The Role of Retail Stores Today = Fitting Room/Showroom

I very rarely purchase an item in a physical retail store anymore.  The vast majority of my purchases are exclusively online.  For me, the role of a retail store has largely been relegated to that of a fitting room/showroom, used in the research phase of a purchase decision.  (I do realize that working from home, I have the luxury to be able to receive packages, whereas many people either need to have a doorman or ship to work and then carry items home.)
For instance, this past weekend, I set foot in a few physical retail stores for just that – research. My husband needed to try on sunglasses and running shoes that we had no intention of purchasing at that time, but wanted to compare against one another and note sku numbers for online follow-up.
Thinking more about it, there are just a few reasons why I’ll make a purchase in a physical store these days:
  1. Urgent need. If I absolutely need an item by a given date, regardless of the category. With more retailers offering same-day or 1-day shipping for low or no-fees though, even the case of urgent need is being addressed, making online shopping more compelling.
  2. Commodity/low-priced goods: For items like laundry detergent, toilet paper, batteries, toothpaste etc I’ll still often run to the corner store to purchase.  It really relates back to urgent need though, because if it can wait, Amazon Prime (with free shipping) is as nearly good an option.  The downside to Amazon Prime is that they often require buying in bulk to get the free shipping, so when I only need a small quantity/volume, sometimes running to the store is a better/more economical alternative.
  3. Food/groceries: Even for this category, we have shifted much spending online (thank you, Fresh Direct). Popping into the corner market to pick up a few things for dinner does require less planning than to order and schedule ahead/wait for delivery, and there is wider selection.  But largely, this relates to point #1.
  4. Locally offered item: If an item isn’t available online or is from a unique establishment I support, it does provide me with more reason to purchase in store. Despite my desire to get the best price (often found online), I am a supporter of local businesses, which does create a personal tension for me when sometimes making these buying decisions.
A few years back, I remember the retailer Nau was stocking just one of each piece of clothing in their store, treating it more like a showroom (similar to shopping for a car).  The intention was to reduce their footprint and prioritize the environment, as well as reduce inventory costs. If you wanted to purchase the model item from the store you could, or you could receive a discount if you waited a few days and instead had inventory from the warehouse shipped directly to you.  I’m not certain if Nau is still proceeding with this model, but I was intrigued.  Seems efficient and cost-effective in terms of inventory and keeping it all centralized so it doesn’t sit in the wrong stores.
I wonder if this “showroom” model would ever become more mainstream in the future, as more shoppers like me use stores primarily for research.  Despite my personal bias and overall welcome embrace to this approach, I am guessing that it will never become so common since most people like immediate gratification or have an urgent need, reasons driving them to shop in stores to begin with.

4 thoughts on “The Role of Retail Stores Today = Fitting Room/Showroom

  1. Pingback: Shopping trends/observations from SoHo | tamrafeldman

  2. Interesting post T. Though I find I’m completely the opposite when it comes to most of this. I like the actual shopping process – going to a store, looking at a few things, and then purchasing what I want. Plus, I can guarantee the quality when I’m choosing my own product right there. And in the case of living in New York, a lot of the fun is having all of the major flagship stores just a short walk, cab or subway ride away. I think if I lived outside of New York, I’d be more inclined to do my shopping online because I wouldn’t have access to all of it.

    • Valid points! Once I started shopping mostly online, there was no turning back. I abhor going to busy stores now, it truly makes me uneasy. If I could always have stores entirely to myself I may think otherwise, but given the crowd situations, I am nearly 100% an online shopper.

  3. I think some of the habits you describe are geographically connected. As a Midwest suburbanite,it is much easier and more economical for me to shop for things like groceries for example, by driving a couple of blocks to the store and making the selections personally. For things like clothes and accessories, it is easier to find a broader and often more competitively priced selection online than in the limited stores in my geographic area, making my shopping habits more similar to yours for those items.

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