Bonobos. Blue Nile. Nasty Gal. BaubleBar. These are some of the most famous examples of online-only retailers that have opened—or plan to open—brick-and-mortar locations.
But with Amazon’s announcement in October that it will open a physical store across from the Empire State Building on 34th Street in Manhattan, we can finally put to rest the persistent (and faintly smug) predictions that stores are dinosaurs scheduled for extinction. Retail’s behemoth is going old school, and that’s good news for the industry’s small guys.
Not that many people bought into the idea of a retail-free physical world. But at every professional retail conference and on every big-picture retail blog, the question looms large: How will online and brick-and-mortar outlets coexist in the future?
A few possible (and popular) scenarios:
Not much changes
Consumers continue to enjoy online and brick-and-mortar, essentially independent of each another. I have a work colleague who always dresses flawlessly, like a model out of a J.Crew catalog. She never shops online, crediting the old-school dressing-room shuffle with her snappy style. “I just need to see it before I buy it,” she has said. Millions of U.S. consumers feel the same way. A beautifully merchandised store or a great shopping row or mall is, for zillions of folks, fun and engrossing. And nothing’s going to change that. Not even one-click convenience.
Showrooms become the norm
Big-box stores like Best Buy and Target dispense of their cash-and-carry services—offering instead 1-2-hour delivery (via drones?) on items you buy in-store. Quaint, pretty shopping districts, such as Boston’s Newbury Street and Los Angeles’ Melrose Avenue, thrive, but “destination” boutiques get squeezed out. Amazon’s forthcoming store will function as a warehouse, as well as a shop for Kindles and other Amazon-made devices.
Online all the way through
This scenario tech-ifies the showroom concept. Shoppers start their journey online with their smartphones, either on an app or mobile site, which directs them to a store or showroom where they can see the item they’re interested in purchasing. Once in the showroom, consumers are guided through the space via beacon-based in-store mapping and smart navigation. This app allows them to purchase the product instantly through their mobile device and schedule it for delivery. Without the help of a salesperson.
Chances are, the landscape will borrow elements from each of the above forecasts. And, of course, new scenarios will take shape as technology marches forward.