Brick and mortar is not dead yet

I originally posted this article on back in march 2013. Interestingly the message and facts didn’t change at all. So I thought it’s worth getting it over here and rework it.

Lately there seems to be a lot of discussion around the death of the physical retail store. Some prophets are saying that e-commerce will eat them all.

Sorry, but I don’t agree here. In my opinion e-commerce is “just” another game changer for retail merchants. Ok, a huge and fast one. But back in history there was always some gamechanger in retail and with it always the vision of retail doomsday of some sort. Mailorder was there to destroy local retailers. TV shopping also. Discount as well. The huge malls were the prediction of small shops going down. And so on. Make some research yourself.

It comes down to what it always comes down in business: innovation and adoption to the business environment. For businesses it was always the rule that those who do not adapt will die out. Those who do and innovate will survive. All the discussion about pure players, multi-channelers and non e-commerce for me is somehow nonsense. They are all merchants, selling stuff to the customer. They do it via different channels. And that’s it. It doesn’t really matter what channels you use or don’t use. More important is that you know what you sell. That you bring something unique to the customer, be it service or good prices. I don’t like that much to say “niche”, since it’s often connected to small. But as a merchant you have to find your niche of uniqueness to survive, to be different from the others.

What made me think about this topic was a purchase I made recently in a local store. Apart from all my other occupations (like writing for blogs) I work as a professional photographer. So once in a while I need to buy new stuff – in this case a new lens (we are talking about professional grade stuff at high prices here). So I did, what I would describe as the usual process. I went to the web, looked at price comparison engines, amazon and so on. Since I had this particular lens on my list for a long time, I knew pretty well in advance what the price would be. Then I went to the website of a local dealer, where I bought some of my gear back in time. Usually they are good in price, just a bit higher than the net, but that’s ok for me, because I get good service (niche of uniqueness), can try out the stuff and have direct available if something breaks down.

What I did not expect was that: they had the best price. Better than the web, even better that I EVER saw for this lens in about two years. I went to the dealer and bought it. I also asked them how on earth they can do that (I mean they were 80€ less than the best dealer on the web!). The serice professional explained to me that they have one employee who doesn’t do anything else but monitoring prices on the net. With that information they can adapt their own prices and follow – or even lead – the competition. Online and offline. And together with their buying department they can make decisions and set prices dynamically. And they can live from that pretty good. Just to be clear: that is not a new dealer! The company is around in my hometown for over 40 years now.

They survived through adoption, innovation and finding their niche of uniqueness. And this with a product range where most people would predict that amazon, eBay and pure play merchant will take over. I guess that was predicted a couple of years ago…

So let me also make a prediction here: If a merchant of any kind and size is innovative, can adapt and find his niche of uniqueness, he will survive. Those who just sell the same stuff as thousands of others will die sooner or later, because they do not have a distinction. Basically the commerce scene is like it always was: changing.


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