By Alaina Brandenburger
Over the past decade, it seems that there has been a measurable uptick in retail companies shuttering stores. Along with the economic impacts of the Great Recession, technological advances have allowed consumers to shop at their own convenience. Problems for brick-and-mortar stores only seem to be speeding up, as retailers are poised for one of the slowest years in decades— many retailers have filed for bankruptcy in the past year alone. While many think that the retail industry may be dying, others see the opportunity to capitalize on new trends and bring the industry into the present.
Slower Foot Traffic and Reduced Sales Spell Doom
Many current headlines regarding the retail industry have been focused on declining sales, closing stores and employee layoffs. Most business publications agree that the industry is in a state of crisis in 2017. According to a March 2017 Business Insider article titled “The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended on America“, “Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months.” With increased competition from different channels, including online shopping, some retailers and staple department stores are even shuttering locations, including flagship stores. Much of this news paints a dark picture for the future of retail.
Changing Shopping Habits Spells Opportunity for Retailers
A bright spot in the retail industry in recent years is the dominance of online shopping. Unlike brick-and-mortar retail shops, websites allow shoppers to easily filter merchandise to find exactly what they’re looking for, and they can do it whenever and from wherever they want, rather than being confined to a store’s hours and location.
Forward-thinking retailers have taken advantage of this, opting for an omnichannel approach that touches consumers at many different points, including online and in-store. A blog post by the Harvard Business Review titled “A Study of 46,000 Shoppers Shows That Omnichannel Retailing Works” outlines this strategy and how retailers can use it to their advantage. “The omnichannel strategy hinges on the idea that providing a seamless shopping experience in brick-and-mortar stores and through a variety of digital channels not only differentiates retailers from their peers, but also gives them a competitive edge over online-only retailers by leveraging their store assets. Such thinking assumes that despite its costs, there is significant economic value to be gained from providing digital channels to traditional store shoppers, and fusing the shopping experience across channels.”
Comprehensive User Experience Works
Although online shopping is easy and convenient, many shoppers still prefer a tactile approach when purchasing goods. Retail Dive recently conducted a survey of shoppers and determined that many people would rather buy something that they had seen in person. “The ability to see, touch and feel products as well as take items home immediately rank highest among the reasons consumers choose to shop in stores versus online, according to Retail Dive’s Consumer Survey.” Retail stores can capitalize on this, using the omnichannel approach to ensure a seamless experience for the customer. By building apps that allow customers to replicate the in-store experience, including uploading photos to “try on” merchandise, and using in-store locations for returns and exchanges, retailers are working with technology to enhance and improve sales.
As with many industries, the retail industry is being affected by changes in technology, along with customers who value convenience. By working with technology to provide many options for customers, some retailers are evolving the industry. These retailers may not only weather the storm of store closures and decreased foot traffic, they may likely come out on top.