All around the internet you can hear the cries of how brick and mortar stores are slowly dying. We have seen a few of these deaths already. CompUSA, Borders, and Circuit City have recently passed away. Best Buy, has been reported to be one of the next to pass and we’ve heard rumors of Barnes & Noble possibly amputating its brick and mortar and spinning out its digital branch into a separate entity. We see this and cannot help but think brick and mortars are indeed dying. The stores of the future will only live on the web. In store employees will be replaced by customer representatives in a live chat and we will never go to a physical store ever again. But then there’s the common exception to the rules we keep hearing about day in and day out, Apple.
At the end of September in 2011 Apple had 245 retail stores in the United States and 112 international stores. It had opened 21 new stores outside the United States in 2011 and of course opened up their premier store in New York City at Grand Central Station. Its brick and mortar stores saw over 110 million visitors in the last quarter (source: Seeking Alpha). At a time when most brick and mortars are closing their doors, why is Apple opening theirs?
When you enter an Apple retail store it feels nothing like entering a retail store. There’s a concierge who happily greets you and directs you in the appropriate path. Every employee is outfitted to check you out so there aren’t any lines. The layout is spacious so you can gravitate to different areas of products and feel free to browse. There’s a specialized section of the store devoted to answering your more technical and difficult questions. If you walk in hoping to check your e-mail or your Facebook page it’s not a problem - you’re more than welcome to. Visiting an Apple store is all about touching an Apple product, experiencing that product in your hands.
While e-commerce on the web is undoubtably powerful, there is no substitute for the physical interaction one can have with a product - whether it be through an employee or the product itself. Google and Amazon understand that and are looking to replicate Apple retail’s success. Brick and mortar stores are still extremely important but they must evolve. Much like many e-commerce sites have evolved on the web in the past decade brick and mortar stores must understand what the best value they can provide to their customers are. Rather than cut staff or plan for lavish renovations the entire physical customer experience must be looked at and rethought. What experience can a retailer serve in a brick and mortar that cannot be fulfilled over the web? Why do customers want the reassurance of a brick and mortar store and how can that reassurance be extended into other areas that encourage sales growth? Nature will show us which companies have found the answers to these questions in due time.