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The race is heating up

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - May 15, 2021 - 12:00am

Undeniably, our bricks and mortar businesses are severely deprived for almost a year now.  While it became more pronounced when the virus wreaked havoc globally, the fact is, they were already badly beaten by the e-tailers (or online retailers) way before that. Inarguably, e-commerce platforms are not just sprouting, they are dominating. 

Are huge bricks & mortars taking this reality sitting down? Of course not. The truth is, the race between e-tailers and bricks & mortars is heating up. We say, heating up because the race started in 1994. To be exact, it was on July 5, 1994 when Amazon was established. Though it only started selling books online, it added toys and games in 1999. Then, in 2000, not only that health and beauty products were added to the marketplace, it allowed “individual sellers and outside merchants to sell their products to Amazon customers.”  

Sensing danger, Wal-Mart, apparently the biggest of all bricks & mortars worldwide responded.  It embraced the ways of the “click & mortar” in 2000, the same year Amazon allowed outside merchants to use its platform. Also called “clicks and bricks”, this business model embraces both offline and online channels. Simply put, it has both the physical store and a website. The best of both worlds, so to speak.  With this model, shoppers have the benefits of faster and more comfortable online transactions and the traditional face-to-face service. To some extent, the physical stores become the showroom where they can feel and fit the products.  Then, purchase them online. 

Still, obviously, online retail model, as demonstrated by Amazon, was still surging ahead.  So that, some “clicks and bricks” businesses, such as a chain of department stores or supermarkets (like Wal-Mart), undertook some approaches that online platforms can’t do.  

For instance, while shoppers are in the premises, they engage with them. Through the shoppers’ smartphones, they inform them of special offers, items at huge bargains, new arrivals, etc. They inform them of the locations of products and where they can see, touch or fit them before going home and order them online. This way, they are able to highlight their advantages by showing shoppers that usual frustration in just browsing and buying online. On purchases way below expectations.

Admittedly, not everyone is happy shopping online. When the pandemic is over, these bad experiences will surely be more pronounced. Among others, frauds in online shopping have remained unabated. Delays in deliveries are rampant. The lack of interactivity, touch and feel of merchandise and close verification in online shopping make it difficult for shoppers to make the right decisions. More importantly, the shopping experiences are truly irreplaceable.

However, the e-tailers were not resting on their laurels. They knew these inconveniences and were storming their brains to address them. Certainly, they realized their flaws. First and foremost, apart from the touch and feel of the merchandise (whether clothes or furniture), they knew that “fitness” is also paramount. 

Recognizing these concerns, the techies made use of XR or extended reality to address them.  XR “is an umbrella term that includes technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR) either to provide more information about the actual environment to enhance one’s senses or to create completely artificial experiences.” 

Not long ago, a Forbes article “describes some of the ways in which various types of XR technology could radically transform our lives and work.” Then, it said, that in the future, “you may do a lot of your shopping with XR apps which enable you to see how a new couch or chair would look in your living room.”

True enough, e-tailers have successfully addressed e-shoppers’ concerns on fitness or appropriateness using XR. There are now virtual makeovers (i.e. MAC and L’Oréal) and virtual fitting rooms (i.e. GAP and Levi’s). And IKEA is also in the mix using this technology affording e-shoppers to visualize how a furniture will look like in their homes. 

Notably though, these are manufacturers (their products are sold at Amazon and other major platforms) and are making sure that they are keeping abreast of the fast changing consumer preferences.   To date, the huge traditional retailers (including those embracing the clicks & bricks model) have yet to meaningfully respond.     

Indeed, now that the e-tailers have adequately addressed e-shoppers’ concerns, it’s the bricks & mortars’ (and the clicks & bricks) turn to do something. Whatever that may be, we do not know. Certainly though, the race is heating up.

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