A few months ago I wrote that I didn’t believe bricks and mortar was dying the quick death that most believe. While you can’t deny that eCommerce is growing at an impressive rate, I found it interesting that the retailer leading that growth – Amazon – is opening a bricks and mortar location in midtown Manhattan across from the Empire State Building. While Amazon is likely to use this location as a mini warehouse to pick up and drop off returns, it will also allow shoppers to experience their hardware: the Kindle lineup, Fire TV, Fire phone and Amazon Dash.
Amazon isn’t exactly the first to do this – Apple’s first retail store opened back in 2001, Zappo’s has a shoe outlet in Kentucky and others have tried, with varying degrees of success. What these eCommerce retailers are leveraging are a few things unique to the physical space:
Immediacy – It’s why lockers, drones and taxi cab delivery are being tested by online retailers, all in an effort to get the product to shoppers faster.
Physical interaction – Shoppers still want to try on clothes before they buy, or hold and experience their electronic device, or smell and sample their beauty products (even Millennials).
Community – As is illustrated when thousands of people stand in line outside of Apple stores for days every time the next generation iPhone comes out.
A physical retail location isn’t just about a building that’s near you, it’s the experience being delivered that counts. Case in point: developer José de Jesús Legaspi has transformed fledgling shopping malls into thriving “community centers.” And consider this: there are 1,100 malls in America – with no new construction since 2006 and 400 mall closings since 2007, this format alone accounts for a significant amount of empty retail real estate. But Legaspi’s approach is to create a compelling experience, not to find anchor stores and fill the gaps between them. Legaspi malls include stores that offer a variety of price points, Western Union locations and at least one supermarket. They feature mariachi bands, plenty of seating, health fairs, job fairs and cultural performances. Rather than producing just another place where shoppers can buy items, he’s creating an experience rooted in a sense of culture and community. Be it online or bricks and mortar, fundamentally what shoppers want is a great experience. Retailers whose models deliver on that desire will thrive, regardless of format.