The End of Brick and Mortar? Really…

Brick and mortar retailers are shivering in their designer booties, while a certain smiley faced e-tailer is delivering your cat backpack to your door by the time you get back from your coffee date… don’t ask.  Is anyone surprised that this retail model needs a facelift?  In today’s competitive environment, stores have no choice but to marry their traditional channels with the transitioning ideals of their virtual partner (ecomm) and venture into this brave new world together.   

Brick and Mortar Breakdown – 

Pros: 

The Great Outdoors –  You can’t take your family for a Sunday of fun to your favorite Etsy store, can you?  There’s something desirable about going out to see other people aside from your housemates for a change – no offense Aria (wifey).  Having the option to touch products before you buy them, then scamper to your favorite brunch spot will continue to be a pull for customers.  Why not have a side of people watching while you complete your retail treat list?  Even with the trending requirement to wear a mask in public bearing only a window into the eyes, it’s still really nice to see that you are not alone.  Sidebar: I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what goes into someone’s eye routine.  The fact that people are still placing winged eyeliner, shadow, and lashes on their faces shows an epic level of commitment … but I digress.  

It’s NOT Digital –  With those who are still employed tied to their desks and collaborating with coworkers via Zoom, Teams, and Facetime – it’s definitely giving us a glimpse into the future of corporate America.  Before anyone has the chance to send you the tenth message regarding the status of the TPS reports – it’s a good idea to walk away from your desk and take a break. Whether you’re back in the office or working from your kitchen table, physical retail therapy provides a temporary escape. As long as you don’t prefer a Tesla showroom, it can be a cheaper alternative to staring at the clouds in your therapist’s office. 

Cons:

“Safe” Shopping – It’s tough to beat the safety of shopping from your phone, tablet, or computer.  The heightened pressure on retailers to disinfect, distance, and diminish capacity has left some forced to reclose.  If they can’t match the safety of ecomm, why do they even bother?  When I go to Trader Joe’s to shop, I like a greeter to usher me in and push a freshly disinfected cart in my direction, but how long can this last?  I have empathy towards the employees who are at risk to sell a $100 t-shirt for commission.  But our dollars have a direct impact on their employment, so we can’t stay at home forever.  

Beyond Curation – The curated assortment in a retail location can be viewed as a pro for anyone that suffers from analysis paralysis. But for those that enjoy the act of sifting through all the products, reviews, specifications and prices for the needle in the haystack, this is con. For example, I’m in the market for a 27 inch computer monitor for my home office. I searched Best Buy and they have one option at my local store. With the same search I went to Amazon and they have 898 options to fit the exact same criteria. By adjusting a few filters and sorting, I’m sure I can whittle down my options to a manageable level in a few minutes, while most likely getting my new monitor for a better price.

Necessities – 

Brick and Click –   While the market is uncertain, it is not clear to see who is truly doing well in the retail sector.  Most retailers have held off on reporting their earnings until further notice, making these key factors ones to consider when gauging their longevity.

1. An Online Store: (if you don’t know this by now – welcome to 2020!)

The customer should have the option to shop from the comfort of their couch, bed or powder room. Retailers that had a functioning website pre-COVID were able to quickly pivot to sell products, and reap the benefit of more profitably (in some cases) due to money saved on commissions and overhead in stores. The obvious winners were able to turn over product quickly, avoiding a clog up in inventory if and when their stores reopened with new social/physical distancing guidelines.  Having the option to shop online was also an appreciated distraction for those shielding themselves from the world news. 

2. Services to bridge the gap:

Curbside services have popped up like bootleg Santas during Christmas. We wait in our cars to be served by masked and gloved professionals with our fulfilled orders in hand.  Pop the trunk or have your side window open, and you can ride away with confidence that your order is correct.  Forward-thinking retailers were already offering this service and were ahead of CDC guidelines.  Other businesses, however, are struggling to have the capacity to transition into this seemingly least complicated way of doing business.   

Self-serve locker pickup provides another contactless option to scoop up your goods without having to communicate with others.  Tap the screen with your name and encrypted passcode, and unlock your Amazon goodies – human free.


In my opinion, the Brick and Mortar model is not going to be a thing of the past, but rather excitingly modified to keep up with the changes in consumer trends. The stores that think they can do business like they did 30+ years ago and be just as successful, however are going to have a difficult road ahead.  They might see their retail locations shuttered and quickly replaced with gyms, culinary meccas, affordable housing, or at the very least – one more Starbucks drive-thru that we all didn’t need.

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