Internet killed the retail store

In a world of ever-advancing computer and internet technology, integrated technological shopping experiences within the offline shopping realm and online shopping itself, the world of retail has changed.

Technologically savvy online shoppers are relying on the brands they know and turning to their online outlets as a means of ease of shopping and money and time-saving.

Has technology really killed the retail store? Do people prefer the online experience?

By all superficial accounts; maybe. However, there are some redeeming measures that can be taken by retailers to keep the customers passing through stores, trying-on clothing and making their purchases directly from retailer outlets as opposed to succumbing to the online world.

Recently, Jill Diane Pope a writer for Desktop and a blogger herself wrote an article on a seminar held with the Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and the State Library of Victoria on the future of retail culture: ‘The shop is dead – Long live the shop‘.

The seminar was chaired by Penny Modra, Editor of Melbourne’s Three Thousand and featured Kate Luckins, creator of The Clothing Exchange project, Susan Dimasi, designer and co-founder of Material By Product and Barrie Barton, creative director of Right Angle Studio.

The main topic of discussion were retail stores and the industry in Melbourne, which Barton described as ‘lazy’ while Luckins explained why she felt intimidated at the mere thought of facing shopping in a massive shopping centre; a common sentiment among older and more conservative generations. Having lived around the corner from Westfield’s Southland Shopping Centre and a short drive from Chadstone Shopping Centre, I can completely understand her contention: the effort and mustering of motivation required for a trip to the shopping centre can be a daunting prospect, especially when you’re hoping for a light window-shop as opposed to a hardcore sending spree. Horses for courses, I say.

The idea that shops need to offer an experiential opportunity for shoppers, as opposed to merely a service was resounded through the discourse as a strong point of interest. I know for one, I’m much more likely to return to not only a particular brand of clothing on account of the service I receive from the shop assistants, but I’m pretty liable to return to that exact store and hunt-down that exact sales person that made my last purchase so enjoyable that it drove me back.

Why? Why not!

An experience is what people remember, not so much what actually caused the experience. Online shopping it would seem, does not offer this; nor the possibility of trial before purchase. This inherently instills a lot of confidence in shonky online measurements – All of which I’ve never had any luck with, by the way.

In the same way people search for experiences for social enjoyment, people search for experiences in their shopping. The number of times I have received absolutely appalling customer service in a store from a salesperson is jaw-dropping. I won’t name names – not yet, anyway – but I’m amazed I even consider revisiting said stores after those experiences. Unfortunately, their products fit me so well. Damn my slender build!

As for the online/offline experience, there are mounted arguments for both: online shopping encompasses technological incapability, yet ease of time and monetary concern. Offline shopping encompasses enduring from my perspective as a whole, awful service – yes primarily in Melbourne, yet offers an experience and the tangible and at-the-time convenience.

Yeah, there’s the notion that online shopping is an extension of physical outlets. There is also the notion that online shopping constitutes its own separate retail outlet. I’m for the former, made clear by the fact that – although the online experience varies in every single aspect to that of the tangible – most retailers have extended their peddling to the online realm as well as in-store. Makes sense, no?

So, no; I don’t think internet killed the retail store. Internet has embellished upon the retail store. I don’t care if you’re someone who admires every stitch of a garment before purchase in store, or goes off on a whim and selects ten items on a website without comparing prices or sizes, the regular shopper cannot compare the tangible experience of a shop front and confidence of purchase.

However… Kristen Greening from the VECCI Blog wrote an article on the idea that retailers are actually going to start charging their potential customers money to try garments on before they buy them! Wow. In an effort to compete with online retailing sites? Really? At first thought, it would drive shoppers more and more to it.

I suppose, this only works for particular lines of apparel and products. As the blog entry suggests, ski wear.

And why you may ask? Because there is supposedly an increasing trend in customers behaviour that sees them entering retailers shops, trying on clothing, then returning to the peace of their computer screen, and buying online. I suppose it’s worth the shipping and transport fees to save a few dollars than opposed to face-to-face…?

It saves customers money by playing on the little loophole that allows overseas retailers an exemption from paying the ten per cent goods and services tax (GST) or import duties of ten to 15 per cent of items costing less than $1000.

Bill Shorten, Assistant Treasurer and Minster for Financial Services and Superannuation said that consumers might be able to find something cheaper online, but they won’t have access to personal service or advice, much similar to the seminar I spoke about prior, and he explained the fact is that local ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers still have many competitive advantages over online retailers. What words of truth.

It is fairly clear, although of course this doesn’t apply to all shoppers, that the online world, while encroaching and integrating ever more onto the real, physical world, somehow doesn’t have the same effect as a good old-fashioned shop-around. While there are very clear and to a degree concerning reasons for retailers to be fearful of the internet and the power it wields, it’s fairly safe to say it’s secure for the time.

So go forth and shop!

James Banham
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James Banham

Editor at THE F
James Banham is an Australian lifestyle, fashion and entertainment journalist. His writing can be found on these many topics and more in print and online publications around the country.
James Banham
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