Is the physical store in danger of disappearing, and will online shopping be the demise of our communities? Will our small towns and villages end up to be deserted and barren wastelands with a preponderance of liquor outlets and $2 shops – and what can we do about it?
Retail appears to be cyclic – there is a massive change around every forty years or so in the way we shop – and from what we are reading in the media, it would appear that we are in the centre of a major revolution in shopping right now. More than a hundred years ago retail was no more than the local general store, which evolved into the department store around the mid to late nineteenth century, and into the 1920s this was the most popular way to shop. Think of Selfridges, and the boom time for Harrods.
Around the 1960s, the department store became the anchor retailer for the newly invented shopping malls. Fully enclosed, and often including food courts and movie theatres, they were the ‘on trend’ place for the young to meet their friends. Shopping suddenly became less of a chore, and more of a pastime.
Small changes happened to the mall over time, with one of the most significant being the addition of outlet stores. What started off as an idea for selling leftover and damaged stock changed into an opportunity to sell excess branded product at much lower prices, and the concept of the Discount Store was born. Although hugely successful, this was almost the death knell for full price stores – introducing the general public to the idea that there was a choice for them and they didn’t have to pay full retail for everything.
So, where to next – what is going to be the next ‘big thing’ in retail? Are there too many shops? Will some close? Who will survive? The first answer that comes to us is that the internet is the future of retail – and that is probably the last thing that will happen. We can see that already with some of the biggest players in the e-commerce business world opening bricks and mortar stores – Amazon being one of the first. The biggest change we see here is the offering of an ‘experience,’ and this is what will cement the future of the successful retailer. Customer engagement is key – the only way that a customer can justify the time and money it costs to make a visit to a store is by giving them an experience they will not forget.
Consumer preferences tell us that our customers want smaller more boutique type shops, they want efficiency and specialisation and a wonderful experience. Shoppers today can be overwhelmed by choice, and smaller can be better – having a carefully curated range as opposed to every different permutation and alternative will win over more customers. They want the best and most relevant items available for their requirements on any particular day, and these items need to be delivered using their preferred method, whether that be in a physical store, or online.
Retail will never be a thing of the past while there are still women left in the world – a day out with the girls, coffee and cake, and a browse through the racks at a favourite frock shop is always going to be a great way to spend a few hours. The key to being a successful retailer will be creating an exciting and alluring instore experience, which can be reinforced with online efficiency to make the whole process fun and entertaining. The greatest likelihood is that retail in the future is going to be a seamless integration of both retail and online shopping – old and tired stores staffed with disinterested and apathetic employees will not survive .