Digital and the Demise of Retail

Job growth has been unusually great. Gas prices are way down. Consumer sentiment is up. Back in November, everything was in place for a very merry and black holiday season.

Yet in today’s WSJ, I read that Wal-Mart is closing more than 150 stores in the United States—its home turf, as it were. Kohl’s is looking to go private. Kmart, Macy’s and Sears have been and will be closing stores. Malls—a mainstay of my teenage years—are dying.

It’s digital road kill, folks, and it’s ugly.

If you look at it from the perspective of the customer, it’s obvious. How many of you actually went shopping this year? I didn’t. I bought everything on my list from the comfort of my own browser or mobile app. (Really, who wants to tote two very busy 5 and 6 year old boys through a store anyway?)

Brick and Mortar Scrambling

This shifts value to online vendors, making it seem perfectly reasonable that, when the numbers were finally tallied, cyber shopping has exceeded or, depending on how you calculate things, has at least given bricks and mortar stores a terrifying run for their literal money.

Specifically, digital shopping has killed the retail experience in several notable ways:

  1. I don’t care about the shopping environment anymore. I used to prefer Target’s clean, wider aisles versus Kmart, even though Target was a few dollars more expensive across a shopping trip. It’s not for nothing that the moniker “Tar-zhay” will ring a few bells for, well, women of a certain age. On a browser, as long as the user interface is clean and performs quickly, I’m happy.
  2. I can compare prices. Really easily. A few clicks, and I can see 5-6 vendors competing for my business.
  3. The price “premium” of buying online has all but disappeared.Maybe that’s because I live in one of the few states without sales tax, but thanks to the downward pressure created by Amazon.com, the price I pay online and off (especially after I factor in the costs of time and parking, not to mention the emotional toll of aforementioned boys) has converged.
  4. We’re more comfortable with big-ticket purchases off of our mobile device. The first time my husband bought a leather chair from HauteLook, he texted me expressions of disbelief tinged with apologies. The second time? I knew when it showed up on my porch.

The Shopper Experience is Digital

In short, the “shopper experience” is no longer physical. The shopper experience – especially for some really big segments of the population (yes, soccer moms, that’s you and that’s me) – is almost entirely digital. That’s why I wait with bated breath for this year’s Cognizant Shopper Experience Survey coming out later this year. In just a few months since the last one we did, I’m willing to bet that things have changed enormously.

And- for those of you caught up with your phones (or who don’t have young kids) – it’s not about iBeacons sending me personalized offers while I’m in the store because I’m never in the store anymore. This is game-changing, folks. The sit-at-home shopper is going to change the world of retail. It’s happening already.

So, here’s an informal poll: how many of you did 100% of your holiday shopping online? I know at least one person is with me: my colleague, Jamil, who described his holiday on our blog.

Let me know.

Irene Sandler

Irene Sandler

Irene Sandler leads marketing for Cognizant’s Emerging Business Accelerator and Cognizant Digital Works. She’s based out of leafy Portland, Oregon.

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