Are brick and mortar retailers a thing of the past?

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

21 December 2010

Not immediately, but serious pain is coming

As we head into the holiday weekend, data shows that consumers are shopping online more and more with a reported jump of 12% in online sales already. With that in mind, it begs the question: Will brick and mortar retailers become extinct?

The answer is yes, although it will take many years and local brick and mortar retailers will suffer more than the large ones who already have a expansive presence online.

“Some brick and mortar retailers find ways to battle online retailing by putting up as many locations as they can in an attempt to offer immediate instead of next day, but that doesn’t help them in holiday shopping not to mention the costly investment.”

There are a handful of reasons why brick and mortar retailers who depend on foot traffic should worried, but here are two new ones:

  • It’s becoming easier for shoppers to buy online. Retailers, as Forbes has reported, have drastically cut the major impediment to buying online – the cost of shipping – by either offering free shipping or shipping at greatly discounted cost.
  • Technology has allowed shoppers to find the best deals online with apps that search the web for the lowest price on just about any product.

brick and mortar retailersSome brick and mortar retailers find ways to battle online retailing (called, e-tailing in the biz) by putting up as many locations as they can in an attempt to offer immediate instead of next day, but that doesn’t help them in holiday shopping not to mention the costly investment.

It would be easy to say this shift is the way of the world – wonder what our cities will look like then? – and mention that online shopping more accurately reflects the changing consumer who prefers quick & easy and control.

Those explanations are correct, but the brick and mortar retailers have themselves to blame. We, at Stealing Share, have often written about failure of most retailers to build a brand that creates preference, and some retailers we’ve worked with have been listening.

Most, however, just copy each other and battle on location, price and convenience. When those are the battlegrounds, online is guaranteed to win.

But it’s a reminder that a brand’s power is that it overcomes those market forces. Because the best brands are so emotional – and operate on a deeper, more resonant plane than tactical elements such as price and convenience – it doesn’t matter to consumers how they navigate the logistics.

It only matters “Why?” (Because it is a reflection of “me.” I am powerless to reject it.)

Until brick and mortar retailers both large and small wake up to that fact, they will find themselves continually fighting over the same ground and always fighting the same technological and operational battles – without market share changing a lick.

See more posts in the following related categories: brick and mortar retailers e-tailing Holiday shopping Retail brands

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