The bricks-and-mortar chains fighting back against online shopping

Shops have been beset by some of the lowest sales figures in history. What’s needed is a quantum leap in providing an amazing shopping experience

With the rise of online shopping, the physical store experience has been undermined. Shops have been beset by some of the lowest sales figures in history. New analysis from the Global Retail Institute indicates that single-use shopping bags grew to 30.5bn in 2017 (up 6% from 2016), an amount that would fund 70,000 households for one year.

Global retail giants like Amazon, Domino’s and home delivery services are causing traditional retailers to lose the battle against tech-savvy competitors. I, like many other shoppers, love the physical world – that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you get home from the mall. There’s something satisfying about the hustle and bustle of the malls, the people you meet, and the free samples you consume.

Online retail giant Amazon, with its marketplace, has proven to be a hugely successful route to achieving the same goal. The appetite for buying goods online has forced traditional retailers to grow beyond their bricks-and-mortar roots – by producing a frictionless, modern shopping experience.

So what can traditional retailers do to provide shoppers with a memorable shopping experience?

If you want your product to have “luxury” appeal, “high quality” and “delightful service” you need to offer all three.

Packaging and pricing

Consumers may feel the quality of your product is lower if you use cheap packaging, because it’s easy to see how shiny it is. If you don’t utilise good quality packaging, the product lacks luxuriousness, and the price is slightly too high. Expensive packaging seems intrusive and can put customers off, while cheaply applied packaging can make the products’ packaging easy to detect. At the end of the day, what matters is whether the products feel luxurious, and whether there is a seamless experience between the shoppers – payment made, sale recorded.

I’m used to paying a premium for some products, because they come with a premium experience. So, products that provide a premium experience such as premium wines and spa services should come with premium packaging.

If the product does not have a premium experience, then sell the packaging separately, because premium packaging requires the high cost of the products themselves to exist.


Online means it’s easier to order goods and receive them almost instantly. So products have been getting cheaper and cheaper. So if I’m a big fan of your product, I’m less inclined to visit your bricks-and-mortar store. The customer satisfaction scores of most traditional retailers are well below Amazon.

Pricing is an important decision, but should not be the only one. People don’t buy directly from Amazon – they have a dedicated, loyal relationship with the brand. If you’re looking to differentiate your brand, you need to make your pricing as consistent and reasonable as possible, in order to maintain the same sort of relationships with customers. It’s true that a discount, and a better experience, lead to higher sales, but not for too long. It’s better to go for consistency and reasonable prices.

Innovate to stay alive

While retailers with big physical stores face a daunting future, those with online capabilities – retailers like Amazon, Alibaba and Netflix – are capitalising on a shift to spending money where it is being spent: online. Traditional retailers are facing a choice: how do you remain competitive and differentiate yourself online?

There are three factors that all retailers need to develop to fulfil the modern consumer’s expectations for high-quality service and stylish products: an enhanced omni-channel platform, second-by-second tracking and more personalised, timely delivery.

Traditional retailers don’t have the luxury of time – they need to change with the times.

• John Steen-Benckermans is founder and CEO of Brick-and-Mortar Retail

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