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What You Need to Know About the “Retail Apocalypse”


Maybe you’ve never heard the term “retail apocalypse”, but it’s very likely you’ve seen its effects. Over the last several years, traditional brick and mortar retail stores have been closing multiple locations, declaring bankruptcy, and even folding up entirely. Gigantic national retail powerhouses like Sears, Payless, and JC Penney have all been drastically affected, and many more small and medium retailers have been forced to cut back or close. There are many reasons this has been happening, and it’s mostly due to e-commerce in its many forms. If you’re a retailer that is considering whether or not to develop a mobile app, this is the information you need to know.

 Why Did This Happen?

As we said above, this “apocalypse” was mainly due to the rapid advent of e-commerce…but more about that later. Let’s look at the other reasons retailers went down the tubes over the last decade:

  • Spending habits have changed. More people are opting to spend their money on experience-based items than on material items. 78% of millennials, who are a mighty spending demographic, would rather spend money on social, memory-making things than on stuff, according to this report. Sectors like travel, restaurants, and performing arts and sporting events are growing, while expensive handbags, sneakers and cars are becoming less desirable.
  • Malls are becoming obsolete. In the heyday of retail shopping centers, the popularity and convenience of dozens of diversified shops all within walking distance in a climate-controlled space seemed like an immortal concept. Enormous malls were built at an exponential rate through the 80’s and 90’s, and they counted on mutual success from all their stores to survive. Once some of these specialty retailers started to fade, the overall appeal of a one-stop shopping experience started to decrease, as well. And when big “anchor” department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Sears began to crumble, many malls fell dormant nationwide.

 E-Commerce Evolves

Just as these factors started to really damage these brick and mortar stores, the world of e-commerce really took off. Once a ponderous and time-consuming process, ordering items online has gotten easier and more refined. Giants like Amazon have made the term “one stop shop” a reality again…and without the “stop”, as features like free shipping and returns, easy comparison shopping, and ratings and reviews let today’s consumers enjoy all these advantages from home. So, it can seem like all these retail shops don’t have much of a chance of survival. The trick is, retailers need to realize what consumers are really craving, and adapt to those trends. 

So, What’s Missing?

In this post-apocalyptic retail world, there are some trends that suggest that the in-store experience still holds plenty to offer to the consumer. A few of these essential in-person perks include:

  • In-store help. A knowledgeable sales associate can make a shopping experience amazing with insight, suggestions, and personalized attention. Many consumers, especially older ones, really respond well to this.
  • Hands-on shopping. Many consumers need an in-person tactile experience to see how the product feels, especially with products like furniture, bedding, clothing, and tools. It’s very difficult to replicate that scenario.
  • Security. Some shoppers just feel better with doing business in person, with no risk of payment issues, hidden fees, or identity theft. That’s a hard habit to break.

There’s a lot to work with here. And the most innovative and successful retail mobile apps go a long way towards providing solutions to these crucial issues.

 Retail Apps That Really Work

The logical progression is to offer all those in-store experiences to the consumer for two reasons. You need to offer them most of the conveniences of online shopping, yet offer enough incentive to get them in the store. Challenging, yes, but not impossible. Let’s look at the in-store benefits that consumers can’t let go of, and how a custom designed mobile retail app can help.

In-store help: Virtual assistants and chatbots have come a long way. With major advances in artificial intelligence, these guides can answer questions, point out other products you may need, and offer that same personalized attention that lots of shoppers are used to. A truly effective retail app is able to mine ample data about that consumer through preferences, ratings and surveys, and apply it within the app to give them that extra attention.

Hands-on shopping: Now, no app to date can let you reach out and touch an item (though who knows what the future holds?), but new virtual and augmented reality can give a couchbound consumer an incredibly immersive experience where they can “try out” furniture, clothing, and more. Users can see how items look and fit in certain spaces, try out paint colors…even see themselves in a virtual dressing room mirror. It’s not the real thing, but it’s very close.

Security: Proprietary retail apps give the user heightened payment security, explicit and helpful explanations to any questions or concerns, and secure user data protection. Any retail app being developed today should have the latest in security features, like two-way authentication or back-end encryption. There are many ways to develop these features, and to let your users know that they are safe.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of coupons, flash sales, and targeted discounts. These can be activated with geolocation, so the consumer only gets to take advantage of them in store. You can also get that “while I’m in the mall, I’ll grab a few other things” mentality on your app by suggesting other discounted items that the user has showed prior interest in. 

Just because the retail apocalypse is real, that doesn’t mean the end is near. Thoughtfully designed retail apps can make all the difference.

Can your retail store benefit from a mobile app? Check out more of our work in the retail industry and don’t hesitate to reach out for a free consultation!



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