As Technology Reigns, What Bricks and Mortar Malls Have in Common with a Thriving Amazon

We repeatedly hear about the struggles of traditionally bricks and mortar retailers. Many have been closing stores as retailing undergoes tremendous change and online shopping continues to grow. While internet marketers like Amazon thrive, the outlook for physical retail stores is often portrayed bleakly.

But, there are signs that bricks and mortar has a fighting chance of carving out its position in an increasingly high tech world. And, shopping malls are an example.

Bricks and mortar shopping malls have been updating themselves for today’s more tech dominated world. In fact, what malls are now doing to compete has characteristics of the approach Amazon took when it opened its bricks and mortar bookstore late last year.

Malls are not trying to become internet shopping powerhouses like Amazon. But, their approach does share a common element with that of the huge online bookseller turned ecommerce giant. Both Amazon and malls have been taking techniques that apparently worked well online and are putting those methods to use in a bricks and mortar environment. Essentially, they are integrating online techniques with bricks and mortar.

Amazon’s heritage is online, so when it opened its physical bookstore last year, it did some things much differently than what traditional bricks and mortar booksellers do. Unlike traditional bookstores, Amazon’s physical store adopted approaches that apparently worked very well online. For example, in Amazon’s physical store, all books were displayed on the shelf with the cover facing outward. This lets shoppers judge a book by its cover much like they do when browsing Amazon’s website. Yet, it contrasts with traditional bricks and mortar bookselling where most books are displayed with the spine, not the cover, facing outward, thus holding down costs by taking up far less shelf space, but perhaps detracting from the products’ sales potential.

Like Amazon, mall companies are also adopting approaches taken from online. In contrast to Amazon, however, malls are not necessarily redeploying something the mall company itself did on the internet, but instead are embracing approaches used online by others. For example, websites to help find parking in major cities are quite common online. Now, online tools are being adopted to help shoppers find parking at the mall.

According to the June 8, 2016 Wall Street Journal article “Mall Owners Pour Cash into Technology” by Esther Fung, mall owners “are pouring money into technology, investing in mapping functions to help shoppers find parking spaces, navigate mall corridors, or check out a flash sale at a store one floor above” All of this helps the malls compete by integrating online approaches with bricks and mortar retailing.

Additionally, successful internet marketers are known for making extensive use of data analytics to track and gain insights about visitors to their websites. As the Wall Street Journal article explained, malls can use similar analytical approaches to measure the number of visitors and track how they spend their time at the mall.

Although bricks and mortar retailing is often perceived as being the way of the past, integrating variations of online technology into the physical environment, just as malls are doing, can help pave the road to the future. This enables the bricks and mortar sector to compete more effectively with its faster growing online counterparts. Thus, bricks and mortar retailing, once thought to be on its last leg, is still valiantly moving forward and shaping its position in the marketplace.

Of course, the bricks and mortar retail sector, whether malls or stores, must make careful choices about how to best emulate online competitors. As a Wall Street Journal article earlier this week (June 28, 2016) pointed out, many bricks and mortar retailers are reducing in-store inventory. Their intent is to hold down inventory costs much like their online counterparts are able to do. But, reducing inventory can be tricky since it can unintentionally weaken the reasons that potentially attract shoppers to come to physical stores. So, bricks and the mortar retailer sector needs to be selective about how it adopts the ways of the online world.

In conclusion, regardless of your industry, heed the lessons emanating from what malls are doing. When faced with competitive threats due to technological advances, adapt to the changes by building on your strengths and applying new technology, as appropriate, in ways that take your business forward.

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