You thought Blockbuster was dead? Think again.
Technically, this 1990s staple is still alive and well at a lone remaining location in Bend, Oregon. Its employees even run an Instagram account for the store that boasts tens of thousands of followers.
So while Blockbuster isn’t exactly thriving, a piece of it still refuses to go away. Why, you ask?
While streaming services made brick and mortar video rental obsolete years ago, the truth is that–barring a Matrix-like event where our brains are uploaded to the metaverse–there’s nothing that can completely get rid of the special place in our hearts for an in-person, non-digital retail experience.
But brick and mortar isn’t just surviving due to our emotional support. It’s actually doing quite well for a number of practical reasons (which we’ll explore below), and the numbers show that rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated.
Despite the dramatic growth of ecommerce over the past few years (partially thanks to the pandemic), ecommerce sales still represent only about 14 percent of total retail sales in the U.S. Brick and mortar sales continued to rise throughout most of 2021. And 46 percent of consumers still say they prefer to shop in person rather than online.
However, while brick and mortar may not be dead, it is undergoing a transformation: the merger of the physical and the digital.
To understand why, we’ll examine what brick and mortar stores already do well, and then we’ll consider some ways in which they can leverage these strengths in today’s digital world.
Advantages of in-person shopping
There are many good reasons for shoppers to continue frequenting brick and mortar stores. Brands looking to succeed in the future of brick and mortar need to understand their shoppers: What aspects of in-person shopping do they find valuable? Why? Here are a few common reasons people continue to prefer brick-and-mortar retail over ecommerce.
Sometimes a consumer needs or wants a product right away, and even overnight shipping is too long to wait. When that’s the case, going to a brick and mortar store is their best option.
This will vary on a case-by-case basis, but in many instances, an in-store purchase will be the cheaper option. Part of this has to do with shipping costs, which are often reflected in the total online price even when it claims “free shipping.” Additionally, some brick and mortar stores still offer price matching, helping to keep online retailers from underselling them.
Consumers often need to interact with a product in the real world to determine whether it will be a good fit for them. For example, clothes don’t always align with their sizing charts, and there’s really no way to tell if you’re going to like the feel of a mattress without actually touching it. And even though most online retailers offer free returns, that’s an extra hassle many shoppers would rather not have to deal with.
A personal touch
Shopping online is a mostly automated experience. At most, you may be able to enter a chat box with a sales representative, but chatting over text just isn’t the same as speaking with a person face-to-face. Brick and mortar stores that emphasize customer service can offer personalized recommendations and advice in a manner that can’t yet be replicated online.
Shopping in person is an experience that engages all the senses. There’s no digital experience that can replicate walking into a bookstore, smelling freshly baked bread, or seeing rows of brightly colored produce that you get to feel before purchasing. Additionally, in-person shopping can be a social event where you bring along friends and make a day of it.
How brick and mortar stores are evolving
In-person shopping may be fine on the whole, but that doesn’t mean every brick and mortar store will survive. The ones doing well are stores that are willing to evolve with the times and make necessary changes. Here are some examples of what that can look like.
Providing “phygital” engagement
The future of brick and mortar is “phygital.” In other words, stores need to be able to incorporate digital elements into their physical stores to thrive in today’s world.
On the extreme end of this, you have cashierless stores like Amazon Go. Shoppers scan a code to enter the store, take whatever they need off the shelves, and then simply walk out the doors. Artificial intelligence tracks everything the customer takes and charges their account accordingly.
But most stores don’t go to quite those lengths to offer “phygital” engagement. Self checkout, digital coupons, and beacon-based marketing are all examples of how retailers can merge the digital with the physical.
Offering unique experiences
We mentioned earlier that the ability to offer an experience is one of the strongest advantages of any brick and mortar store. And some stores have taken this concept quite a bit further than others.
For example, Canada Goose, which makes what they call “extreme weather outerwear,” decided to give shoppers the chance to test out their winter jackets in the middle of summer. They accomplished this by installing “Cold Rooms” in select stores, where customers could experience a temperature of -27 degrees Fahrenheit—more than enough to prove the insulating power of their clothing.
The idea is to not only sell shoppers on a product, but to do so in a way that they’ll remember and talk about. This type of shopper marketing is often only possible with physical locations.
Accepting various forms of payment
Most stores already accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards. But these days, there are more payment options than ever before.
Most notably, this means mobile payment apps, including Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Apple Pay, which allow users to store their card information in their phones and make contactless payments. Certain services like PayPal, long used for online payments, have also become an option for in-store payments. Additionally, some shoppers are now eager to pay using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
The more payment options a store can accept, the greater advantage they’ll have over stores that stick with traditional forms of payment.
Enabling an omnichannel approach
The omnichannel approach pushes back against the idea that ecommerce and brick and mortar stores should operate as if they were entirely distinct from each other. Instead, it views the two as parts of a whole, offering a seamless shopping experience with the greatest convenience possible.
This means that customers might buy online and pick up in store that day or buy online and ship to store to pick up later. They might opt for curbside pickup. They might engage in “webrooming,” where they do research online before making a purchase in store. Or they might flip that concept to do “showrooming,” where they come into a store to physically examine a product before ordering it online.
For brands and retailers alike, the point is that your products need to be available wherever and however a customer prefers to shop.
Give your customers a seamless experience
One of the best ways to achieve an omnichannel approach is with Where to Buy. By adding a simple widget customized to fit your product page, you allow shoppers to seamlessly transition from doing research to making a purchase via a retailer of their choice—whether that be online or in a store near them.
Additionally, our live reporting dashboard gives you invaluable insights into your customers’ behavior, wherever they choose to shop.
Interested in learning more about how PriceSpider can help you succeed in the future of brick and mortar?
Talk to one of our experts today.