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Will Brick and Mortar Stores Die Out?
Old 01-08-2016, 09:38 AM   #1
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Will Brick and Mortar Stores Die Out?

I was pondering some recent reporting about troubles in the B&M retail business (e.g. Macy's, Bed-Bath-and-BehindBeyond). I hope we are not seeing the death of real merchandise displayed in actual stores.

As an enthusiastic e-buyer, I am, of course, part of the problem. I have bought shoes on-line for years, because I wear a rare size; before that, I bought shoes from mail-order catalogs. Recently, I bought two dresses from Macy's.com based on what they looked like on the picture of the model. Not having to trek to a mall, wait to try things on, and stand in line to pay are bonuses.

However, it makes me nervous to contemplate giving up the option of trying before buying. One can't expect to remain the same size and shape forever. Furthermore, I've had some bad experiences with home-decor and home-repair items that were not as advertised, and it was a hassle sending them back (the closest full-service PO is 13 miles away and always mobbed). What's more, customer comments on Amazon are often packed with excessively high ratings, posted by people who were given free or discount merchandise.

What do you think? Are we entering an era where stores will close, and new ones not open in their place? Could the B&M retailers do something differently in order to survive? Should they even bother?
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:02 AM   #2
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DH jokes that I am the queen of shopping via computer... He needed some dremel heads - they arrived in 2 days. He wanted a specific pipe fitting, again, 2 days later. I needed almond paste for some sicilian cookies- Amazon to the rescue.

That said - we still go to B&M stores often enough. For DH it's Home Depot/Lowes. For me it's Costco and Target. (Target is only about 8 times a year - but it's my go-to when I need a variety of stuff.) I've never been into shopping at malls for clothes - I guess I'm the anti-clothes horse. Thank goodness for Lands End.

It seems like malls are still full - lots of cars in the parking lots. That would imply some people still shop there. For me - I'd rather check amazon.com first.

(Oh - and I hear you on the shoes... I have big feet and my older son has size 14's at age 15... try finding those in stores. But I can find him sneakers on Amazon.)
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:07 AM   #3
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Are we entering an era where stores will close, and new ones not open in their place? -- My gut feel based on what I've seen in our community of ~65,000 is that with the exception of densely populated areas like large cities, many brick and mortar stores will not be able to stay open. Too many of us do too much of our shopping online. And worse, many go to brick and mortar to try things out and then return to their homes to buy online rather than buying at the store that showed them the product.
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:11 AM   #4
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Don't know. But they will certainly change. Some may get smaller. Some of the stores that we deal with have in store internet order pickups and returns.

Cannot remember the last time I bought a book at a bookstore. I order it on line. It either comes to the house or I pick it up at the store. More convenient, better selection, and much better price.

I avoid retail shopping in favour of the internet. My spouse likes to browse the stores. I now try to stick with one or two brands of clothing because their sizing is consistent. This makes internet purchases very easy.

We travel frequently but we have not been in a B&M travel agency for years. We do all of our own arrangements on the web. We seldom even use an on-line TA. Last time we bought a washing machine we called the store and did it on the phone. The clerk asked if we wanted to see it....I asked if it was square, white, and plugged into the wall. We find that there is an increasing number of items that we can purchase without bothering with a trip to the retail outlet
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:20 AM   #5
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I can see a future where some stores will offer a display of their products with a place to scan your smart phone to order it, but not maintain a large stock of the items in different sizes.


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Old 01-08-2016, 10:25 AM   #6
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There has been and will be a decline, there are plenty of businesses that already don't make any sense to me (travel agencies for example). Eventually there won't be brick-n-mortar stores for things we can readily buy online without assistance. Other items will support brick-n-mortar stores for many years to come, but technology will make more and more online purchases possible (I can imagine an app on your smartphone that will 3D scan you, and then choose clothes that will fit on that basis - just one example. There are many things you will be able to 3D print at home too, though maybe not cost effectively for quite a while.

There will always have to be stores for perishable items, like groceries.

It will be a relatively slow transition due to a) technology will take time to evolve cost effectively and b) the technically averse who will go to brick-n-mortar stores because they're afraid/don't trust online shopping.

About 35 years ago, DW and I used to cruise malls almost every weekend with nothing specific in mind for purchase. Now we go to malls less than annually.

I buy everything I can online. And for those things I can't for whatever reason, I research online, and go to the store knowing what I want. Unfortunately store clerks often know very little about their stores products - even give misinformation, though I am surprised from time to time.

I will not showroom a merchant (look at a brick-n-mortar store and then buy online). If I use their store and salespeople, I should expect to pay store prices (they're often competitive with online anyway).

We get what we deserve...stores have no choice but to adapt to customers collective behavior.
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:27 AM   #7
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I am a part of the problem, as well. Putting aside the fact that I really don't spend much money on ANY kind of shopping, here's why I don't shop B&M:
1) I have to drive to get there,
2) There are often crowds of people to fight,
3) I find most stores unpleasant environments with their choices of "music",
4) B&M stores are not well organized for quick visits - IKEA being only the worst example,
5) B&M stores are not well organized for price comparisons,
6) etc.

I have one grocery store that I regularly visit and it has the key characteristics that I would like to see in any retail outlet that wants my business: 1) It's calm and quiet - no music, 2) The inventory is limited, they don't carry 10 brands of canned green beans, for instance, but they have everything that you need, 3) their prices are more than competitive, 4) they don't try to lure a shopper in with loss leaders, their prices are what they are, and 5) the store is organized so that you can get in and get out.

Bonus points if you guess the chain.
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:59 AM   #8
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We're definitely seeing a big re-alignment of B&M stores. The Sears in the SF East Bay city where I live has closed down and is being converted into a mixed use retail/residential building. I believe the same is happening with the Sears in the part of Los Angeles where I used to live. Then there are all the other large department store chains who seem to be struggling, such as Macy's.

My current shopping habits (like most people, I suspect) are a mixture of online and B&M. I buy bulk hardware for my hobby projects online - can't beat the prices! If I'm in the middle of a project and need small quantities of a particular nut, bolt, washer etc, and I don't want to wait a few days, it's off to Ace Hardware where I happily pay the higher prices over online purchases for the convenience of being able to have it now. Same thing with my bicycle stuff. Some of the parts I buy online, for the selection and prices. Other times, I just want to walk into a store, look at bikes, talk to the people there, and do some business with them.

It's the same with many of my purchases - I have specific reasons for choosing online or B&M transactions. Many businesses can't be done as effectively online though. You may be able to do yoga at home with an online connection, but many people want to go to a specific location and do their exercises in a room with an instructor and a group of people. It's hard to recreate the atmosphere of a good bakery/restaurant/coffeeshop/bar at home, and many people still want to purchase groceries at B&M stores. My local Trader Joe's is often very busy.

We are going through some very interesting changes but thinking about it - has there ever been a point in history where this hasn't been the case?
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:05 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Midpack View Post
I will not showroom a merchant (look at a brick-n-mortar store and then buy online). If I use their store and salespeople, I should expect to pay store prices (they're often competitive with online anyway).
Music stores are suffering in part due to that...too many people use the music store as a place to demo gear and then turn around and buy the $550 guitar online for $500.

I do it the other way...I check out reviews and YouTube demos of gear and then try to buy it at the B&M store. If a $500 guitar is $550 at the B&M store, I'll buy it at the B&M store because I believe that their presence in my town is more important than saving $50. As long as the price is reasonably close to the internet price I'm more than happy to give the B&M store my business.

I think it's dishonest to use a store to demo a product if there's no intention to give them your business.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:05 AM   #10
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I really doubt it. Stores (high end, discount, and big box) are packed here out in the burbs every weekend. People still want immediate gratification, not even free 24 hour overnight shipping is fast enough for them, and to see the merchandise. I just ordered a couple of things online from a B&M store that I can easily return them to the store if they don't work out for any reason, but I went to the same store yesterday too to buy some kids' birthday presents because I didn't know what was available and I need them for this weekend.

Not only were bookstores supposed to go away (and probably are for the chain stores), printed books supposedly are on their deathbed too, but that isn't really happening. The Barnes & Noble that is still open near me always has shoppers but it isn't very enticing (had been a department store, so not exactly cozy, it's too big) imo. The little independent bookstores seem to be doing okay but really market themselves with author appearances and other special events.

DD OTOH lives in the middle of the city and buys almost everything online including groceries, which get delivered a couple of hours after the order is placed.
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Will Brick and Mortar Stores Die Out?
Old 01-08-2016, 11:19 AM   #11
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Will Brick and Mortar Stores Die Out?

I don't think brick and mortar stores will die out for a lot of items - groceries, clothing. Some items have to be seen by the buyer before the buyer is comfortable with the purchase. And brick and mortar stores are necessary for items that need to be purchased immediately. That said, I've purchased a lot of things online recently that I don't even know are available from brick and mortar stores. It's incredible. I can figure out what I need, search and order online, and have the items within a couple of days. I get deliveries 4 or 5 days a week. No need to tackle traffic to shop much anymore. I spend my days playing and meet the delivery trucks in my driveway.


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Old 01-08-2016, 11:21 AM   #12
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The Mayfair Daily Journal, January 8, 1880:
Quote:
"Will candlemakers die out?"
That's fictional, but the point still applies: Just like light bulbs didn't spell the end of candles, automobiles didn't spell the end of stables, and airlines didn't spell the end of ocean liners, online shopping won't kill B&M stores: If the parallels prevail, then we'll see B&M retail morph into a novelty of some sort, an experience for which, perhaps, people will pay a premium.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:25 AM   #13
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The interesting thing I have noticed is the big chains that have B and M and online sales are cannibalizing their in store sales to promote the online sales. I'm really surprised by the way Kohls is doing this. How can this be a good thing in the long run.

I'm 15 miles from the nearest town with a grocery store a small Target and a Walmart..a smaller JC Penneys store. So I shop on-line be default. I buy very little at Amazon and most of my stuff from Kohls. Seasonal clothing (lots of it for my 3 toddler GK's and all their Bday and Christmas items. Stuff for my house. I start a list in Jan when I see things I will need to replace and upgrades I might want and shop on-line at Kohls starting around Nov 15. So, I do spend the 700 at Kohls to get their MVP benefits which include free shipping on any order at least one every 3 weeks. The free ship always comes with the 15 20 or 30 off the sale. The will send you a flyer with 15 20 or 30 off that you need to show at the store for your discount , however to get it on-line all you need is Mr Google. Advantage on-line. They often run a kids clothes special at the same time 10 bucks off a 30 dollar kids purchase, plus free shipping, plus an additional 30% off. Once again you can use the code multiple time with the freeship. I often make 4-5 small 30 or 31 dollars orders on one day shopping for the grandkids..I usually cost me about 16 bucks with free shipping as well.Advantage on line.. with bigger selection and instant price sorting to hit the 30 dollar mark and hit maximum savings. If i order a wrong size or color I wait until I get to the store and simply return or exchange it.

On paper I am a good Kohls customer and I very seldom return items. But I don't impulse shop anything and very seldom actually buy something when I am in the store because I am 90% certain that if I am patient I can get it delivered in the color and size I want at a cheaper price. I can't figure out how this is a good business model for a company that has so many brick and mortar stores.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:28 AM   #14
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The interesting thing I have noticed is the big chains that have B and M and online sales are cannibalizing their in store sales to promote the online sales.
Often the two divisions have separate CEOs and separate P&L responsibility, or at least are two divisions to which top management are applying individual performance metrics. It is a bit like a parent pitting two children against each other, perhaps rewarding whichever one does better on their report card (rather than rewarding both for doing well to different extents). It does inspire both to do as well as possible, and so it is good business, but it isn't compassionate parenting.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:34 AM   #15
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I believe in equilibrium. Over time, businesses that don't add value are replaced by ones that do. Local specialty stores may find that they can expand their sales by doing on line sales nationally or even internationally.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:41 AM   #16
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Will Brick and Mortar Stores Die Out?

Yes, I think they will die out if my shopping habits are typical.

I prefer shopping online. No gasoline wasted, no circling around looking for a parking spot, no wandering aimlessly through malls or big stores, price comparisons are easy to do, and often shipping is free.

As a bonus, the UPS guy will lug heavy things into my house for me if I give him the "weak, helpless little old lady" smile.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:43 AM   #17
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B&M will persist longest for items for which the fit and quality cannot easily be assessed from a photo. Shoes, jewelry, and clothes come to mind.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:46 AM   #18
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The Mayfair Daily Journal, January 8, 1880:

That's fictional, but the point still applies: Just like light bulbs didn't spell the end of candles, automobiles didn't spell the end of stables, and airlines didn't spell the end of ocean liners, online shopping won't kill B&M stores: If the parallels prevail, then we'll see B&M retail morph into a novelty of some sort, an experience for which, perhaps, people will pay a premium.
I quite agree. Candles used to be a necessary consumer good, but now they have become a decor and style item. Ocean liners used to be the only way to cross an ocean, but they have morphed into cruise ships which are really moving vacation destinations. Horses are no longer necessary for transportation, so they have become indulgences for the rich. The buggy whip industry has disappeared. It's called disruptive change.

A niche future awaits many bricks and mortar stores, cars that you actually have to drive (there's a reason they are called AUTOmobiles!), and print materials. Buzzing delivery drones will crowd the sky, crash and fall, and cause many headaches. Already, pediatric surgeons can custom design tiny components like heart valves for tiny patients, making new types of lifesaving surgery possible. Soon, there will be 3D printers in the OR.

Inventory management will be very interesting.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:51 AM   #19
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No, they won't die out. But, I could see them becoming fewer in number. The two main areas that will continue to do well: Stores that sell perishable items (food for example) and store that sell clothing. Yes, I could see technology curing the fit problem but I don't see it curing everything involved with clothing. How it looks on you is not necessarily a matter of fit. And, how it feels on you certainly isn't.

But, certainly many places will either become small quaint shops with a limited clientele or will become big warehouse like stores that try to compete on price (think Costco).

The other day I went into a Barnes & Noble. They were selling a series of collector's edition books (pretty covers and illustrations) that my son wanted for Christmas. When he told me I immediately went to the Barnes & Noble website but they didn't sell them online. You had to go to the store. So we trekked over there. I literally not been in a bookstore for years. I buy books all the time. I used buy ebooks for my Kindle. The rare books that I want that aren't ebooks I get from Amazon.

And, going there was such a pain. They had the books, but not all of them. So we went to a different Barnes & Noble when we were on the other side of town and found some of them. There was one missing one. They said they were going to have it in a couple of days. So, we put it on hold since we had to be back in that area a few days later. And, then it kept getting delayed. We finally had to spend an hour a half (each way) driving over there as a special trip to pick it up before Christmas. It was years since I had had to go through such a production to pick something up. I hated it.

Another thing is that increasingly I will go to a store website, like Target or Macy's, and find all sorts of things I want to buy, but I want to see them in person. They are available online only! Gee, thanks.

Now, I'm sure the bricks and mortar stores will survive in some form, but not like they are now.
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Old 01-08-2016, 12:46 PM   #20
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All certainly won't die out. But certainly some are doomed.

Take the Apple Store as an example. That store is thriving and helping their business. But it is really nothing like a Best Buy (or remember Gateway country stores? They died about the same time Apple stores arrived).

Apple stores are (a) nice places (b) located in upscale shopping districts (c) offer a great place for tech supports and service (d) have are among the friendliest people working there (e) also let you try out new stuff if you like. They do not force you to buy there.

B&M stores that cater to a real need will do fine.
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