Retail Apocalypse? Maybe Businesses Just Aren't Responding to Consumer Demand

Monica Eaton-Cardone

October 19, 2017

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From banking and home ownership to sports and casual dining, there seems to be an ever-growing list of industries that are supposedly "dying" at the hands of young people. There's been more push-back to this idea lately, though, and for good reason.

It's Not That Simple

It's true that younger consumers aren't supporting many of the businesses, products, and pastimes their Boomer parents did. News outlets and humor sites try to produce comprehensive lists of things millennials are killing, but a new victim pops up every week.

Many older Americans have connections to industries and consumer products that are now struggling. They consider these industries indispensable to our culture and can't understand what's wrong with young people or why they're apparently dedicated to destroying everything.

Framing the discussion as "millennials failing to support time-honored institutions" mischaracterizes the issue, though. While lifestyle priorities and preferences among young people are one part of these industries' decline, that's a serious oversimplification. Some of the alleged casualties can be very complex or abstract, with a lot of contributing factors explaining why they're having trouble staying relevant.

For our purposes, let's focus specifically on retail, as it's the clearest example.

The Real Problem: Failure to Adapt

We shouldn't be thinking about the matter in terms of consumers failing to support businesses. There are many factors driving the "retail apocalypse," including consumers' access to (and willingness to use) credit, and retailers oversaturating markets by clustering stores too closely.

In addition, it's overly simplistic to suggest that eCommerce is killing off physical retail. In 2017, eCommerce still accounts for less than 10% of all retail sales in the United States.

Many retailers are not only surviving in bricks and mortar—they're thriving. Brands like Warby Parker and Bonobos actually expanded from the eCommerce environment into physical retail with innovative concept stores. Amazon found success thus far with their chain of bookstores, their acquisition of Whole Foods, and Amazon Go's beta testing of their "Just Walk Out" technology earlier this year.

Perhaps more than anything, the problem is businesses' failure to leverage new technologies and adapt to the quickly changing retail environment. After all, market forces demand innovation. Those businesses that are going belly-up are the ones unable to remain competitive.

At Chargebacks911, we look extensively at how to best maximize retailers' profitability from multiple different angles. We've found one thing to be pretty consistent: when it comes to physical retail, the most successful organizations tend to experiment with new ideas.

Going Beyond Omnichannel

The brands mentioned above prove that it's possible to do well in millennial-dominated retail, but sellers need to embrace technological innovation if they want to survive the retail apocalypse.

Even in brick and mortar environments, most customer journeys begin in a digital channel. Customers enjoy the ability to move back and forth between an easily navigable digital experience and the physical channel seamlessly during a single interaction. The different channels complement one another, creating a consistent, single experience, with each channel helping drive traffic and sales in the other.

Of course, the idea of "omnichannel" retail is nothing new at this point. Any retailer not already embracing mobile capabilities is in serious trouble.

The retailers who best leverage physical space are those who go beyond conventional omnichannel techniques. The truly innovative brick and mortar retailers use new technologies to not just enable existing experiences, but to create entirely new ones.

Immersive, Interactive Experiences

Big box stores have been suffering a lot in the last decade. We're now seeing a trend away from packed mega-retailers to smaller, more specialized stores with interactive elements.

Modern customers, specifically the millennial subset, are attracted to experience-based shopping. Look at shoe manufacturer TOMS, for example. They installed VR stations at 100 TOMS stores around the country in 2016 to give shoppers a virtual global experience and meet people benefitting from their "one for one" business model.

The key to attracting younger shoppers is to create immersive, in-store experiences. Retailers can use physical space to create unique concepts that complement the brand and the products available. This approach will not only draw customers into the store, but encourage them to interact with products and entice them to buy.

The Store as a Showcase

Even Best Buy, one of the brands most closely connected to the big box idea, is rebounding due to new strategies. Part of that is more effective management, but another major factor is their new approach to the sales floor.

Rather than a uniform look that projects a clear "big box" vibe, Best Buy is embracing a "kiosk" approach. Brands like Apple, Sony, and Samsung set up branded mini-stores inside Best Buy to showcase products and allow customers to play with them before buying. This not only creates a more dynamic, appealing look, but also amps up the interactive factor.

To compete with Amazon's fast shipping times, the store no longer fulfills orders solely from warehouses. Instead, items ship from wherever they can be fulfilled fastest. This is especially handy for large items; customers can examine the item in-store as if it were a showcase, then order online and receive it quickly.

The Ball is in Retailers' Court

Remember: it's not millennials that are killing retailers. These wounds are self-inflicted by out-of-touch businesses refusing to adapt to what consumers want.

If brick and mortar sellers want to not only survive the retail apocalypse, but thrive well into the future, they'll need to start creating these kinds of experiences in their stores. Otherwise, they'll soon be going the way of the dinosaurs.

Monica Eaton-Cardone is the COO of Chargebacks911, the global leader for risk mitigation and chargeback management. Her company creates dynamic, scalable technologies to help innovative eCommerce merchants mitigate emerging threats. Connect with Monica on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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