or service.

Be Consistent In Everything You Do

I’m a strong believer that consistency can do much of the heavy lifting for you, so you can get back to keeping an eye on the big picture. So often merchants fuss over the details and never think about the big picture. Figure out what makes you special and make sure that drives everything you do. Every touch point guests have with your stores should either overtly or subconsciously connect them to you: from the parking lot, to the merchandising, to customer service to, get this, your online store or experience (yes you should have one of those too by the way). Consistent, consistent, consistent. Heck if I walk into the bathroom at your store it should be on brand with your philosophy.

Evolve, Adapt, Engage….Keep Working At It

It’s not an easy job (that’s where we can help you by the way, so you don’t get stressed out). You have to determine what sets you apart, pay attention to the detail, execute, then guess what? Stay with it. Listen to guests, do your homework, have a short and long-term goals, constantly work at it. Do not, please do not just set up a bunch of stuff on slat wall and old mannequins waiting for the door to open. Don’t cram a bunch of stuff in your store, put it all on sale and scratch your head. Guess where I can find a bunch of stuff crammed into a “store” on sale? Online. Is that why you exist?

Every retailer is different, but not every retailer acts differently enough to keep guests engaged and wanting to come back.

Brink and mortar stores aren’t all going away. But you do have to up your game if you’re going to be among those that flourish.

Best of luck to you.

I for one can’t wait to go shopping.

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a retail consultancy focused on helping independent retailers and brands connect with guests at retail. Chris has over 17 years experience as a designer, manager and consultant. His solutions can be found in over 30,000 retail doors from the largest chains down to one off displays in single stores. When he’s not working you may find him lost, on purpose, in a book store: a brick and mortar he hopes never goes away.

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