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Amazon Killed the General Store

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4 min read

Part I: The Fall of Brick and Mortar

Meet “Octocopter.” This is the future of retail.  Last week Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos announced that delivery drones are the way of the future.  Taking retail one-step further from its brick and mortar roots. Within five years, packages will be delivered to customers via flying robots, just 30 minutes after online purchase.

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This image is far cry from the general store, the cornerstone of any community.  The one that smells of cloves and motor oil all in one, with its raw, thick-planked oak floorboards that squeak and groan a familiar tune beneath 12-foot ceilings. Where a friendly face greets you from behind a counter, lined with glass jars of pickled eggs and licorice and offers you everything from baked goods to car parts.

Is either option entirely realistic in today’s constantly changing retail landscape?

Numbers Don’t Lie

E-commerce, with or without the drones, is the way of the future.  This does not mean the traditional brick and mortar retailer is a dying breed, it does, however, suggest that these businesses must adapt to a changing climate. According to an eMarketer report titled, US Retail Ecommerce: 2013 Forecast and Comparative Estimates, e-commerce sales in the US will total $259 billion in 2013, a 15 % increase from 2012. The future looks even brighter, with digital sales expected to increase at an annual growth rate of 14% between now and 2017.  The report highlights yet another emerging trend in retail – predicting smartphone and tablet shoppers to be strong drivers in the near future. Accounting for 11% of online sales currently, mobile commerce or m-commerce is predicted to jump to 25% by 2017.

Digitally Adapt or Die

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Brick and mortar business owners must adapt to the changing landscape in order to stay competitive. Ecommerce is driving brands to innovate, to provide consumers with better products, customizable options, and more purchasing channels. Traditional businesses that create an online presence will see benefits if their approach is executed properly. Going online is not foolproof, but it provides plenty of tools for business development for a very low cost.

Data, Data, Data!

One of the most astoundingly useful and simultaneously simple tools available to online retailers is data.  With each purchase, consumers offer up precious personal information and effortlessly build an incredibly useful database at the retailer’s disposal. Using this the most basic of information, a customer’s email address provides a low-cost remarketing opportunity via email.

The next layer of data can be used to monitor how your customers are interacting with your business. Online retailers may use shopper history to create and enhance consumer experience and inturn long-term engagement. Information pertaining to individual customer purchasing patterns allows the retailer to send out uniquely tailored special offers and promotional material. This ability to offer customized benefits directly appealing to the interests of individual customers is a key advantage online retailers have over traditional ones. There is a lengthy list of ways in which data can be easily collected, analyzed and used to the benefit of online retailers.

Two Way Street

Online shopping lacks the human element that brick and mortar stores have honed and used to develop loyalty, engagement, culture, trust and overall rapport. Just as it is the responsibility of the traditional retailer to get online, it is up to the online retailer to find new ways to add human engagement back into the shopping equation. As the world of retail continues to move toward virtual space and away from the physical, the next question ought to be – how can businesses use technology to harness the advantages of person to person contact?

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Go Online With HQ

HQ designer Natalia Solodukha and front end developer Olga Gaishoon created the online store for Gazeboes Australia. The company has been in business since 1985, has served over 68,000 customers and welcomes more than 8,000 new customers to its store each month. Within five minutes of visiting the site, customers are greeted with a live chat panel, welcoming them to the site and asking how they can help. The website explains in its “About Us” segment that:

“This is just the same as when you walk into a real store – there’s someone there to help you find the best product for your needs. So don’t hesitate to ask us for information – we’re willing to help.”

Images of families and smiling faces using the products in inviting settings to greet visitors to the page. These two tools are a step in the right direction, bringing human elements to online retail.

Sergei Vardomatski


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