Whoever said ‘clicks’ would replace ‘bricks’?

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The prediction that online shopping would make the physical store redundant was fashionable among those early internet ‘experts’ who envisaged empty, windblown high streets lined with boarded-up shopfronts while the bulk of the population did virtually all their shopping from home. It hasn’t quite worked out that way has it? And there are few signs that it will. Bricks-and-mortar retailing is as strong if not stronger than ever. In fact, the store is and will remain the centre of the sales universe. It’s just that successful retailing is different from what it once was.

In fact there is ample evidence to suggest that there is a renewed role for physical stores in driving consumer purchasing decisions. Where there is change, it is in the presentation, utility and ‘buzz’ of the retail environment. Take technology – one of the best examples of making 21st-century bricks-and-mortar retailing relevant is Apple. Their retail stores in the USA are the most profitable physical outlets in the world¹, Microsoft has also ‘gone physical’ with more than 100 retail outlets across the USA and Canada, while Google has established a retail presence in London. Businesses like Amazon and eBay are also trialling bricks-and-mortar formats.

A recent survey found that 78 per cent of shoppers prefer to shop in stores and they will spend six times more while they’re there than they would online². The bottom line is that no matter how slick the online experience, people still like dealing with people and they still prefer, if possible, to hold and touch products – and sometimes get face-to-face advice – before they buy them. For instance, in Australia, 68% of Australian consumers are still primarily using physical stores as an integral part of the shopping process. For 37% of Australian consumers the main issue with online shopping was the ‘inability to touch and feel a product’³.

¹Thoelcke, T., & Sauter, M. B. (2012, November 18). The 9 most successful retail stores in the USA. Usatoday.com.
²Why Online Retailers Continue To Open Brick-And-Mortar Stores | TechCrunch. (n.d.). Why Online Retailers Continue To Open Brick-And-Mortar Stores. TechCrunch. Techcrunch.com.
³The Future of the Store – Connected Retail, Frost and Sullivan research & PwC, 2014

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