Digital Dilemma: Tech Overtaking Brick & Mortar?

Blog | by IBC Shell Marketing | 12.01.2015


Convenience is king when it comes to shopping—online or in-store. For nearly a decade, the conversation continues with a now ubiquitous question: Will digital technology eventually destroy the brick and mortar model? As our reliance on technology continues to grow, will we allow expedience to trump experience? Will we stop in-person purchasing?


Although that reality is unlikely, it doesn’t mean that the question isn’t important—while the scope may look less Mallrats, it’s certainly not Mad Max; we’re not in the final frontier of physical shopping. The emerging narrative posits a close, but differently phrased question: How will emerging technology, particularly mobile, change the future of traditional retail?


First, we have to consider what’s most enjoyable about an in-store experience—tangibility. We’ve been trained to shop with the ability to see it, feel it, try it out or try it on; we’ve got all of our sense available to help us decide. That’s a huge win for traditional brick and mortar, right? Sure. But remember, it comes at the cost of time. You’ve got to drive there, park, locate the store—then browse, try, and eventually buy—are you willing to do all that?


Living in a world where our lives are micro-managed to the everloving second, we’ll pull out the tablet or mobile over the car keys just for the sake of time and convenience. Online shopping, especially browsing, cuts out a critical time-sucking component; research. Instead of going in blind, we’re armed with fast facts, the ones that we’re interested in. We’ve become a proactive, conscious consumer and we like feeling that way.


President of Global Retailer Vertical for Nielsen, Patrick Dodd, explains that we’re in the “connected commerce era.” He continues: “Consumers are no longer shopping entirely online or offline; rather, they’re taking a blended approach, using whatever channel best suits their needs. The most successful retailers and manufacturers will be at the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds, leveraging technology to satisfy shoppers however, wherever and whenever they want to shop.”


It could even be questioned, if it is not so much in-store shopping becoming obsolete, but more so, the necessity of the traditional retail salesperson. We’ve got the ability to ‘Google’ whatever it is we desire and the opportunity to read peer reviews on every product that’s come to market—why spend 20 minutes on product knowledge in-store when we can discover it for ourselves?


Instead of having the showroom floor employee provide you price and feature comparisons across models, technology gives you the ability to access all of that same information from the comfort of home, and without in-store purchase pressure. But, consequently, according to research, many times, purchasers still want to be there for the buy.


As Forbes notes: “Ultimately, consumers still prefer shopping in stores. Mobile serves as another storefront to guide consumers through the tangibility of in-store shopping. With stores like Target and Macy’s using interactive maps, consumers can now quickly find what they need and shop more efficiently.”


The idea that mobile compliments, not competes with the physical shopping experience lends room for incredible opportunities for the future. As Forbes notes above, big box brands are guiding their customers from their smartphone into the store— creating an extra incentive to shop and creating brand loyalty with digitally savvy, successful retailers and brands.


That loyalty now, too, is being curated by on social platforms, apps, and company websites— initiatives that executive teams have tailored for their ideal demographic. Brand new ideas shot out into the ether of the Internet—hoping to catch people on their smartphones—and allowing them to experience shopping in a new way by curating that brands’ unique lifestyle vision.


It’s their very own new-age version of ‘try before you buy.’ You can’t put the top on, but you’ll know exactly how it will enhance your life—and really isn’t that what we’re trying to figure out—finding that confidence from product meeting price meeting our expectations? It’s just the viewfinder that has changed. Now, you can see through a different lens; you’re offered a brand new experience for an everyday occasion—are you riding the wave?