Is Retail Dying? Why Rumors of Its Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

Customer Experiences
Retail Insights



The following was inspired by ExpertVoice’s popular eBook — Why Retail Strategies Are Failing.

Ladies and gentlemen, retail died this morning. Yes, it finally happened, and it wasn’t pretty.
To the millions of you that currently work at retail, I’m sorry to be breaking this news to you. In fact, you’re not even reading this because you’re totally dead, too. Your cold, dead eyes are not reading these words, nor are your lifeless, dead brains processing any of this information. Just dead. You will be missed.
To the millions of you that still shop at retail every week, I’m also sorry you’re hearing this. Except you don’t exist, because nobody ever shops at retail stores anymore. Nobody. Ever. Thus retail’s heightened state of complete and absolute deadness.
To the only survivors left to read this, those that never, ever set foot in a retail store: you suck. This is all your fault. I hope you’re happy with your—
I’m being handed some breaking news — Yes, thank you.
Wha— this… well, this is impossible. No, this can’t be right. Can we check this out? … We have confirmation?
Well, this is certainly unexpected. It seems I’ve made a mistake. Yes, a mistake. It turns out that rumors of retail’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. People do, in fact, still shop at retail. Occasionally. Correction — often.


Aaaaannnddd SCENE! Well done, everyone. Especially you, fake breaking news paper hander. Just excellent work.

So, is retail dying? No, of course not. Retail is, in fact, alive and well.

Clearly, though, it’s not without its challenges. What you’re undoubtedly hearing in the news is the struggle of some retailers to adapt to a new retail environment.

If some are struggling, who is succeeding in this new frontier? According to research on the subject, it’s brands and retailers that focus on providing one fundamental thing: a remarkable customer experience.

Customer experience

If your workplace is toxic, you find a new job. If your mechanic does a poor job fixing your AC, you find a new mechanic. In the same way, consumers can’t be expected to keep coming back to a retail location that doesn’t serve their needs.

The key word here is “options.” Let’s not kid ourselves — consumers have them. If you’re not providing the experience your customer is looking for, they will find someone that does.

Customer experience is a very large, nuanced and overwhelming term that serves as a catch-all for the nearly infinite constructs that converge to shape whether a customer had a positive or negative experience.

Retail Shoppers Pie ChartThat’s overwhelming, so let’s start where we can — with an accurate look at the facts. According to a recent retail industry survey, 81 percent of consumers plan to do at least the same amount of shopping in retail stores next year. As long as retail continues to meet their expectations, you can expect them to keep coming back. But what are those expectations? To keep ourselves from being overwhelmed, or from spinning our wheels in unfruitful efforts, let’s look at what retail can and can’t be.

Don’t try to out-convenience online shopping

“In-store” will never be more convenient than ordering a TV, book or cat food while sitting on your couch in your underwear. The sooner we accept that reality, the sooner we can wean ourselves off the Kool-Aid and look at the factors that can put retail on top.

Where retail wins

Retail Shoppers Bar Graph

Online’s strengths, however, also happen to be its weaknesses. Virtual is easy, but it’s not that enriching, meaningful or full of context. Where those factors are important, nothing beats the value of face-to-face.

Why did survey respondents say they turn to a brick-and-mortar store? Take a look at the chart to the left.

See? It’s that pesky word again — “experience.” Provided retail stores can continue to provide a meaningful, brilliant spectrum of in-person and hands-on experience, 81 percent of the population will continue to eschew the distant, inanimate value of convenience where online shopping has thrived.

If done right, you might even start to win back the other 19 percent as well.



The blue standard

Best Buy store front

So where do you even start to create that sort of experience?

If you were electronics megastore Best Buy — a recent poster child of in-store growth and improvement — you’d turn your primary focus to employees. When the company’s future looked impossibly bleak, it doubled down on seeking employee feedback, providing relevant training and rewarding excellent service.

The result? A very un-dead Best Buy. The brand’s stock has quadrupled in the six years since CEO Hubert Joly — a former hospitality exec — took the helm.

What’s the secret?

Important qualities for retail shoppers

Big Blue’s focus on employee empowerment has paid huge dividends in customer satisfaction, but it’s not exactly rocket science. If you’re looking to improve in-store experience, it makes sense to put the power in the hands of the people running the store. If you’re a consumer, this tactic makes all the difference. Take a look at what survey respondents listed as the most important characteristics of a retail associate: Customer service, product knowledge and store knowledge — the three qualities most valued by consumers, and the three largest ingredients in that “customer experience” pie.

Focus on a great in-store experience

For every Best Buy, however, there’s another retailer that doesn’t recognize this value. The aforementioned study showed that only 35 percent of retail employees considered their training effective. Another 32 percent said they didn’t receive training at all.

Successful retailers focus on a great in-store experience, made possible by employees that have the knowledge, skills and self-governance to help the customers that look to them for help. Lose that and you chip away at the benefits of in-person, and drive people further toward online.

Brands and retailers that waste their time asking “Is retail dying?” turn themselves away from the solution in favor of bolstering the problem.


Dive deeper

State of Retail Thumbnail ImageFor more detail on the findings of this retail study, download ExpertVoice’s recent eBook: Why Retail Strategies Are Failing. You’ll find additional insights, as well as actionable steps to strengthen your influence with the customers you serve.


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