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Retail Shopping: Virtual or Reality?

By on February 26, 2014

In the 1998 movie, “You’ve Got Mail,” the charming children’s bookshop owned by Meg Ryan’s character is threatened by the mega-box book store owned by Tom Hank’s character. Despite the small shop’s long history as a part of the Main Street USA-style neighborhood, the store eventually folds underneath the pressure exerted by the discount powerhouse next door. Flash forward to 2014, and Borders book stores have closed their doors due in large part to Amazon.com’s supremacy in the sale of on-line books. According to Bloomberg News, in December 2013, “Cyber Monday web sales surged, sending online shoppers to a single-day record as Amazon.com and EBay, Inc. siphoned customers from brick and mortar stores.” At first glance, it seems like there’s only bad news for traditional retail shops.

But here’s some good news: physical shopping centers can compete with the convenience of one-click online shopping by offering the right combination of stores, services, restaurants and entertainment that will draw consumers to live retail destinations.

Consumers will be more likely to shop in brick and mortar stores for products they want to touch and try out first hand, such as beauty products by Sephora, home furnishings by Boston Interiors, or high end clothing.  Specialized fitness studios such as yoga studios or indoor cycling classes and luxurious salon and spa services will also attract even the most avid online shoppers.

In addition, many new outdoor centers offer more immersive options than the traditional strip center or enclosed mall: These so-called “urban villages” feature amenities and entertainment venues such as walking boulevards, outdoor plazas for concerts, retro bowling alleys, ice skating rinks and even life-size Chess boards. In addition, many of the new centers offer a wide range of culinary options to satisfy every craving, from an elegant first-class steakhouse to a casual French bakery and cafe — the perfect place to indulge in a sidewalk cappuccino or chocolate croissant. Chain restaurants and discount stores strung along the highway don’t stand a chance against a restaurant or boutique located in one of these vibrant centers. These shopping hubs often have plenty of space and facilities for special events: restaurants can host celebrity chef events, and the outdoor spaces can accommodate fashion shows, fine art performances, art shows and other seasonal and community events.

By offering products and services that people prefer to buy in real life and by creating destination centers where friends and families will flock to shop, eat, socialize and have fun, the experience of shopping on Main Street USA will surely remain an integral part of the future of retail.

What do you think? Do you prefer online shopping or shopping at brick and mortar stores?