Are We Killing Bricks-and-Mortar Stores?

I don’t normally write our weekly blog from the perspective of my personal shopping experience, but I had a repeated experience out in the stores that I couldn’t let go without questions and comments.

The nature of the Storesupport business has us in and out of retail stores all the time, so when it comes to my own shopping my goal is to get it done as fast as possible. That being said, I found myself in downtown Toronto during March Break with a three-hour window of time that allowed me to actually shop.

I was hosting a surprise party for my husband that weekend and wanted to splurge and buy something new to wear… this is where my story begins.

I’m the kind of shopper that tends to browse online to find what I am looking for in store and then goes and buys it. This particular day there was a pair of shoes on my mind and finding myself in one of the busiest malls in downtown Toronto (not mentioning any names) I thought for sure this would be the place to find them.

My first stop was at the actual store where I found these shoes online. This particular site didn’t allow you to find sizes by store, but I thought surely this six-level department store would have what I was looking for.

The first thing that struck me in-store was all of the shoes were merchandised by brand name. This was great for the start of my mission as I knew the brand I was looking for, but when the size I wanted wasn’t available, it got really tricky to find another pair like the shoes I had wanted.

So, my first question is, is this the best way to merchandise? I suspect I am not the target market they were going after so this merchandising method may not be ideal for me, but what I found interesting during this time is that I wasn’t the only person aimlessly wandering amongst the vast displays of shoes trying to find what I was looking for.

The next piece to this visit was the store didn’t have my size. The attendant was super quick to tell me they can order for me and have them shipped to me at no additional cost. That’s great in theory, but I needed them for an event that was two days away and they wouldn’t have gotten there in time. This trend continued…

I decided to leave the vast shoe department and venture into the mall, as I knew the brand I was looking for had a store. Smart, I thought to myself until I reached my next destination and, again, none in my size. But, as I’d experienced before, the sales clerk was quite happy to order the pair in for me and have them shipped. Not ideal for what I needed.

This got me thinking about the ecommerce statistics we’ve been seeing. What is the percentage of purchases that are taking place online because the product is not available at the bricks and mortar location?

At this point I felt defeated and decided to change focus to a new pair of jeans. Again, I had a brand and style in mind and knew of three retailers in the mall that carried them. Strike out at all three!

Two of the stores informed me these jeans could only be ordered online, and the third did not have my size. Again, I have money in my pocket just dying to be spent and I can’t spend it.

Here goes my third question. Is impulse buying a thing of the past? Try it on, fall in love, and spend way more than you need? Is this a dying trend?

I went back to my original plan and decided to go back to finding a pair of shoes. This time I just browsed for something I liked. Two more strikes!  Two more stores I went in and found the ideal shoe and defeat. They did not carry my size. In each location, a happy sales associate promoted purchasing in-store and they will be delivered or go to their website.

As a last-ditch effort to my shopping afternoon, I stopped at one final store on my way out of the mall. Luckily, they had my size, so I bought the jeans in two pairs in different colours at full price just in case I was never to find them again.

This was my experience today, but I can imagine how many others have shared similar trials. Not that it matters, but I should note that I’m not an unusual shoe or jean size. Even if I were a specialty size, it would still be frustrating. The takeaway I got is that stores are stocking less in their bricks-and-mortar locations and sending customers online to shop.

The big questions I’m grappling with are these: when we talk about the demise of bricks-and-mortar stores, have we caused this? Is this shopping experience what we want? Is impulse shopping dead?

I know for me this experience caused a lot of frustration and turned what might have been an enjoyable shopping day into a headache. It certainly didn’t inspire brand or store loyalty. And while I’m definitely not opposed to online shopping and think most (if not all) retailers should have an ecommerce presence, I also can’t get away from the importance of a good in-store shopping experience.

Your brand matters, whether it’s online or in a bricks-and-mortar location.

What do you think? Have you had any similar shopping experiences? Let me know on social media. We’re @StoresupportCan on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Want to make sure your store doesn’t fall prey to the same frustrating customer experience? Storesupport Canada can help. Call 1-877-421-5081 or visit www.storesupport.ca.

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