Convenience Will Be Cornerstone of Online Move to Real Stores

Why It's Time for Dot Coms to Start Thinking Inside the Box

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Attention, wannabe dot-com entrepreneurs: It's time to start thinking inside the box, as your future will indeed include a key and open-for-business sign, not just a cloud and front end.

Before we stroll into the Craigslist Emporium or Amazon-mart, know that all retailers will still be practically myopic about analytics-based e-tailing. They will be focused on how to convert us into loyalty members and digital-device shoppers, leverage our redeemable points, earn mobile access, capture Facebook likes, activate shopping apps, pump out laser-targeted price and merchandise offerings, and generally optimize the signal-to-noise ratio on a million and one BOGOs.

The payoff for consumers will be the one attribute that rules them all: convenience. The last word in table stakes, convenience means minimarkets getting bigger and bigger markets getting faster. It means curbside service expanding beyond the restaurant sector and the home's chief spending officer, aka Mom, who is already in the car more than 22 hours a week, searching for more ways to drive less.

EBay opened a Christmas pop-up store in London last year.
EBay opened a Christmas pop-up store in London last year. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

But the mother of all seismic shifts will see online empires taking their game to the streets. And yes, we're talking about e-commerce brands that five minutes ago seemed to be trumpeting their low-overhead, high-efficiency model as retail's be-all and end-all: Think Amazon's $1 million in revenue per employee, vs. Walmart's $200,000.

The fact is , even with the rush to e-tailing and social and digital integration, the best e-commerce pure plays understand the need to offer live shopping experiences to copy the poster child for retail-destination brands -- Apple and its mind-blowing $7,500-per-square-foot juggernaut of a retail experience.

Amazon will likely open its first store in Seattle and highlight high-margin items, offer Kindle support and enable same-day delivery when you swipe your Amazon Prime app. EBay had a pop-up store in New York and London's West End last December, and other top 10 web pure-plays could soon morph into straight-up retailers. A Google Store would bring the magic of its peerless headquarters to life.

Or how about Twitter Café -- a true third-place news hub with coffee and a (sorry) tweet roll? Or the YouTube store, 4,000 square feet dedicated to helping users set up their personalized pages and manage their content.

In terms of immediate ROI, none of these concepts need s to drive serious revenue as stand-alone ventures to be successful: The Nike Store, and to lesser degree the Adidas store, sacrifice massive square footage for experiential touch points that could have showcased high-margin apparel and shoes. Some of these stores even have a baked-in expiration date, as evidenced by the continued rise of the pop-up store. This is about brand relationships that pay far greater dividends.

Here's what the Amazons of the world understand: Brick and mortar delivers the unbeatable combination of instant gratification and tactile familiarity. (Try sampling a burrito on the web or trying on jeans.) Brick and mortar gets you endless media reach, such as Starbucks' cups and store signs. Brick and mortar brings all the senses into play, creating a stronger brand experience and richer memories. Nordstrom's legendary customer service can't be replicated online even with 1,001 live-help windows. Giving a brand dimension is not an either/or proposition. The big winners will be cross-platform retailers as they push themselves into multiple and integrated consumer touch points, orchestrating advertising, media and operations to form a killer value proposition.

Imagine a cross-platform consumer-electronics retailer using prime-time TV that knows 86% of all smart-device users are "on" while watching the medium. The retailer hits you with a promotion on a flat-screen TV, driving you to its site for a purchase. Suddenly, you're watching the 1 p.m. game in 2-D knowing that a new 3-D TV will be delivered to your door before the 4 p.m. kickoff (premium delivery option). Broadcast to iPad, iPad to the cloud, cloud to store, store to your den, one more mobile ping to measure customer satisfaction, and all of it cataloged in the retailer's database.

It's not disruption anymore; it's eruption, where even the most unlikely pure-play online brands add the touch-and-feel element of your corner store.

So for all you marketers who believe that perhaps the great retail quakes are behind us: Not so fast.

This is it, right now, as the most successful retail brands build on convenience, enabled through technology, delivered to your fingertips, available to touch in-store and to purchase anywhere in the world.

Yes, the ground is shifting. Everyone into the box.

Cliff Courtney is chief strategy officer of Zimmerman Advertising.
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