Imagine that you are playing a movie of the history shopping in reverse. The film would start with someone checking out at Amazon. We would see people shopping at mass market retailers, then back to a time when malls were the rage, to the era when department stores ruled, to small town America’s general store, and eventually rewinding all the way back to the open air markets of ancient civilization.

The way people shop has changed over the years, but today’s changes are a threat to the very existence of bricks and mortar.  Online shopping gives consumers the opportunity to purchase anything they can think of through their phone or computer. Mobile scanning has turned stores into showrooms.

The risk to physical shopping should concern a world well beyond retailers. This includes consumer products companies, and the businesses that earn income from retailers and brands, including creative agencies and media for starters.   Because, if you want to buy something, you don’t need to walk into a store. If you do walk into a store, you can still purchase the item without spending your money in that store.

© Andres Rodriguez - Fotolia.com

So, people need a good reason to walk into a store and a good reason to buy once they get there. The retail industry can choose to hang on to the status quo (that would be a Kodak moment) or they can embrace the digital reality with new tactics:

  1. Develop an online community that cares about your business so you have the owned media to promote your unique retail experience.
  2. Facilitate the congregation of your community to enjoy meaningful experiences with like-minded people at your physical location.
  3. Bring digital devices into the store to supplement the physical experience.  (Since bricks and mortar can’t add reality into a website, this would provide an advantage.)
  4. Make sure you give people an experience that makes the trip worth it.

Digital shoppers sit alone, facing a screen. In spite of the advent of social shopping, the reality is they are still shopping alone.

The retail experience must surprise and delight, help someone make a better buying decision, offer entertainment value or raise the ante on Amazon in some way.  Otherwise, why go there?

Using digital marketing for support, bricks and mortar shopping can survive and even thrive in a time of digital shopping by creating real life experiences that can’t be replicated online.

I recently attended the Commerce and Creativity Conference, also known at C2-MTL where Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People In Business” were celebrated.  I had the opportunity to meet one of those people, Rachel Schechtman, who gained her place on the list by opening an innovative retail store called STORY.

As its name promises, this store merchandises around a story, and that story changes regularly. The impact of going into the store is unique because the products are carefully curated based on a theme.  It’s been described as a magazine that meets a social gathering.  The editorial theme, in the case of the grand opening in February, was “love.”  The execution included a game-like,  physical presence of an online dating site, carefully curated brands, visually exciting displays, and events, some of which provide an additional revenue stream.  The experience of STORY gives you a reason to make the trip to the flagship store in New York City’s meatpacking district.

People have a deep-seated need to connect with others and to share experiences.  Facebook or social shopping experiences will never fully replace real life experiences. Rather than bemoaning the impact of digital and mobile shopping on traditional retail, retailers can use digital devices in-store to supplement the experience, while taking advantage of what only a physical location can offer. People will always want to congregate. It’s part of human nature.  It’s important to many of our businesses and to our lives in our communities that bricks and mortar stores survive.  Let’s hope that retailers make the transition necessary to keep people coming into their stores. At time when virtual shopping is easy and convenient, the secret to doing this is figuring out how to make people say these five words after going to the store:

You had to be there.

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.caseycamilleri.com/ Casey Camilleri

    I love the concept of STORY!  You’re absolutely right that stores do need to change how they have their in-store experiences now.  There is a reason why Apple stores are always so packed even though you can buy all of the devices online, it’s because people can actually interact and feel!  Stores need to increase that interaction or people will browse and make their final purchases online.

  • Melonie Dodaro

    With the constant innovation, brick and mortar stores really need to adapt fast or else they’ll be left behind.  Online shopping has afforded everyone with convenience, aside from the many selections that they offer.  Having an all-new experience while inside the malls will definitely make customers keep coming back for more surprises. 

  • http://www.seotrafficsearch.com/ Suneeta

     

    I am glad to stumble on
    your post and this is very interesting story. 
    Online shopping has now turned out to be the steaming thing everywhere
    and people do not want to go shopping to stores when everything is now
    available online. I agree to every point of yours and I specially liked the idea
    of “building an online community that cares about your business so you have the
    owned media to promote your unique retail experience.” Thanks for sharing your
    ideas!!

  • DeborahAPeters

    Great post! You really hit on the head; I myself prefer to “research online” then go out ad buy because  spend a fair amount of time at the computer…but, like you said – if retailers can make the experience an enjoyable one, they’ll move ahead of their competition/survive.

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  • http://golfmarketingseminars.com/ AllamonlinPia Kreisman

    The advent of technology makes everything
    convenient in a click of the mouse. Retail shopping can be easily done even
    while we are sitting. The internet is definitely a threat to malls and other
    shops. This is definitely one of those must- read- articles. It’s
    an eye opener and a big realization to most retail owners. At the end, it
    definitely pointed out that amidst our generation of instat service, it’s the
    experience that matters!

  • Jig Bax

    ….. And as for digital retailers, engaging the traditional casual shopper should be high on their to-do lists –  align on-ground strategies with on-line communications  for a  more “real” consumer experience, instead of simply banking on SEO and SMM to generate leads.  :) 

    great post. as always! :):):)

  • http://golfmarketingseminars.com/ AllamonlinPia Kreisman

    The advent of technology makes everything
    convenient in a click of the mouse. Retail shopping can be easily done even
    while we are sitting. The internet is definitely a threat to malls and other
    shops. This is definitely one of those must- read- articles. It’s
    an eye opener and a big realization to most retail owners. At the end, it
    definitely pointed out that amidst our generation of instat service, it’s the
    experience that matters!
    please see also http://golfmarketingseminars.com

  • Frank

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  • Patrick

    Brick and mortar businesses need to compete with online retailers where it really counts – online. An in-store experience alone only counts if the consumer knows it’s there. When someone is shopping around, looking at reviews, etc…, their opinions are malleable. They are just waiting for some critical quality that says “This is your best option. You need to buy this here.” Physical retailers need to actively reach out to their customers during that shopping around period, instead of relying on passive venues such as online store reviews or long-term brand marketing. Shopping online may be convenient, but you’re right; brick and mortar businesses have a lot to offer in terms of a fuller shopping experience and the immediate gratification that comes with walking out of a store with an item in hand. 

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