It is too simple to label whether brick and mortar stores as either an evolution or devolution, as only one or the other. There are many complexities and reasons to why brick and mortar stores are still not dead, and why internet business models like Amazon chose to open a brick and mortar store.
The way I see it is that: some businesses choose to be strictly online, or are traditional brick and mortar stores, or both. And honestly, why not just have all three options available to the business? I do not believe that it is only a matter of being either an evolution or devolution for a business to try to tread into each market. Each option represents new opportunities like a new market, new concepts, potential partnerships, and greater visibility.
I would like to bring attention to an example that is not so focused on mature or large businesses, but rather on startup companies. Many independent fashion companies from Los Angeles, California began online, one case being Valfre. Valfre’s store is primarily online and marketed through social media. Social media was one of the catalysts in driving customers and interest to the brand. And while brands like Valfre had been doing extremely well through online orders, they grew large enough to gain partnerships with stores like Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom where customers can now purchase the Valfre’s clothing in person.
And like many fashion brands, (I have seen many occupy empty storefronts in Vancouver too) Valfre has had pop-up shops around the U.S. I think a case like this brings to light the double standard that online stores moving into brick and mortar may be assumed to be a devolution. However, I do not think that anyone would see it as one in this case. To get the opportunity to open a storefront for an independent fashion brand would be considered a major success. It would allow their business to grow beyond online, and into malls where they can have stores alongside other established fashion companies across the country. Why not take every opportunity to grow your business and brand that you can? And even if the reception to a store is not as successful as the business wants it to be, it can still fall back on its online store.
The decline of brick and mortar has been attributed to what is called “The Amazon Effect,” where the digital marketplace has changed what customers expect during their buying journey. They now expect the experience to be “entirely frictionless and immediate, regardless of the particular industry or product in question.” I see the future of internet business models and brick and mortar stores being as an opportunity for each model to borrow what works from one another. And one way that online stores have already done so is by opening brick and mortar stores, like Nordstrom Local or Ikea pick-up centers where customers can pick up online orders and returns.
The same article linked previously also provides two other ways to alleviate “The Amazon Effect” by using brick and mortar stores to track customer behaviour and leveraging mobile technology in store. The value of of brick and mortar stores is not something that should be seen as “coming back” but has been there all along. And now, perhaps there are new ways to use that traditional method to collect consumer data in ways that an online store would.