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The Slow Death of Retail as We Know It

Last Saturday, our washer and dryer decided to call it quits after 14 years of amazing service. As you can imagine, this is a major crisis for family with children. P0 priority! All hands on deck!

Therefore, Sunday at 7 AM, we were in front of our local Home Depot in a hurry to replace the machines; the store had been open since 6 AM. We headed straight for the Appliance Department full of questions and ready to make a purchase.

We waited for over an hour for the appliance specialist to show up before deciding to give up and leave.

We resumed our buying process once we were back at home; all it took was two browser tabs and 15 minutes before we had brand new machines on the way. And, ironically, we chose to buy from HomeDepot.com rather than other vendors based on the delivery date.

This experience made me realize that retail is losing when it comes to the customer experience. I wasted two hours driving to the store, waiting without receiving any help, and driving back. I was done in a matter of minutes with my browser while enjoying a cup of espresso.

I did not even use the retail store to look at the products, which is really the only edge brick-and-mortar has over online retailers, because they didn’t have the models on the floor.

Upon entering the store, I expected the employees to have a sense of urgency in providing customer service. Considering the alarming reports about retail stores closing and major department stores ordering layoffs have become practically daily news headlines, you would think this would send retailers into a state of emergency. But this weekend, I did not see any real attempt being made in the store to be different, to have an edge over online. Total sales at department stores dropped by 5.6% last year, per the Census Bureau. Major department stores have been closing multiple locations because of decreased sales. After my weekend experience, I’m not surprised—no one stepped up to help, call the specialist, or do anything to try to keep us in that store to make a sale.

I cannot stress enough the role of the customer experience!

It really doesn’t matter what you are selling, or how superior your products are if the customer experience is negatively affected by lack of staff service, unorganized sales floors, limited inventory, chaotic shelves, poor check out process that is too time-consuming. All of those issues can be remedied by choosing to shop online, which makes your brick-and-mortar store even more vulnerable to competition.

Online is killing retail, there’s no doubt about that, but the brick-and-mortar experience still has a relevant role in the shopping experience when done properly. Retailers need to plan and execute a strong business strategy for both in-store and online shopping experiences.

Companies are threatened by over-saturated markets on both fronts, so it’s easy to become obsolete if preemptive actions aren’t taken. In order to determine such necessary actions, you need to have the ability to collect data, create a hypothesis, and test various solutions before finally agreeing to a strategy and taking action.

It’s also important to always remember that just because your online store is doing well, doesn’t warrant complacency at your physical locations. Your physical locations still serve the purpose of delivering a shopping experience many customers desire, therefore your online store should not only be a supplemental factor of your business but a competitive advantage. Even Amazon, which is considered to be the top online store, has a strategy for brick-and-mortar.

At the end of the day, if retailers don’t take necessary action, they only have themselves to blame for failure.

-Mehdi