There’s still a place for brick and mortar retail

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I’ve spent the past few years trying to spend less time in stores. There’s something very inefficient about needing to find items, load them into a cart, wait in a line to pay, pack them into a car, and unpack them, and then sort them at home. I used to like the hunt but there’s too much to do now for this to be a worthwhile use of time. (This is my computer shopping experience from nearly 10 years ago…)

Although not available with the same convenience as in the US, we still have lots of choices in Canada for online shopping. I use Amazon Prime and recently, they started to offer free same day shipping in Toronto. Packages come directly to the door — leaving me to only open and unpack items.

I’m also a big user of Loblaws’ Click&Collect service and, to a lesser extent, use The ability to subscribe to product ordering not only offers a money savings but also saves cognitive load. I never think about TP supply any more.

There is still a lag in Canada when it comes to having access to the variety that’s available to consumers in the US and there’s a very high premium placed on delivery of fresh goods like with Grocery Gateway or InstaBuggy. However, that’ll likely change.

With the huge advances in online purchases, one could project 10 years out and think that brick and mortar retail will be dead but that’s not the case. In fact, it’s probably going to be healthier, have higher margins, and be more enjoyable that today.

I was drawn back recently to buying a monitor in person. You can read reviews to your heart’s content, but in the end, you still need to see how a monitor looks to you to assess it. The thought of having to repack and reship a monitor was not something I was looking forward to having to do if I made the wrong choice online. Instead, the experience was a hybrid — going to Best Buy, looking at monitors, then spending 15 minutes online looking at reviews. I didn’t have remorse in being uncertain that I was making the wrong choice based on my preferences or the potential money savings of $10 at the expense of another 2–3 hours of work (or risking 2 more hours of repacking and reshipping the wrong monitor).

Here’s where brick and more retail will likely transform over the next 10 years:

It will become more human. There will be more associates to help with questions.

It will become an experience. Like the Apple Store or Whole Foods — stores will be more “fun” or interesting. There will be more events like pop up stores.

There will be less power in information scarcity. We won’t be conned into thinking we’re getting the best price in store. We’ll know if what’s being sold to us is a dud before we buy (just check out the Amazon reviews in store).

The prices might be the same as online. We’re doing Alvin Toffler’s “prosumering” by picking up the items from the store so despite the high costs to the retailer of maintaining a store, the shipping cost savings might offset this and the close rates might be much higher.

There will be artificial scarcity. More companies might limit distribution of their new products to pop up stores or brick and mortar to create artificial demand. Think of Apple Store line ups.

Online retail will be for the mundane. The real challenge will be for retailers will be to offer us products that are not mundane.

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