I saw an interesting story the other day on retailers battling to survive against the ever-growing wave of online shopping.
Yes, 2017 has been a lousy year for brick-and-mortar stores, thanks largely to the fact that more and more people are turning to online shopping.
CBS This Morning ran a story about how those traditional brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls are getting “creative” to compete.
Hey, I certainly don’t mind creativity. But the obvious question I ask is probably the one every other shopper would ask: “What’s in it for me?”
In this case, CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger reported that many retailers are “reinventing the shopping experience,” combining retail shopping with various forms of entertainment to create “retailtainment.”
Then she interviewed a marketing professor at San Diego State University who made this comment:
“People want to be entertained, they want to have a social experience, they want to be able to talk to a real person and get that advice. And also remember, online, you can’t use your five senses as you can on-ground.”
Maybe I’m a little different from most shoppers.
I don’t want to be entertained. I want to get in, get a look at what I’m interested in, purchase it (assuming I’m impressed with what I’ve seen), and get out.
I don’t care to have a “social experience” while I’m shopping. I’m an introvert. I don’t need a trip to my nearest shopping mall to turn into a trip to an amusement park. If I wanted that, I think I’d just go find an actual amusement park where I wouldn’t have to deal with shopping somewhere.
I do want to talk to a real person and get advice. But that’s where most retailers really seem to have dropped the ball over the years. More and more often, when I go to a retail store, it’s next to impossible to find someone on the sales floor to talk to. Fewer people seem to be covering a larger and larger portion of the sales floor, so if one of them is with a customer, there’s no one else to help another shopper. Sometimes, you can’t even try on a piece of clothing because you can’t even find an attendant at the dressing room entrance. (This is a problem, of course, at retailers who lock their dressing rooms to help prevent theft.)
I recently visited a department store in a nearby shopping mall. I was looking for dress slacks and could find none my size. The two store employees I could find were ringing up a line of shoppers; there was no one else around to ask whether they might have any other sizes available but just not out. So I left.
I found the size I was looking for in stock and for a lesser price online.
And yes, price is another big part of the picture: if brick-and-mortar stores could get within a few percentage points of their online competition, I’d be just as happy to buy more in person; I hate waiting for deliveries.
But if having it now means paying 20 percent more, and it’s not something I have to have right this minute, I’ll go online.
The CBS News report gave examples of deep-freezer-like rooms you could step inside to test out the warmness of a winter coat or a roller coaster “ride” designed to help you experience virtual reality headsets.
They’re intriguing ideas, of course, but I can’t help wonder what should be an obvious question: if retailers are going to invest in stunts like this, who’s going to end up paying for them? I can’t help but think it’s the shoppers who are going to have to foot that bill, meaning the prices for the actual merchandise will go up. And that will only make the online “shopping experience” that more attractive.
I really, really want the brick-and-mortar retailers to survive. There’s nothing like being able to see and hold the merchandise before you buy it.
But I want courteous employees — not those who are only there to collect a paycheck, thank you — who are actually willing to help and have a reasonable understanding of what they’re talking about. And I want prices that make me not even think about grabbing the phone and looking the item up on Amazon for a price comparison.
Give me those two things, and I’m happy to skip online shopping.
Leave the entertainment for the movie theaters.
What’s the biggest gripe you have with traditional retailers that you wish they’d change?
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.