For much of the past decade, the Clicks vs Bricks battle has been playing out on the retail landscape of the country. The “Death of the Mall”, “Retailmageddon” — these are headline-grabbing phrases in the news on an almost daily basis. Some context and perspective is key however, and the retail landscape is a murky one these days with the traditional brick and mortar retailers like Walmart (WMT) gobbling up e-commerce players like Jets.com and Bonobos on a regular basis, while the online giant Amazon is pushing more and more into physical retail locations.
One Chicago neighborhood saw it’s downtown landscape this past holiday shopping season become a reflection of this reality:
Four days before Christmas, athletic apparel retailer Outdoor Voices opened a store in Chicago’s Ranch Triangle neighborhood. It should feel at home among neighbors like Bonobos, Warby Parker and Marine Layer.All are within a block of one another, and all began as online retailers before opening bricks-and-mortar stores. Soon, Outdoor Voices will be sandwiched between two more: home goods brand Parachute to the east and shoe retailer Allbirds to the west. Parachute opened temporarily for the holidays, but both plan to open their permanent stores this spring.Brands that start online are increasingly recognizing the importance of bricks-and-mortar and amassing the resources to build physical stores. It’s a bright spot in the retail sector, which has seen mass merchants like Sears, Toys R Us and Carson’s close thousands of stores in recent years.
The interest in etailers opening physical storefronts could be compared to visiting the Harry Potter theme parks at Univeral Studios — walking through the entrance to Diagon Alley for the first time is a wondrous experience as the wizarding world is suddenly brought to “life”. Ok, this might be an over exaggeration, but that same type of experience with visiting a physical storefront could account for the interest some of these e-commerce players are generating from shoppers. And with a successful online business behind it, they can be choosey of their locations and customers are confident that if a particular color, size or style they are seeking isn’t available at the store, it can be quickly ordered and delivered in short order.
Additionally, as popular as online shopping is these days, and the main source of growth for the retail sector, in 2018 according to Stastista, e-commerce was only 10% of overall retail sales. Location, location, location is still going to be a critical component of retail for many years to come in all likelihood.