Has the Internet Killed the Brick-and-Mortar Store?

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Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
We live in the land of make believe. We pretend to "go shopping," but we never leave our chairs. We fill "bags" with items, but there are no handles to carry. Yet, once we click the purchase button, much like the wave of a wand, these products magically appear 7-10 business days later.

We live in the land of make believe. We pretend to "go shopping," but we never leave our chairs. We fill "bags" with items, but there are no handles to carry. Yet, once we click the purchase button, much like the wave of a wand, these products magically appear 7-10 business days later.With the proliferation of the Internet and online stores, our shopping bags have been replaced with an influx of confirmation emails and shipping notices. We conveniently browse for the best offers from our home computers, never having to deal with hectic crowds, uneducated salespeople, or long lines--antisocial behavior in a world that continuously fixates on social networking. But society's move to self-service may have more serious repercussions than our laziness would care to acknowledge.

Over the years, stores have come and gone. When one closes, another often comes to take its place. But, just as we saw the demise of Circuit City a few years back, we must all now bear witness to Best Buy's effort to limit its losses. As it closes some stores and shifts its focus toward mobile, one cannot help but question the mortality of all brick-and-mortar stores.

A few years ago the popular bedding and textile store Linens 'n Things plastered store closing signs across all their locations, as if going out of business entirely. It was not until recently, when an advertisement for the retailer appeared in the sidebar of another website, that I learned Linens 'n Things still exists online. While I was pleased to learn the store had not died, but merely taken on a new form, I still could not help but admit that I would not purchase its products unless I had exhausted all other available outlets.

When it comes to linens, electronics, or clothing, online shopping seems rather impractical. Bedding and bath towels are dependent on color, something a photograph on the Internet often distorts. Online retailers may offer great deals on electronics, but stores allow customers to examine and test cameras and computers right on the floor, eliminating the restocking fee had they bought, tested, and had to return the item online. And, with the way clothing sizes range in today's fashion world--a size 6 by one designer rarely matches the size 6 of another--you will spend more time shipping your items back than you will wearing them.

Yet, no matter how many consumers claim they prefer brick-and-mortar stores to their online counterparts, we still see stores closing left and right, especially in today's volatile economy. Surely many shoppers avoid the mall because they hate interacting with unhelpful salespeople, but perhaps if shoppers made more of an effort to bring their business back to the brick-and-mortar way of shopping, these companies would have a reason and the means to hire and train employees who know what they're talking about. We would not only see improvements in customer service, but improved customer experience, increased employee engagement, and perhaps even a bit of economic stimulation that would help create jobs, as well.

You never know, wishful thinking often has a way of coming true.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION