Image: Art-Invest / Kirscherfotografie

Online Retail or Stationary Retail: Neither One Can Live without the Other

When considering the future of retail, it often seems that there will only be one relevant market place: the Internet. Will online retailers really replace stationary retailers? Let’s take a look at current developments, with physical retailers who have focused on growing their businesses online now shifting back to growing their stationary presence. One might ask why. The reason is very simple: retailers, particularly those in the fashion industry, need to satisfy their customers’ demand for experience as well as convenience and choice, and that can best be delivered in a physical space. By Katharina von Schacky

Quite frankly, there are a few questions that I have been asked far too often: Is there still a future for physical retailers? Will they be able to hold their ground against online retailers? Does the future lie in multichannel or omnichannel concepts? In the US and the UK, such questions are never asked, as in those regions, the lines are not just blurred – we believe that they are vanishing completely. I have recently witnessed two exciting examples of this situation: one at the Breuninger store in Dusseldorf, the other at’s new physical store in London.

Let’s take a look at Breuninger: It is a German fashion department store that was founded in 1884. It went on to expand into a chain of stores, but, in the early 2000s, a number of their stores were closes – including the one in Dusseldorf, which has now re-opened (if one can actually refer to it in such a manner considering the event took place seven years later) as a brand-new development called “Kö-Bogen”. This incredible flagship store acts as an extension of the major shopping street, the “Kö”, in Dusseldorf.

Satisfying Customers

Now, you might think that walking into a high-end fashion store is nothing special, but what I experienced might surprise you. I walked into the store and saw a dress that I liked, but, as usual, it was not available in my size. As I was about to walk away, a sales assistant greeted me, iPad in hand, and asked whether she could help me. As I didn’t expect her to be able to do so, I told her that I was sure that the right size would not be in stock. She confirmed my assumption within seconds. However, she then offered to ship the item to my home address – payable immediately or by invoice, whichever I preferred. I could try it on at home and keep it if it fit or return it either by mail or by taking it back to the store. How could I resist that? What a great way to satisfy a customer, I thought: quickly and easily, with maximum convenience for the customer – all via a physical store in which I had already touched the product, which is something that is lacking when placing orders on the Internet.

Now, let’s focus on the other striking example: Many of you are familiar with However, I suspect that only few of you know that they have just opened a flagship store, if one can truly call it that, at 5 Carlos Place in Mayfair, London last year. What is so special about the store is that it is housed inside the most beautiful, perfectly located townhouse that, once entered, makes you want to move in: historic, yet modern, mixing retail with art as well as event and creative broadcasting space on the upper floors – a place that brings their online shopping and content experience together at one permanent London residence, enticing online and offline customers to discover an ever-changing cultural program of events, podcasts, and livestreams while browsing through luxury fashion and discovering well-curated new designers and collaborations on the retail floors. You can access their full online catalog via iPad and, within 90 minutes of ordering online, try anything on in the store, in an amazing dressing room, while sipping on a free cup of coffee and receiving advice from trendy, helpful staff.

For me, the future of retail will revolve around experience, convenience, and availability – regardless of sales channel, whether in a shop, online, or via a mobile device. Pain points during the shopping experience will be eliminated. The days of having to tediously type out credit card details or bank account numbers are gone as are the days of items not being available. In short: There are no more reasons not to make a purchase simply because it is too much of a hassle. Combining online and offline retail seamlessly, wherever the starting point, is the answer to fully satisfy consumers’ needs.

About the Author

Katharina von Schacky is the Global Head of Shopping at Commerz Real and a Member of the ACROSS Advisory Board.

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