For retail to succeed, brick-and-mortar and e‑commerce need to unite instead of fight
Is the time of the retail apocalypse nigh? With sales down 0.2% in June, the second straight month of decline, the headlines looked grim. Faced with the question of “why’, many analysts point to the “Amazon effect” and the growing competition between brick-and-mortar shops and e-commerce.
While some retailers are fighting against online competition, others are struggling to find a balance between their physical stores and the online retail habits of today’s consumers. At best, there is internal competition within retail brands that operate across both channels. At worst, there is blatant disregard for e-commerce. If retailers want to survive, they need to think differently about e-commerce. It won’t cannibalize their brick-and-mortar stores. Rather, online and offline experiences can work together as two pieces in a future-facing retail strategy.
Thinking differently means re-examining the established practices of brick-and-mortar retail. First up: Killing the attitude that physical locations are the priority. The majority of retailers who started out solely with brick-and-mortar stores still devote most of their attention to these locations, with less attention going to e-commerce. Department stores, which saw sales decline in June, put their stores in place 10 or 20 years ago, when consumers frequently visited physical locations. With more consumers shopping online, these stores have become albatrosses, but are still the heart of the marketing and branding strategy.
Meanwhile, retailers that started out in digital and then opened physical locations are succeeding because they’re agile. These digital-first companies, like Bonobos and Warby Parker, still have sales that are largely driven by e-commerce and the online experience. They are more selective about where they put their stores and how many they open, maintaining a small footprint that won’t become dead weight if sales slow.