Last week, I took a nine-day road trip covering the west coast from San Diego to Seattle, a journey that shook up my everyday routine.
Beyond the gorgeous views and even more beautiful spring weather, while popping into a boutique on the trip, I was surprised to realize that it was the first physical store I’ve entered in quite some time (other than my local grocer).
I don’t believe I’m alone. Traditional shopping centers are on the midst of a tremendous decline. Andreesen Horowitz partner Jeff Jordan recently pointed out that “10% of the roughly 1,000 large malls in the US will fail within the next 10 years.” For a bit of fun, check out the Dead Malls blog, which beautifully epitomizes this trend.
But this change isn’t happening in a vacuum. I’ve given some thought to what’s driving this shift, and I believe it boils down to four simple elements:
1. PRICE: Things Cost Less
This is a no-brainer. The web enables a state of near-perfect information, so if a better price is to be had, it’s easy to find. Sites like Amazon and ShopStyle have been leading this shift for a while, though new services like Lyst allow shoppers to track the price fluctuations of individual items across retailers.
2. SELECTION: Online Inventory Is (Relatively) Endless
Heading into a store, I frequently find that I’m not able to find a particular item — especially given the way “fast fashion” brands like H&M and Zara stock their shelves, with new products every week. I also happen to be a fairly average-sized female, so even when the merchandise is in-stock, it’s often the case that my size has been sold out. Shopping online gives me the best chance to find what I’m looking for — or to be surprised by something new.
3. PRECISION: There’s Little Opportunity for Miscommunication
Call me crazy, but nothing is more stressful for a Millennial like myself than needing to speak to a fallible human when a straightforward transaction could better be conducted by a machine. Ordering food is a great example of this scenario. Sites like Seamless, GrubHub and Delivery.com ensure the specifics of my order are clearly communicated to the restaurant and, as an added bonus, eliminate the need for cash.
4. CONVENIENCE: The Web Never Closes
In today’s connected world, we never really stop working, which can make it difficult to find the time to shop in “real life.” We rush home from the office to avoid eating dinner at 10 pm and run from errand to errand on the weekends, hardly leaving the time to relax — let alone leisurely browse the racks at a favorite retailer. Shopping online lets us use the short snippets of free time we do have to make a few purchases without the hassle of leaving the office or the sofa.
So how can brick-and-mortar stores compete?
Smart retailers will use new technology to bring the benefits of online shopping into the physical experience.
• PRICE: Make prices more competitive by delivering real-time offers through geolocated Passbook offers, Shopkick rewards or push notifications for loyal customers through detection of their mobile devices in-store.
• SELECTION: Extend inventory by allowing shoppers to use their smartphones to tap or scan a sample product to purchase a variety of other sizes and styles and have it delivered the next day (at no additional cost, of course!)
• PRECISION: Email receipts to customers for an easy-to-access record of their purchase, as well as simplicity in the case of product returns. (As an added bonus, apps like OneReceipt can scrape your email and conveniently gather your receipts in a single location.)
• CONVENIENCE: Create 24/7 shopping experiences outside the traditional store, whether on the windows of a shop, within out-of-home advertising Tesco-style, or in accessible pop-up locations.
Until then, good luck finding me at the mall.