In a post-Internet, post-mobile world of one click access, the distribution of products has all but ceased to be the issue. When one of something can be efficiently shipped to anyone, anywhere, the question of where the sale takes place is rapidly becoming moot. In other words, in the long-term, sales of product simply can’t be the primary strategic purpose or metric for the store.
Some of the world’s largest retailers are struggling with this jarring reality already. “Stack it high and watch it fly” has abruptly turned into “stack it low and hope it goes” as big box stores scramble to lower inventories in the face of flat or declining sales. The knee-jerk reaction among some is to simply downsize and marginalize the role of the store. Others are adopting the buzzword of omni-channel – resigning to the idea that all channels now act as one – which I would argue risks oversimplifying what’s really happening.
You see, what’s actually evolving is a new and far more complex role for the store, and online brands like Google, Bonobos and Warby Parker are affirming it, as they each embark on creating their own, branded, physical stores. They along with a growing number of other online pure-plays recognize that in order to “fully actualize” their brands, they need to animate a physical presence and visceral experience for their consumers, not to move products but more critically, to move hearts and minds – to sell the idea, essence and values of the brand – all of which has more traditionally been viewed as the role of media. And therein lies the critical point.
The physical store is becoming media.