Brick and mortar stores are the tangible manifestation of what human beings want, need and aspire to. Dramatic? A little bit. But this is the very reason why they have survived despite the expansion of online retail. They offer interactivity and experiences which online stores in a virtual space can only replicate to a limited extent. The simple “Welcome, how’s it going?” of a smiling sales rep in store still trumps the automated message on a screen. To use the example of clothing retail; brick and mortar stores offer the possibility to try the product before purchase, ask any questions before and after sale with a quick in-person response to counter it. There is also the certainty that the quality of whatever you see and try in front of you is the reality of the product. Online retail can be a bargain as what appears on the screen is not a guaranteed replica of what will be delivered to your doorstep. This added level of certainty is one of the reasons why brick and mortar stores are here to stay. Furthermore, the Millennials and Generation Z who have been experiencing a wave of digital fatigue prize brick and mortar stores over the online retail channels they have grown up with. A form of nostalgic comfort in a way. (This blog is in no way an ode to brick and mortar stores because I recognise that they are the birther and driver of capitalism as we know it but in their different iterations, they have for the most part prized in-person customer service- something which has worked really well. They falter however in their stagnation. They can be formulaic and for lack of a better word, boring.)
Their online counterparts
Online retail sites such as Amazon and eBay have been widely successful in being one-stop shops for buyers on the go. They have offered variety in price especially through their promotion of used goods. They have, in the case of Amazon at least, still sought out brick and mortar expansion. (Amazon is considering expanding its Amazon Go stores to at least six by the end of 2018). The reason being that brick and mortar stores garner foot traffic and an in-person visibility which can introduce a company to a diversity of customers. Therefore, I believe that the move into brick and mortar is an evolution for them- offering them the chance to be tangible, to increase their brand personality and show more of their corporate culture which for the most part has been veiled behind screens.
The George Orwell 1984-like design of the Amazon Go store with all the surveillance cameras however, needs to be improved by creating a more personable environment through the addition of human customer reps for example. Making their physical store a direct replica of the online space is faulty- I said it before and I will say it again human interactivity is key. Which leads me to the question of the future. I shall sound like a utopian and say that the best option going forward is to have a balanced combination of the two (online and brick-mortar) and I see this balance through pop up stores. People want the fast, innovative, directness of online retail with the in-person, nostalgic comfort of brick and mortar stores. Pop up stores provide both at a lower cost to the companies setting them up. Pop up stores have an expiry date meaning that if the venture does not work out the company can close shop without taking a blindingly altering financial hit. Their short time span also means that they are hubs for innovation and each new pop up store can be an iteration and improvement of the one that preceded it. They are a hub for experimentation and allow for people to get an in-person taste without becoming too used to the offerings in a way that makes them static. Large companies such as Kylie Cosmetics (yes I said it) have used pop up stores to interact with customers beyond the screen but I believe that the model is also suitable for startups looking for visibility and foot traffic in a semi noncommittal way.
Pop up stores might just be the business model of the future.