The Showroom Showdown – Real and Virtual Retail Spaces

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Change is afoot, as always, of course. I am fascinated by the changes taking place at retail – the interface between customer and the store, between the online and real world, ‘brick and mortar’ retail spaces. Best Buy and others are being forced to evolve, and quickly, primarily by the growth of Amazon.com and the enabling of in-store price checking. Best Buy often acts as a mere showroom for electronics via smart-phones.

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As one of the urban Amish, being a member of the older generation that doesn’t crave an iPhone, iPad, or iWhatever, I don't use my old-fashioned Blackberry to ‘showroom’ when shopping. It is unlikely that I will anytime this decade, late adopter that I am.

Instead, I watch it all from afar, bemused and also fascinated to see retailing in the throes of great change, and curious to see where it will all lead, and whom will benefit.

If you read trade journals such as Logistics Management at bedtime as I do, you will learn that behind the scenes there is a tremendous amount of innovation going on in warehouses and distribution centers.

When you consider the world of warehousing and order fulfillment you realize the challenge of seeking out the many disparate products in one order from their various far-flung warehouse inventory locations and gathering them together to package for delivery. The field is evolving rapidly. There are new ways of stacking and palletizing, new types of forklifts, robotic conveyors, free moving robotic pickers, etc, etc, all of which enable orders to be processed and shipped more quickly.

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The goal of Amazon and others is now same day delivery.

When Amazon bought a robotics company some years ago others paid little attention, but it is technologies such as these that enable Amazon to be ever faster and cheaper in the delivery of customers' orders. They are building distribution systems around major population centers to allow same day delivery. Coming to you soon.

The advantage real stores have is instant gratification. It is no small advantage, I think, to have zero delay between placing an order and having the product in one's possession. Brick and mortar stores like Best Buy are utilizing that unique aspect of the in-store experience that Amazon cannot quite duplicate.

In addition, stores are using showrooming to their advantage, matching prices that consumers can find online, but giving the consumer their ‘instant gratification’ of product in hand. HA! Take that, Amazon.

This is a battle raging for the hearts, minds, and dollars of the consumer, pitting price against the instant gratification of walking out of the store with your product in hand. Meanwhile, raging innovation is going on behind the scenes to allow retailers to deliver product to you ever faster, and ever cheaper.

What's next? 

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