I hate shopping.
Let me clarify: I hate the physical experience of shopping. I find no joy in a mall. I avoid department stores like the plague. If I can buy it online, I will.
Except I don’t always click to shop.
Why? I should be the gold standard of e-commerce targets. And most of the time, I am. Except when I’m not. Take home improvement stuff, for instance. I still drive down to my local Home Depot, even though I can order online.
As prognosticators of the online space, we’ve been busy hammering the nails in the coffin of brick-and-mortar retail for a while. In a recent story in The Atlantic, e-tail was called the perfect match for the emerging sloth of the first-world consumer: “E-commerce is soaring and food-delivery businesses are taking off because human beings are fundamentally lazy and they don’t want to leave the couch to buy stuff.”
That makes sense. But while the smart bets seem to be placed on a consumer stampede heading towards e-tail, Amazon just invested 13.7 billion in buying Whole Foods Market. If brick-and-mortar retail is dead, why the hell did Amazon buy almost 500 more physical stores? That same Atlantic article does a pretty thorough job of answering this question, offering three compelling reasons why Amazon made the Whole Foods deal:
· To dominate the food delivery market
· To create an instant fulfillment network
· To broaden Amazon’s footprint within the consumption habits of affluent Americans
I can buy that. The second point in particular seems to make eminent sense. If I know something is in stock at my local store and I need it right now, I’ll make the trip. And Amazon is currently struggling to deliver the last mile of fulfillment.
But I keep going back to my original question: Why do I -- a man who detests the physical act of shopping -- still decide to go to a store more often than I probably want to?
There have been various strategies put forward for the salvation of physical stores. In a recent post on Mediapost, Mahesh Krishna said personalization was the answer: Use data to tailor an in-store experience. I myself wrote something similar in a previous post about Amazon testing the waters of a brick-and-mortar retail environment. But there’s nothing personalized about Home Depot. I’m anonymous til I get to the till. So for me, anyway, that doesn’t seem to explain why.
Experiential shopping is another proffered recipe for the salvation of retail. A recent article from Wharton cited an Italian culinary-themed retail success story, Eataly, "a chain of Italian marketplaces that combines restaurants, grocery stores and cooking schools" and "capitalizes on the appeal of Italian culture and sophistication." According to a Wharton professor quoted in the article, ‘It all works together like a little universe... There’s a nice synergy there; you can taste the foods in the restaurant … you might then go to the grocery store to buy it so you can make it at home."
But how much “experience” do I really need in my shopping? The answer is, not a lot. As undeniably fantastico as Eataly is, for me it would be a three-to-four-times-a-year visit. And let’s face it – the retail niches that suit this over-the-top experiential approach are limited.
No, there needs to be a more pragmatic reason why I’ll actually drag my butt away from a screen and down to the local mercantile.
When I really examined the reasons why I usually go to the store, I realized they all had to do with risk. I go to the store when I’m afraid that stuff could go wrong:
For me, brick-and-mortar shopping is usually nothing more than a risk-mitigation strategy, pure and simple.
And I suspect I’m not alone. Apple Stores are often cited as an example of experiential shopping, but I believe the real genius of this retail success story is the Genius Bar. The jigsaw puzzle integration of the All Things Apple universe can be a daunting prospect. Having an actual human to guide you through the process is reassuring, and reassurance is most effective when it’s face-to-face. That’s why I go to a store.