Amazon & Wayfair Open First-of-a-Kind Stores: E-nough

When two of the biggest e-commerce players in the world each opens a new store the same week, it is not just a coincidence…or kismet.

In fact, it’s nothing short of a cosmic confirmation that the world of physical retailing is not only not dead and dying but it’s going to remain the foundation of the business of shopping for a very long time to come.

Amidst all the retail-apocalypse nonsense conversations that have taken place over the past few years – and still going on based on something I saw yesterday that said online would eventually account for something like 80% or 90% of all retail sales —  the fact of the matter is that physical stores are here to stay.

And these two moves prove it.

The Amazon Style store in the Los Angeles marketplace is the company’s first attempt to break into the fashion apparel retail space with a store. Along with grocery, it’s been one of the two holy grail items on the company’s checklist for moving into new product classifications. Already reportedly the largest seller of apparel – depends who you’re asking and what you’re counting based on conflicting published report – Amazon thinks it can build a better clothing store.

Exactly what constitutes better is the big question. Having not seen the store in person yet, I can’t say what’s there but stories from news sources indicate it will use Amazon scanning tech to make the shopping process easier. And that’s all well and good, but anybody remember the old catalog showroom model? You waited in line to place your order after seeing some of the products offered in a showroom setting. Then you waited for some guy to go into the backroom and find what you ordered and then you waited in line to buy it. Needless to say it was way too many steps and took way-way too long for the average purchase. Catalog showrooms didn’t last very long.

I’m not saying that’s what Amazon’s new store is like but it seems that any shopping experience that adds steps to the process is counter-productive. I love the Amazon Go stores, they are fast and easy and they work. Is this what they are doing with Style? That makes sense but so too does having the right inventory on the selling floor, having salespeople who know what they are talking about to assist and generally making it a pleasant place to be. That’s the style shoppers want.

The Wayfair store under the All Modern banner in suburban Boston is the first step in the company’s renewed effort to get into physical retail. It is expected to be joined by three or four more later this year, under both All Modern and Joss & Main nameplates. Again, I haven’t seen the store yet so no conclusions can be drawn from press reports. If Wayfair’s tech helps the purchasing process, that’s good. If it only adds to the time it takes in buying something, then not-so-good.

The real test anyway comes next year when the company opens its first true Wayfair store in the Chicagoland area, a 125,000-square-foot giant that it still hasn’t officially announced but has been reported on in the local press in Wilmette, IL. That’s when we’ll know if Wayfair is getting it right.

But whatever the outcome of these two new stores this week – right or wrong – they show that having a physical presence is critical for any retailing company. Ask Warby Parker, ask Casper, ask any of the scores of direct-to-consumer start-ups that have discovered they must have stores to be successful.

If you’re not where the consumer wants to buy things, you are in fact nowhere.

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