(Photo Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pasa/7805787)

Every so often I read something that predicts the death of brick-and-mortars in the coming years.    When you consider that ecommerce sales are 6% of all U.S. retail sales (Ycharts.com, April 2014), I don’t think the death is eminent just yet.  Casualties to date have more to do with the retailer’s inability to rethink the role of their brick-and-mortar locations to keep them relevant.  Over the years, I have read many studies on why people shop where they shop, and inevitably the primary reason they pick a store is — location.  Well, as ecommerce moves those locations into shoppers’ living rooms, they have pretty much trumped everyone on that measure, so now what?

The reality is that people still like to shop brick-and-mortar locations; in fact, according to an OpinionLab study, 37% of millennials indicate they would rather shop at the mall vs. 27% who prefer to shop online.  It’s not the location – it’s the experience that needs to change.  Retailers need to allow for a variety of experiences in their stores.  Distribution and fulfillment centers are basically what retail locations have historically been about, and there will continue to be a need for that, but it needs to be blended with unique experiences.  When Best Buy decided to embrace showrooming, they created mini-stores for brands like Apple and Samsung, each with branding and dedicated sales associates.  Target similarly revitalized beauty and baby departments with enhanced customer service, more exclusive products and by creating immersive shopping environments that more actively engage customers.

Retailers also need to continue to build technology-enabled shopping.  Mobile can now allow a retailer to have a personal relationship with their shoppers – from greeting them as they enter the store, making product recommendations, delivering savings offers and guiding them through the store.   The seamless integration of the physical and digital worlds will exponentially improve the shopper’s experience and can keep physical stores relevant for years to come.