Commentary

Retail Dead Zone: Can Email Save Brick-And-Mortar Stores?

Business owners not only fear a retail apocalypse, many believe that nothing can be done to stop it. A survey of retailers by GetApp shows that 66% expect to close their physical stores and conduct all business online within ten years. Of over 200 polled, only 16.7% feel this is unlikely.

Granted, we’re not talking about the Federateds and Hudson Bays here: These are small retailers, vulnerable to every shift in the economy.

It’s hard to predict what the landscape will look like ten years out, but this could be good news for email platform providers: Whatever the devices in use at that time, it’s likely that email will remain an affordable medium, especially effective for retargeting, cross-selling and customer service.

All they have to do is keep up with the technology. 

It’s could also be good news for retailers — those who have already found reasonably priced platforms and machine-learning systems. “If you're able to collect data on your consumers, you can use this vital information to your benefit — and to your customer's. writes Amy Nichol Smith on Business.com. “An email to thank a customer for their purchase is a nice gesture. Even better is an email sent one week later to offer that customer a discount on their next purchase. Whether they shop your online store or visit a brick-and-mortar location, your goal is to keep them coming back. Consumers don't mind emails because they're getting something out of it – a discount and great customer service, and they feel valued.”

Sound too easy? Maybe – but that’s the start of being able to survive as a pure-play ecommerce venture. Only business owners who master this now will have a prayer, even in the short term.

Mind you, the GetApp survey has its detractors — within its own company. Anthony Bradley, group VP of GetApp’s parent Gartner, says that an all-online retail environment isn’t “very realistic,” according to Direct Marketing News. Bradley predicts that stores “won’t go away entirely,” but will be minimized, the story continues.  

That’s probably true. But there’s a tendency to attribute these changes to technology and shifting Millennial tastes. There’s another problem, and it’s as big a factor as the others: the real estate business.

In the interest of full disclosure, I live in New York City and resent what is happening here. Just go to Lexington Avenue, home to coffee shops, shoe repair stores, second-hand bookstores and antique dealerships. 

These enterprises are being driven out by the rents, and destroying the quality of life on this charming little strip. The owners are beleaguered, and many will simply retire when their leases run out. 

All the more reason to move online. And younger retailers are starting out there, as eBags did roughly 20 years ago. These forward-thinking owners open brick-and-mortar stores only after they’ve made it online. Meanwhile, many streets are filled with empty stores, including former banks and drug chain outlets.

We’ll know the retail apocalypse has truly arrived when we see Starbucks close locations. 

Added material: GetApp is a retail business and marketing analytics company

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