Real Love. I’m Searching for a Real Love.

CB Barthlow, Director of Development – Shop Marketing & Creative Group

I believe the great American songstress Mary J. Blige said it best when articulating the human need for what’s real: “See I’m searching for a real love and I don’t know where to go. Been around the world and high and low and still I never know.” It’s true in 90s R&B and true in marketing: we want what’s real.

However, there’s a rumor out there that what’s real is dying. Or maybe they said retail was dying. Either way, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears, and Kmart are all closing real retail stores this year. More consumers are making more purchases online with retailers like Amazon and Walmart.com. With this migration to the digital world, no wonder the real world is going away.

So then, why in the world is Amazon.com headed in the wrong direction? Why is the world’s largest online retailer leading a charge back to brick and mortar stores?  If you haven’t heard, Amazon physical stores are popping up all over the U.S., giving consumers an opportunity to go back to the kind of retail experience that, many argued was dying at the hands of Amazon itself. So what’s the deal? Is this a long-term strategy? Will people abandon online retail experiences? Is digital dying? No way, of course not… I think.

Digital commerce offers far too many benefits to both retailers and consumers to ever go away. For consumers, it’s just too easy to make two clicks and have a delivery today. We can’t replicate that ease of experience in the old way of buying things. For brands, the data gathered and the insights developed from the digital sales journey are nearly impossible to beat in the brick and mortar environment. Plainly stated, we’re all too far down the digital road to run back to the safety of mom and pop shops.

However, there are some things that mom and pop can do that no UI can replicate. Here’s 4 things you can only get in a Brick and Mortar Store:

Product Trial & Test: Online retailers have become experts at helping their consumers determine what their products will be like when they receive them. From peer product reviews, to sizing guides and even 360-degree model imagery for shape and fit, online shoppers can get a very close approximation to the product experience. But nothing can replicate the real thing. As a consumer, there is no comparison between trying on a new shoe and hoping the “fits one size large” directive will do the trick. There is a reason we say “try this on for size”: it’s the best way to determine if something fits.

Human Interaction: The introvert in me doesn’t really want to tell you that interacting with other people is something we as a species enjoy but we all know the old business adage that people buy from people. You may like to be alone socially but a positive experience with a human sales associate is likely to invite your repeat business far more than any clever chat bot conversation ever could.

Instant Gratification: How we go about acquiring things is important to humans and no part of that process is more important than the moment what we want becomes ours. In digital, there is a delay. Even if Amazon introduces AmazonNow delivery or your download speeds are lightning quick, there is nothing quite like the first bite of your new purchase.

Sensory Immersion: Truth is, physical book sales are on the rise, even though we all thought we’d stop turning pages by 2020. This is due to many factors (not the least of which is that tactile experiences are valuable to humans):

  1. Turning pages is important to readers. Whether you count down from the last page or love to dog-ear your books, pages are integral to how we consume printed information.
  2. Books smell a certain way. The paper used to make books is an important part of the way the product is made and equally important to the future reader’s experience.
  3. People do books by the cover: the work that goes into cover art, liner notes and recommendations is an invaluable method by which readers make purchase decisions.

All of these sensory perceptions translate into a richer cognitive experience and that’s not just true for books. We remember more of what we consume with all of our senses and online experiences cannot do that.