The retail store as we recognize it today first emerged in the 1800s. These stores were the pioneers of creative advertising, fixed prices, window displays, and returnable or exchangeable goods' polices. Since then, retailers have been building on the same principles to fulfill customer expectations at what was considered the very heart of retail - the Retail Store. Over the years, a great amount of attention and money has been devoted to key factors such as creating a stimulating environment, easy-to-navigate layouts, easy-to-see signage, knowledgeable and friendly staff interaction and of course in-store availability at the sharp end of the supply chain.
It was not that long ago that industry trends heralded the arrival of online shopping as the Grim Reaper who would be responsible for the death of the physical store. However, despite their gloomy predictions, and despite the growth of online and mobile shopping, the synthesized view of all gurus suggest that ecommerce and m-commerce will reach 10-15% of retail sales in the next five years. Impressive growth figures for a channel that didn't even exist a few years back. But even when looking at this from a wider perspective —the brick-and-mortar store is still the king at 85-90% of all retails sales! For ecommerce and m-commerce, this is more a 'nibbling-at-the-heels' phenomenon than a 'takeover'.
However, this does not discount the stupendous success of the online retail channels. With the advent of the new omni-channel retail model, customers have more choice than ever before. Now, their choice knows no physical or logistical constraints - they can buy what they want, when they want and how they want. So while I think stores will command the lion's share of revenues for some years to come, no retailer can afford to ignore the newer and fast growing online channels.
Instead of seeing the online channels as rivals to the physical store, we should use them to strengthen the in-store experience for our customers. We get to know so much about our customers online; where they live, what they like (and what they don't), what they buy and how much they buy. When the same customer walks into a store, he/she is completely invisible until they reach the point of sale and is almost exiting the store!
However, imagine a world where your customers carry your store or loyalty card, with their identification data encoded. Facial recognition software in the store spots them when they walk in. The store is able to link the person to her transaction history in the customer database, providing details about her lifetime value to the business. You may then be able to approach each customer differently —more TLC perhaps, more relevant offers — creating, in the end, what all retailers need — a happy and loyal customer.