Retailers have struggled with consumers’ growing habit of “showrooming” – shoppers come to stores to see, touch, learn about, and try on products which they then buy from a low-price low-overhead online retailer. Brick-and-mortar retail grew last year in the single digits, while e-commerce enjoyed a 22% growth rate. Are physical stores going to be phased out completely?
Not at all, says Natasha Baker, writing in Forbes.com. Retailers can and should embrace showrooming and turn it to their advantage. Baker cites one expert who recommends thinking of stores as “museums” where shoppers can go to explore, learn about products, and be entertained. Retailers can gather instant analytics about shoppers’ preferences, just as e-commerce sellers do. Proximity sensors and “smart shelves” can follow individual shoppers via smart phone apps, and they can suggest related products or alert shoppers to customized coupons (think of Amazon’s suggested products). As reported in RetailTouchpoints.com, stores like Bloomingdale’s are even using e-commerce to test new products by displaying them in the store but selling them only online.
By adopting the “store-as-museum” model, retailers can also manage inventory much more effectively. Rather than keep large supplies of inventory in back rooms, stores can keep a relatively small number of products on hand, supplemented by deliveries from their warehouses. With access to the stores’ customer analytics system, warehouses can prep inventory for shipment in advance of a shortage, or fulfill online orders placed in stores.
Embracing the technology of virtual commerce can represent real-world savings to savvy retailers. With less need for in-store storage, retailers can reduce their real estate overhead while maximizing their less-expensive warehouse space to supply both their online shoppers and their “museum” stores.
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