31: Retail is not really dead – Part One

My child wanted a hula hoop.

You have no idea how hard to find such a thing.

We went to 2 Walmart, 2 Targets, and 1 Fred Meyer. There was nowhere to find. Both Walmart and Target sell it online. We asked a staff at Walmart, and we were told that we would have to buy it online and then pick up from a store.

In the end, after 4 days of searching, I finally found one at a small toy store in a town near work. It’s not really the one she wants the most, but we will settle for now.

Can I just buy it from Amazon at the beginning?

Probably yes.

But for a kid’s hula hoop, you really want to feel it, make sure the size and the weight are good fit.

In fact, there are a lot of things are still like that. We want to feel and make sure.

Then Why Retail is Dying?

I don’t think we should simply just blame online shopping.

This is my thinking:

Money is cheap: believe it or not, most people have more money to buy stuff, and many of those people don’t care buying junks. Online shopping honestly has way more junks.

We don’t know where to find the things we need in real life. You see, we made up our mind to buy it from a store, and we had to search for a few days and multiple places. It’s like the stores are forcing us to buy it online.

There is no technology that can tell us where to buy something. Not even Google.

In fact, I was so desperate the other day, I asked Google voice where to buy a hula hoop. At the moment I was driving past Redmond, Washington. It showed me “Aegis Living Redmond”!

For people not familiar with what it is, Aegis Living is an assisted living place for memory care for seniors. I can’t imagine finding a hula hoop in there.

The stores are too big. I don’t really need a huge store. Why do I need to walk through the entire Target store to find something small? I wish there are Target Toys, Target Tools, Target Clothes, and Target Home Decors stores. They could be close to each other, like a few blocks each, or a few miles a way. But they could be much smaller and much more specific. I question the need that people will just want to go to one place and get everything.

The city is not dense enough and stores are not nearby/walk-able. I literally had traveled over 30 miles to visit all those different stores. In China and Japan, many cities have very dense living space and convenient metro system. People take transit to work and the shopping center are built along the transit route, so people are regularly passing places that sell stuff. All those stores are small. Being small means easier to survive, more flexible to pivot business direction, and cheaper to maintain. US, on the other hand, is still very dispersed and car-dependent. More smaller stores close by, it also means people have more choices and easier to compare price.

The bottom line is, it is not easy to buy things in real life now. Online shopping offers a much easier platform to buy, compare, and find. Moreover, there are tons of discount and rebate when shopping online.

But the retail is really still needed

For some simple reasons:

  • Online shopping has too many traps, i.e. fake reviews
  • Delivery is still annoying.
  • Leaking information that what I have bought, implying what I need, but seriously, sometimes I only need to buy one thing one time, do not keep showing me the ads for similar product.
  • I need to feel it.

How can we attract consumers back to stores?

Some of the reasons I listed in the previous section are too hard to fix:

We don’t know where to find – This cannot be fixed, unless all stores start sharing inventory system.

Stores are too big – I cannot change this, each business has to decide. It could be for logistics reason or something else, even though I honestly don’t like a huge store. How many times I walk into a big box store, such as Khols or Staples with only a few people in it?

City being too dense – I cannot fix this either. US is way too behind in building infrastructure. Canada on the other hand has a different problem, too large, no enough people.

I do, however, have one idea that I came up over 5 years ago. I just found it on my hard-drive. I will share it in the part two.