Whether e-commerce is a hero or a villain to brick and mortar retailers is a long debate. When you consider and compare the trends in publishing industry, the brick and mortars don’t look like in a very favorable position. However, these are two very different players with different business models and physical retailers have one very significant advantage over the other: social interaction.
E-commerce has grown in double digits in the last decade – and it will continue growing in the next one. As bricks and mortars, it is extremely hard (if not possible) to win by price or convenience against the online retailers. Online retailers are more efficient, because they lack physical locations, and so can offer better prices. Shopping online is also more convenient. Over the web, consumers can shop anywhere they are, read reviews, compare products, get friend feedback and make intelligent decisions, day or night. Basically the user experience online is far better than the one in-store at the moment. But it won’t be the case for long.
People still visit the stores maybe even more than ever. One of the main drivers is to get the feeling of the product, to touch, to play and/or wear it – which shows that the sensory appeal is still such a strong motivator. But as important as the product we buy and the desire to explore new things, the environment and the social interaction we have during shopping is also another strong driver of foot traffic to bricks and mortars – which is lacking in e-commerce retailers including amazon.
Apple showed us all that if you design a great retail experience inside a store (not just a product, but a display, space, customer service, even a great check out system where you can hang out and ask questions, learn something during shopping), you will attract a significant foot traffic no matter how the economy is. But still even Apple would not be totally immune from the digital channels if they allowed different pricing on different channels. So, pricing is still a major factor of the success of any brand and distribution channel.
However if you take the best features of online and offline experience and design a great social experience – social interaction with a great user experience – in-store with the same convenience as online browsing, then you have a chance to overcome the pricing aspect of the 4Ps. The best medium to bridge the gap between online and offline experience is simply your cell phone. You are always on the go, connected and informed with your cell phone while you are in-store. So, why not design an experience that can attract the mighty six senses to your brick and mortar stores to succeed in this digitally connected world?