Nordstrom will launch an inventory-free shop in Los Angeles. What does that mean? Shoppers will have the chance to try clothes inside one of eight super-dressing rooms, surrounded by comfort and helped by a personal stylist. If they choose to buy something they’ll be able to stop by later in the day and collect it, do that the day after or receive it at home.
This is just a test but it tells us how far Retailers are willing to go in search of a unique in-store experience. Something that could differentiate them from the convenience of those marketplaces whose mind-bending ascent is on everybody’s lips.
Other big brands have instead decided to debut or consolidate their online presence, dealing with a double issue: the necessity of reinvigorating their image, by focusing on one-of-a-kind experiences both online and offline and the imperative of having to satisfy their client’s expectations about home deliveries.
Expectations whose bar has been set very high and whose repercussions echo all along the supply chain. Considering the diminishing workload of traditional stores first steps have been taken to partially mutate them into warehouses that could support online sales. Geographically it makes sense because they’re located inside cities, nearer to the majority of shoppers. What doesn’t make sense is to turn expensive prime-quality real estate into micro-warehouses, inside which it’s complicated to organically keep track of stock, risking dangerous inconsistencies between demand and offer.
Startups like Parcelly in the UK and Darkstore in the USA are buying or renting storage space in high-density urban areas (including unused surfaces inside shops and bars) and then reselling it as warehouse space for eCommerce thirsty for ultra-fast deliveries. The idea is good but entails the entry of yet another player into an already byzantine game.
Getting closer to the shopper to be able to serve him faster with home delivery sounds like a paradox: if he’s close to the shop why doesn’t he go there and personally touch, try, buy?
In Italy eCommerce is only 2.6% of Retail. Everybody talks about the Retail Apocalypse but in the USA, where the offline crisis is painfully experienced, still more shops open yearly than those that close.
Shoppers will never categorically decide on one solution or the other: they want to choose freely between both. Those who find the best balance between their physical and online presence will survive and then thrive. Even Amazon, after conquering the online world, has started to re-invest in brick and mortar.
Regarding home deliveries: beware of betting everything on velocity. It’s not urgency that dominates shoppers’ instincts but the desire of freedom, of gaining power inside a sector that has historically seen him enslaved by moody clerks, ancient opening hours, scary prices and chronically irritating couriers.
Those in a rush, by selecting more expensive ultra-fast options, will pay for those who take their time and save (it already happens with some online marketplaces but people forget it because they pay for premium membership once a year). Both will be happy because they’re entitled to choose when to receive their parcel, day and hour, and have been cuddled to the end of their highly customized journey.
There’s a new buzzword: customized. Those who follow it like a lighthouse won’t get lost inside the eCommerce storm.