Why Stores Still Rule Retail

Author

Laura Heller, Contributor

September 30, 2014

For all the talk of how online retail dominates the vast majority of purchases are still made in person, in a physical location.

Surprised?

E-commerce sales are just were just 6.4 percent of total retail sales for the second quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, up from just 5.8 percent the same period 2013.

In some product categories such as electronics where online makes more sense. Products that can be easily researched and compared, with a purchase decision based largely on price, provide few compelling reasons to go out to a store.

But not all retail is created equal and some shopping needs to be done in person. Take, for example, three recent retail experiences that could not have been handled solely online.

The first two, a new car and a mattress, both began online. Like a great majority of consumers — 81 percent by some counts — a big purchase decision starts online. New cars and mattresses are big financial outlays and quite stressful experiences. Premilinary online research helps to mitigate that somewhat, but it was necessary to visit the physical location to test drive each.

Which is where the opportunity for retailers to distinguish themselves in meaningful ways comes presents itself.

The car experience was about what you’d expect, but buying a mattress in the end really came down to service. There were identical products sold in neighboring locations. Both sales people were, and I’m not making this up, named Steve.

But one Steve did a better job of answering my questions, working with our budget and making me feel good about the choice. That Steve got the sale.

There was a person here who made the difference.

The same is true of a local shoe store. Here, an employee went so far above and beyond as to contact the make of a particular hard to find brand of shoe — Coclico — to inquire about replacing a favored pair of three year old shoes. The shop, City Soles, is a small independently owned store in Chicago. I’ve been a frequent visitor there over the years, the staff seldom changes and the shoe selection is rather unique.

It’s a perfect recipe for success as a brick and mortar retailer, and one more opportunity for a person to make a difference.

And she did, in spite of the fact the store didn’t get the sale.

I tried to get find the shoe online. There was a pair listed on eBay, but it was the wrong color. There was an identical pair on another independent retailer’s website, but in the wrong size. My emailed queries to that shop went unanswered.

But when I wandered into City Soles on a sunny Saturday, everything was different. The store manager had a relationship with that brand and offered to contact the sales rep, who found a pair, in the right color and size, and shipped it to my home.

I paid the sales rep directly and while the shoe store didn’t get a portion of the proceeds they did get my unwavering loyalty.

The internet is great for so many things, including shopping. But in most of retail, the store still rules.

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