Where will we go when the real stores disappear?
Best Buy is closing 50 stores. http://nyti.ms/I75YGk Borders is closed. Barnes and Noble and Sears are struggling. Amazon has no footprint and is threatening all of these companies along with almost any home improvement store and more. My sister-in-law has been on a rant about her small local shops closing in Washington DC. As a single adult she walks her downtown neighborhood having a drink at her favorite little coffee shop. She shops at her favorite clothing store who will do a special order for the black pants that fit her so well but got torn. She passes her shoe store - admittedly high end - looking for the sales. Sometimes she drops in just to chat and look because after years of shopping on these blocks she knows the owners. Service, community, convivial conversation, rest from a high powered job - shopping is built into the moments of the days of her life and enriches it.
When her local bookstore closed she wanted to fight back - but what is she to do? Is the future in these mobile unmanned Best Buy vending machine “shops”? [cid:image002.jpg@01CD130E.82580990] What is a big box store to do?
Many years ago we watched our local bookstores evaporate because of Borders and Barns and Noble. Eventually we adapted and B&N with its great selection of my light weight fiction won out. Today these are the local store that Amazon threatens. Here is my paltry stand: I read 2-3 books a week on the Android NOOK on my phone. I started with skepticism but now I can’t imagine reading any other way - and I LOVE love the curling page turn in that app. Why? My phone fits in my hand and my purse. I have my book any time I’m waiting in my Starbuck’s line, or at the airport, or on a mini break at work. It has a backlight so I don’t keep my husband up when he is asleep. And I can look up any word or bit of history or airplane type in one of my war stories and see the pictures. I even found my current favorite musician, Jim Brickman, because of a reference in my novel that way. (Pop it into Pandora, listen, and hear the music in the scene of the book-cool!) No matter how I look at it - I’m just not going back to the weight, the lugging, the hassle of keeping the page open, and the batteries of the bitty light! It’s E-books for me.
But what about bookstores? If I want to find a new author, and look at the latest books I go into the real B&N store. Why? No matter what is said about on-line finding, browsing, and recommendations - it is not the same as flipping through the pages, looking at the book structure and tone. Samples are simply too short to support this. And structure matters because I don’t like mysteries that think revealing the bad guy’s mind is fun! So I skim the book looking to see if chapters alternate between the good guys and bad guys. When I find a book I want to try I order it in the NOOK and send my money to B&N in hope that I won’t lose that store experience. And I don’t buy from Amazon.
Similarly, when we were buying our 3D TV we went to Best Buy three times to try out the experience, ask questions, and figure out what components we needed. But at the moment of purchase Amazon’s price was better. We were caught in a dilemma. We used the services of Best Buy - shouldn’t we pay for that? Thank goodness Best Buy suddenly had a sale and we could buy there. But what will happen next time when price meets service?
All the research we do on shopping tells us that real stores are simply necessary for decision making. Even Amazon has Best Buy displaying the Fire! So what is the future of physical stores? Do we start charging a cover fee for people entering stores to touch and feel and choose - but not buy? Do we reinvent Service Merchandise which was catalog shopping with a display store? Does every manufacturer and furniture maker create their version of the Apple Store?
The future shopping experience is being invented now in all the product and business decisions big box stores are making to try to offer a compelling shopping experience integrating on-line and in-store shopping. But it is our own shopping behavior that will determine the future of shopping. It’s not a battle between the on-line and in-person experience. For the designers of the stores of the future it’s a matter of finding something new that’s complimentary, fun, and gets the job done within our unstoppable momentum of life. http://bit.ly/qksibM
I’m looking forward to being a part of it all - both as a designer and a consumer.