Brick and Mortar: Reports of Its Death Are Greatly Exaggerated


Brick and mortar offers something that online retailers do not: a sensory experience and real customer service PHOTO: Garry Knight

Retail headlines in the last few years have convinced us that online is killing brick and mortar and that Amazon is taking over. Newsflash: this is a fallacy — and there’s proof. 

According to data from A.T. Kearney (pdf), 90 percent of all retail sales are transacted in-store and 95 percent of all retail sales are captured by retailers who have a brick-and-mortar presence. And that makes sense because the reality is that nothing beats the experience of touching, smelling and feeling a physical product. 

So while the masses continue to spread tales of an online revolution, we’re really experiencing an evolution, one that involves enhancing — not replacing — the physical in-store experience generations of shoppers have come to know and love.

Sensory Experiences and Real Service

Let’s face it, Amazon and its push into brick and mortar has put retailers on the defensive, and with good reason: its value proposition in terms of pricing and convenience is compelling. 

But this is not how the story ends. Retailers now have various technologies and ample consumer data at their disposal to fight back and ‘Amazon-proof’ their businesses. What’s more, brick and mortar offers something that online retailers do not: a sensory experience and real customer service.

Brick and Mortar Is Alive and Thriving 

Evidence that contradicts this death of brick and mortar myth is ubiquitous. In fact, e-tailers left and right are opening stores faster than you can say Black Friday — and the trend is only increasing. So by now you must be asking yourselves, “Why exactly do we think we can be beat online retail?”

Well, here are four reasons why: 

1. Because online can’t counsel you when you’re making the biggest purchase of your life

Diamond retailer Blue Nile has seen great success with its value-based, online storefront in the past decade. Despite that, this year the company opened its first Webroom, a 325-square foot building that keeps inventory and overhead low. 

After researching on Blue Nile’s site, shoppers can visit the store to compare the different cuts and colors up close and personal. This way couples can be guided during one of the most unnerving purchases they will make in their adult lives. And while in-store, shoppers can view a digital wall displaying social content, so they get the best of both worlds. 

2. Because online can’t match your glasses to your dog’s leash

Rebecca Minkoff, a top luxury accessories brand, uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, combined with digital mirrors, from which customers can choose items. After customers choose their items, they can call customer service representatives who then bring new items to the dressing room, eliminating wasted time and frustrated customers. 

Online eyeglasses pioneer Warby Parker opened its first brick-and-mortar store in 2014, focusing on personalized customer service. To create a community, the store hosts events like its annual Puppy Party where shoppers can get free portraits of themselves with their dogs. 

3. Because online can’t listen to your home improvement war stories and suggest new tools

Home Depot and Lowe’s offer beacon-enabled store apps to assist customers in solving their problems quickly and help guide them on their reconnaissance missions through the store. An app allows shoppers to pay and check out, so they don’t feel that they’re spending more time than they would shopping from their smartphones at home on the couch. 

4. Because online can’t choose the perfect tomato for your new recipe

Whole Foods has started to offer in-store yoga and barre classes, along with oyster bars and culinary schools. They’ve found that in-store partnerships are another way to bring in new customers and create party atmospheres within their stores. 

Whole Foods and West Elm recently announced that they will host in-store events to educate shoppers about cooking and entertaining — just in time for the stressful holiday season. Meanwhile, Safeway has partnered with Starbucks to encourage shoppers to spend more time in its stores, while other grocery chains now have banks and other on-site amenities built in. 

Online Insights, In-Store Opportunities 

With all of the technological advances available today, there is no reason why retailers can’t employ Amazon-level insights inside their stores. Yet as e-commerce platforms dominate shopper preferences, traditional retailers must also embrace the opportunity to reimagine their physical stores or lose critical ground in the battle for shoppers’ hearts and minds.

As the CEO and Co-Founder of Cloverleaf, Gordon Davidson holds more than 40 years of experience leading product development, engineering, customer service, installation and servicing, sales and finance teams within large corporations (Ericsson, Qualcomm, Bell Canada) and startup and mid-size companies (Novatel Wireless and AccessLine Technologies). At Cloverleaf, Gordon is focused on bringing the company to market with success and profit for the team, partners and customers.


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