What’s Old is New Again: The Rebirth of Brick-and-Mortar
Irony is often used as a literary device to show the audience traits of a character or situation that are unknown to the story's players. Life often does imitate art, and the world of retail is currently finding itself in its greatest irony in decades: the rise of brick-and-mortar in the omnichannel universe.
Since the dawn of e-commerce, successful retailers have taken for granted that digital was the future and scrambled to claim the space. Indeed, shoppers have moved online; but much like home video didn't kill movie theaters, e-commerce has interwoven itself among the retail fabric alongside brick-and-mortar and formed a symbiotic relationship. We call it omnichannel.
This explains why pure digital plays like Warby Parker are starting to open physical stores. Even L.L. Bean, which has relied primarily on its catalog for over 100 years, is tripling its brick-and-mortar presence. And therein lies the omnichannel irony: the struggle that brick-and-mortar retailers faced in the 90s and 2000s to adopt digital strategies is experiencing a reversal, with purely online companies expanding to the physical world.
Even though brick-and-mortar sales are contracting, they still account for more than 90 percent of the overall $4.12 trillion retail market. That's reason enough to attract retailers to the space, but constructing a network of stores strengthens service levels on every channel and gives retailers tighter control over inventory.
Stores: The New Fulfillment Center
With the maturation of e-commerce and the number of shoppers who grew up digital increasing by the day, consumer expectations are spiking. Modern consumers demand fast, trackable shipping, and they want it for free. Delivering on that expectation used to require costly distribution centers across the country. At the very least, one was needed to serve each coast. Today, integrated point-of-sale and e-commerce software make it extremely easy for retail stores to double as fulfillment centers.