The store as a showroom: having your cake and eating it too – Elaine Chen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Elaine Chen

From The Huffington Post

In 2005, I was shopping for an acoustic piano. Back then, piano shopping worked like this: Go to a showroom. Play every instrument. Pick one, and negotiate a price. Have it shipped to your house. Everyone understood that a piano store does not maintain much inventory on site.

Apparel shopping was completely different. Shoppers went to the store, tried things on, then paid and left with their purchase in a shopping bag.

The changing face of apparel retail

Fast forward to 2016. Piano shopping is still much the same, but apparel shopping has changed. While store sales still account for a majority of retail revenues, online sales for apparel has been growing explosively.

Nielsen found that in 2015, almost half of U.S. shoppers (41%) had bought clothes online in the last six months, and roughly 12% had made a mobile apparel purchase. Citing Morgan Stanley, Business Insider reported that Amazon has a 7% share of the apparel retail market, and will comprise a 19% of the market share by 2020. Another article cites a Cowen & Co. report which predicted that Amazon will overtake Macy’s by 2017.

Two problems with a pure online play
But there are two things that a pure online shopping experience does not deliver:

  • For the consumer, you can’t touch and feel the products and try them on. This can be a big problem with apparel, where the most advanced technologies still can’t provide a full picture of how the fabric feels and drapes, and most importantly, fit on the consumer.
  • For the retailer, they lose that face-to-face contact with consumers. Even as online stores collect and crunch vast amounts of data about shoppers, here is a whole new level of insight that stores can collect face to face.

How do consumers get around the first problem? Some people buy several items online, try them all on at home, keep what works, and return the rest. This is a hassle. And it doesn’t help the retailer solve the second problem.

Read the full post at The Huffington Post.

Elaine Chen is a startup veteran, product strategy and innovation consultant, and author who has brought numerous hardware and software products to market.

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