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Manifesto: Brick & Mortar Retailing At Risk In The Digital Age

Brick and mortar retailers view of the current state of retail trends alarming; from what passes for service, to the hype of online coupons and “going mobile.”  If you are a C-level executive, owner or manager you are bound to hear that retail has “fundamentally changed” since the recession.  It has but not how you may think.

That’s why I researched and created this manifesto detailing the great dangers that exist for brick and mortar retail along with how to fix them.  Below is the setup to the special report detailing the important retail trends. To receive the full manifesto by email [registration required] click on this link, the blue graphic below, or at the end of this post and let me know your thoughts.

The Situation

Have you ever seen one of those movies like War of the Roses or American Beauty where the characters have been together a long time but don’t really talk? 

You know, the old couple who dismisses the other’s feelings? The young couple ready for divorce?

They all have one thing in common, one partner became numb to the other person. After years of abuse or neglect, they feel abandoned and disempowered. Crying for someone to notice them they turned inward. Or turned to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain.

I think that is what we have done to customers in brick and mortar retail shops. Whether it is the big-box or the specialty independent retailer, we have destroyed the in-store relationship by hiring employees who have no interest in truly helping a customer or business, we have let them thrive as long as they could stack merchandise and keep the store organized.

We collectively have let customers find frustration, anger and disappointment where they once found fun, enjoyment and fulfillment.

We didn’t realize how angry they were getting.


Until the Recession occurred and they simply didn’t go out and shop.

But as that ended and customers began to venture out, like a lover hoping their partner would change, they found things as bad or worse than before. Feeling even more alone, they decided to get even and use all the resources in the brick and mortar store to then go home and buy online.

Even worse, some brick and mortar customers installed apps on their smartphones so they could simply scan an item while they were in the store and have it shipped to their home, robbing the bricks and mortar merchant of the payoff.

As some retailers struggle to attract clientele they have grabbed at online coupon companies like Groupon or LivingSocial thinking it is all about the “deal.” But that has only deepened the problem as customers believe they have always paid too much and that they are finally getting the “deals” they deserve for years of bad service.

It’s not too late for us as an industry to change but it has to be a battle for a customers’ attention, respect, focus and trust. It will take creative ways to hire, train, schedule and reward employees. It will take treating the relationship seriously.

If we can’t fix this disturbing retail trend, the divorce will be bruising because we will have taught the customer the answers, personality and fun of shopping lie in their own hands.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Receive your full copy of “Brick & Mortar Retailing At Risk In The Digital Age” HERE

©MMXII Bob Phibbs All Rights Reserved

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Posted by Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor on January 28, 2011.

This entry was posted in Retail Sales and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to “Manifesto: Brick & Mortar Retailing At Risk In The Digital Age”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BobPhibbs,RetailDoc and GetItDone GTD News, Own. Own said: Manifesto: Bricks & Mortar Retailing At Risk In The Digital Age http://bit.ly/gMnc9F #retail #stores [...]

  2. I do go into many stores where I am totally ignored as a customer. Though I don’t want to be terrorized by the salesperson but I do want to be noticed.

    In our bookstore, I expect all the staff to greet every single person who walks in the front door- but often they are just too busy to notice. I know that is an excuse because I can multi-task and greet every customer- even if it is with a nod and a smile. But some people are just not good at carrying on a conversation with one customer and greeting another.

    Mostly the staff are very outgoing and we have a very good word-of-mouth but the customers are still not that loyal. How do you make them more loyal to you?

    The friendly atmosphere is very important in a mom and pop store and sometimes we get lazy and keep staff members who are sour- just because they are good shelvers, etc.

  3. Brian says:

    Doctor –
    Excellent work and right for the times. Basic communication skills will always be in style, regardless of which communication tools are used. Thanks for the info.-B

  4. SOOOO true! Love the perspective and groundedness you are bringing here. How can retailers empower themselves and customers so that it’s a win-win scenario, every time?

    Love what you’re doing.
    Keep up the great work!

    And stop by the Retail Design Diva and say hi!
    Heather :)

  5. Gene Detroyer says:

    You are dreaming. There is nothing a brick and mortar retailer can do to keep people from shopping on line. Every day more and more people are finding that there is no reason to go to a store to get what they need or want.

    My wife and I did almost all of our Christmas shopping on Amazon. It wasn’t because stores are lacking in customer service. It really wasn’t even because of price. It was simply that it was easier. Christmas shopping was done in hours not days and we never left our home.

    As my wife says as she peruses her latest Zappos shipment, “Why would I ever go to a store.”

    I need some new slacks, so after I send this and add my comments to today’s retail wire, I will go to Bonobos.com and order them up. It will take me minutes, not hours and I will never leave my home. Bloomingdales is 2 blocks away and Paul Stuart’s is a $3 cab ride, but neither are reasonable option versus on-line.

    Any retail CEO that is not pursue an aggressive retail on-line strategy should be replaced.

    • bobphibbs says:

      Gene, I’m hardly dreaming and it isn’t an either or if you had read the full document. Online and mobile are one tool in the box – not as one said in the WSJ yesterday as the “be-all and end-all” to reach their customers.

      Some people such as you and your wife are sold on online but online sales are less than 10% of sales. Got it, technology and “going mobile” are the buzz words of the moment. But people can’t decide between 6 toothpastes at the grocery store, how on earth will we expect them to decide in the palm of their hand. I think we respectfully disagree.

  6. I think “loyalty” is a misnomer. All you can do is earn the next opportunity to do business with that same customer. You earn it by exceeding their expectations on their terms.

  7. Bill Emerson says:

    Excellent article, Bob. Shortly after the earth cooled (when I started), retailing was entertaining, educational, and fun. Retail sales associates were trained extensively to be professional, knowledgeable, and dedicated to helping their customer find what they were looking for and enjoy themselves along the way. Being a retail sales associate was a respectable and rewarding career choice. This all changed due to two big factors – the growth of suburbs and cheap money. This led to an explosion of retail selling space as selling space grew at a multiple of population growth. This led to the deadly narcotic of promotional pricing to drive sales, reduced margins, and, ultimately consolidation into national chains with generic assortments, ironically facilitated by the growth of technology.

    Each point in your manifesto is absolutely on the money. The big challenge, as I see it, is that there is simply way too much 4-wall selling space. This means that controlling expense is still the primary lever to protect and/or grow profitability, at least today. The biggest 4-wall expense is payroll and the CFOs of the world will continue to find new ways to reduce it. In an environment like that, I don’t know how any retailer can achieve what you identify as requirements, as correct as they are.

    • bobphibbs says:

      Thank you Bill and great insights. The trouble is, retail is heading towards GM-ville as what a company delivers and says it is about continue to diverge. Retailers love to talk about their customer experience but when I can go in several major boutique retailers to find the DM ringing people up behind the register with the manager, how much can the merch really do? With no humanity on the floor, with the only contact at the end when the customer just wants to get the heck out of there, where is the desire to return for that experience. Smart brands will return full circle to what makes retail great I’m sure. Those that don’t will continue to be marginalized as the 20% overbuilt retail space shakes them out.

  8. Marge Laney says:

    Straight line thinking is always faulty, and those who believe the death of brick & mortar retail is at hand due to the arrival of online and mobile apps are definitely engaging in that mentality. Sure, online and mobile apps are useful tools for retailers and their customers to connect, exchange important information, and transact. But, to suggest them as a replacement for the social, tactile, and instant gratification of the brick & mortar experience, just doesn’t make sense.

    Ultimately, the successful brick & mortar retailer will adopt a multi-channel ‘oneline’ approach that offers their customers access and connection to their brand how and when they want it. Choosing only to connect with customers online or through a mobile app is as foolish as not offering it at all.

    • Brenda says:

      I agree with you Marge.

      Even with the “snow days” we had yesterday and today, we had people visiting our store.

      Have a great day!

  9. Carol says:

    I agree with Marge and Brenda. Online shopping is never going to replace the EXPERIENCE of retail shopping in brick and mortar shops. Creative displays, special events, extraordinary customer service, add-ons like free gift wrap and colorful shopping bags, and fun, educational conversation with a REAL sales associate are the things that can make a brick and mortar store SO much more fulfilling than shopping online. Every single day I have customers telling me thank-you for having my store (36 yrs.), and please don’t ever retire!!

  10. Amanda says:

    I’m currently studying Retail Management with @Dr4ward in my #mkt4760 class. So far our class has focused on how retailers need to hop on board the twitter train and other online tools that can be used for retail marketing. Retailers definitely need to realize that brick and mortar stores may not be enough anymore. Younger generations want things and they want them now. If there isn’t an option to buy a t-shirt, phone, couch, online with one store, there certainly is with another.

    Thank you for your article. I think your manifesto will be in high demand.

  11. [...] and online are the “be-all and end-all” to reach customers. Bob Phibbs, who recently researched the subject, calls that assessment [...]