Brick & Mortar and the Future of Retail

the future of brick and mortar

This year has been particularly difficult for retail and independent shops. Due to the pandemic and lockdowns there was an enormous shift to shopping online. However the online experience may offer ease of purchase but we don’t think it will ever replace the experience of shopping in real life. The joy of tactile discovery and the pleasure walking into a beautifully merchandized space. The independent small shops we love add character, vibrancy and community to our villages, towns and cities. We are interested to know what you, are readers think about Brick & Mortar and The Future of Retail. So we asked and following are some of your thoughts, comments and responses.

1. Do you think Brick & Mortar shops are a dying breed?

77% responded NO whilst 33% said YES and 37% were somewhere in the middle. These are some of the responses… 

  • No. I love the ones that are so individual and for younger folk this may be discovery again time.
  • In their current form yes but a new style of high street is emerging. One based on leisure and experience and not just on the purchase of goods!
  • Sort of. General Retail Yes — Specialized, no.
  • unfortunately yes, against much resistance from me and like minded friends.
  • No. I thInk there will be a whiplash effect at some point. There is so much pleasure in just shopping even if nothing is purchased.
  • Not independents.
  • Not at all. Brick and mortar needs to continue to adapt , however it’s still wonderful to touch, feel and see items in person.
  • No, independents are coming back.
  • Sort of. The trend towards monobrand and the lack of focus on independent knowledge provision and customer relationship in multibrand means there’s no added value versus cheapest channel (loyalty free).
  • I think they are under intense pressure from all sides. Multi-national corporations, online shopping and increasing rents. If the environment was not stacked against them I still think they would survive and thrive.
  • Only the big department stores.
  • No, just evolving into a more experiential species.
  • No. Although escalating rents, on-line convenience, next day delivery, etc will continue to present challenges.
  • I hope not. I think people still want to see and touh merchandise. But with rents rising fast we have to make the experience worthwhile.
  • I think so for large department and chain stores ~ shopping in these stores is just not a pleasure anymore.
  • I think Brick and Mortar chain stores and malls are a dying breed.
  • Not at all!
  • No, I think large stores are a dying breed because they have to compete with online shopping as most of what they sell is sold online. Smaller, specialist/indy shops are the ones that will survive because you can’t buy that shopping experience online.
  • The special ones will remain.
  • I hope not. Human contact should be continued.
  • No, we run and own a brick and mortar shop and our customers love seeing, in person, our shop.
  • no. eventually people want to see things in real life. plus many people enjoy the experience of going out and shopping.
  • No. There will always be a need for local shops, especially for food and other perishables. I also think many people like to see things in person and appreciate the value of a smaller retailer. It’s an antidote to sameness.
  • It seems like we’re slowly moving towards it.
  • No, independent shops are just reaching their peak just now. Larger retailers are struggling.

2. When do you shop IRL?

Many people answered: weekly and weekends. These are some of comments.

  • I only buy online when I can’t find what I need in the city. Because more and more small retailers have been forced out of NYC, I have to purchase online more than I would like. But food, gardening supplies, etc., I always buy IRL.
  • When events/learning bring me into a space.
  • No specific time other than when I can catch a free minute for myself.
  • Anytime I feel like visiting my favorite shops.
  • When I am in a city that has shops that have what I need and want. The lack of bricks and mortar venues makes it impossible for me to shop in the city I currently live in.
  • Whenever I travel, my town doesn’t have many cute shops.
  • As often as possible but with local or small where possible.
  • Unique products in a special setting – an experience!
  • Most of the time. Day to day shopping, most gifts and clothes etc.
  • For groceries or anything urgent I don’t want to pay expedited shipping for.
  • When I’m traveling, on a business trip, for the holidays.
  • I do not shop online.
  • As much as possible especially when I travel.
  • With small independents that have things I can’t always find online.
  • Always for groceries. When traveling mostly.
  • As a pastime and when I can afford to shop at all.
  • When I need something unique.
  • As much as I can. What is online shopping?
  • In real life? On vacation. Holiday shopping is the single biggest driver of high average carts. I enjoy retail so I know if I’m paying a premium and calculate that into whether that adds equivalent value.
  • 95% of the time.
  • Whenever we have free time and go out for our discovery drives.
  • Vacation, days off, specific day trips to destination.
  • The botanical candle company, Frome, Mary Kilvert, country brocantes.
  • When I am looking for an experience or to be inspired.
  • When I have the time and want to buy something from my favourite shop/ I know I can buy it in a shop.
  • All the time.
  • When I want clothing.
  • Whenever I can.
  • Items that I’m familiar with, buying again or not available in my area.
  • Daily – I live in Vermont.
  • Visiting new cities or towns.
  • For special items and items that I want to see in person.
  • I sort of shop for a living, so all the time.

3. When do you shop online.

Never, rarely and at night were some of the responses. Following are some comments.

  • When I know I cant find it at a store close to me.
  • Every few days, Amazon makes it to easy!
  • When browsing for clothes or when I need something specific I know I won’t find in stores nearby.
  • When I need a specific item.
  • To buy everything else but clothing.
  • When I can’t find what I need in the city.
  • When I can’t find what I need from an independent, rarely and never with Amazon.
  • No specific time other than when I can catch a free minute for myself.
  • When I know exactly what I want.
  • I live in a semi-rural area so I shop online for items that I would, otherwise, have to buy at Walmart or another big box store. I NEVER shop Amazon.
  • Only when I am forced to. Mainly for shoes bc I have no good shoe stores near me. I hate buying shoes online because the fit so critical and they need to be tried on before buying.
  • Late at night or I find something I’ve seen advertised on Instagram or a website.
  • For everyday things or when a store is convenient.
  • When I can’t find what I want in local shops which sadly is too often. Some of the retail problem is local shops not being in tune in what people want to purchase.
  • Ew. If I *have* to it’s usually for something really obscure that I cannot find elsewhere.
  • When I need the boring everyday stuff and need to shop around to find the cheapest.
  • 90% of the time.
  • Only when necessary.
  • When I am bored, or if I want to research pricing for items.
  • A bit at Christmas and for some books.
  • When I need something fast, hard to find, or don’t need to feel it.
  • When the item I want to buy is significantly cheaper online or I can only buy it online.
  • Convenience, utility items.
  • For items that don’t carry an emotional investment. To ensure I have something I need when I think of it.
  • Books.
  • Most of my shopping is now done online.
  • When I need a refill of something basic.
  • When shop not local and offering sales.

4. In general are you buying less?

55% said YES, 45% responded NO. There were many that are trying to and some said there was no change in their buying habits.

  • Unfortunately, no!
  • Yes, I don’t need as much.
  • More thoughtful.
  • No change.
  • Yes – more so buying second hand as well. New items tend to be cheaply made and not worth it. If they are quality you pay for it – and I will.
  • I’m trying and mostly succeeding at this.
  • Yes, but better quality.
  • No, going to bricks & mortar shops I spend more!
  • Yes – less fast fashion.
  • Buying less but probably spending more on the things I do buy.
  • Yes, but I am over 55 and have amassed a lot of stuff and am in the process of trying to right size.
  • Yes but more quality and taking longer to research.
  • YES! And I am selling possessions.
  • Yes, trying to buy less of the easy option (fast fashion etc) and more well made items. Therefore buying less, but better quality.
  • No, we are buying more, both online and IRL.

5. What are your favorite type of Independent shops.

A sample of your responses.

  • Books, vintage, food, textiles, garden
  • Antique, unique, floral, furniture and specialty shops, small boutiques and Mom and Pop shops.
  • Eclectic stores with unusual stock.
  • Small, local, interesting merchandise that smells, looks and feels good.
  • Independent shops selling quality products whether new or vintage. As long as the product is well made the price is irrelevant to me. Fed up of too many shops selling cheap and cheerful.
  • Shops that can incorporate an experience and have shopkeepers who are storytellers and know the history of the products sold.
  • Clothing and lifestyle.
  • Small unique stores with well priced goods, beautifully merchandised.
  • Well curated shops that carry items by independent designers.
  • The ones where the shop owner and staff really care. The ones that sell more unusual or unique items which are preferably locally/handmade.
  • Boulangeries, cafes, clothes shops, stationery shops.
  • Gift, books, florists.
  • Good service, value for price, well merchandised.
  • Men’s clothing.
  • Aesthetically inspiring shops that have a personality all their own.
  • Clothing,homegoods and specialty foods.
  • Women’s clothing and accessories men’s clothing and accessories, home, beauty, city or region specific items.
  • Coffee shops, housewares, gift shops, hardware stores, fruit markets, butchers, give me all of them
  • Those that are personally curated vintage and recycled shops and those that focus on hand crafted goods.
  • One with a point of view and unique merchandise.
  • Interiors, vintage, antique.
  • Experience based shops and destination places ie Daylesford farm shop.
  • Books, vintage, food, textiles, garden
  • Antique, unique, floral, furniture and specialty shops, small boutiques and Mom and Pop shops.
  • Eclectic stores with unusual stock.
  • Small, local, interesting merchandise that smells, looks and feels good.
  • Independent shops selling quality products whether new or vintage. As long as the product is well made the price is irrelevant to me. Fed up of too many shops selling cheap and cheerful.
  • Shops that can incorporate an experience and have shopkeepers who are storytellers and know the history of the products sold.
  • Clothing and lifestyle.
  • Small unique stores with well priced goods, beautifully merchandised.
  • Well curated shops that carry items by independent designers.
  • The ones where the shop owner and staff really care. The ones that sell more unusual or unique items which are preferably locally/handmade.
  • Boulangeries, cafes, clothes shops, stationery shops.
  • Gift, books, florists.
  • Good service, value for price, well merchandised.
  • Men’s clothing.
  • Aesthetically inspiring shops that have a personality all their own.
  • Clothing,homegoods and specialty foods.
  • Women’s clothing and accessories men’s clothing and accessories, home, beauty, city or region specific items.
  • Coffee shops, housewares, gift shops, hardware stores, fruit markets, butchers, give me all of them
  • Those that are personally curated vintage and recycled shops and those that focus on hand crafted goods.
  • One with a point of view and unique merchandise.
  • Interiors, vintage, antique.
  • Experience based shops and destination places ie Daylesford farm shop.
  • Multibrand zero bullshit that know their customers.
  • Bookshops, artisan food shops e.g. cheese and whole foods, and gift shops
  • Lifestyle stores that are different to the norm and reflect the owners individual personality.
  • Stationery stores, book stores, bakeries/food, housewares, art supplies.
  • Home decor, plant shops anything to do with plants and gardening, home stores, clothing. In general unique product.
  • Independent lifestyle.

6. Will you pay more to shop local and support Brick & Mortar shops?

99% responded in the affirmative, some with qualifications. These are some of your comments.

  • Yes, for some things.
  • Yes, absolutely and most definitely! It helps give us a better sense of community, commitment and belonging!
  • Yes but the shops would need to offer something different [not mass produced].
  • Depends on what it is. Artisan products whether food or other, yes.
  • Yes but the goods have got to be worthwhile.
  • A little more.
  • YES. Especially if they are offering something that is unique.
  • Yes absolutely, also instant gratification/being able to get a sense of a piece in person.
  • Yes to a certain extend. I figure it all balances out in the end.
  • Depends on how much more is, and if the experience justifies the additional cost.
  • Yes, I’d rather pay more to support brick & mortar than postage.
  • I do; I only read actual books and buy them all from locally owned shops even if out of town and have to pay shipping.
  • For niche products and superior service, yes.
  • Yes – but the key is the specialized merchandise or other value added things like setting and experience.
  • Absolutely. But I am at the stage in life where price isn’t as important as what I’m buying.
  • Yes especially for clothes.
  • Yes it is immediate!
  • Yes. It’s important to me to support locally owned businesses and I will pay more to do so.
  • Yes I do. I’ll happily pay up to a 25 percent premium but not more. I think of it sometimes like tipping.
  • Hell yeah!!

7. Do you think zero-waste shops, repurposing, and vintage shops are more important than ever?

  • The most important. However I do think the internet has resulted in them being more expensive as shop owners can value items easier.
  • Very much so, furniture is one industry which tells our history and keeps memories alive for the future, but also puts a new spin on how we presently live.
  • I do but don’t shop them.
  • no, they have always been important and will continue to be option among other retail stores.
  • While I have been a proponent of recycling, on all levels, for decades yes, I do think it is more important than ever.
  • Definitely – we need to produce less.
  • Definitely! We can’t keep clogging up the earth with rubbish!
  • Yes! For the environment and community building
  • Yes. They play an important part in how retail needs to change and evolve.
  • Yes I am buying more from our local health food shop and grocery shop to avoid excess packaging.
  • I do. I also think there are more locations than ever before and personally think we need more “refill” shops.
  • SInce I own a vintage shop, I am biased, but absolutely. Not only because it is a green product, but because it’s better quality for the customer.
  • I find it upsetting they they’re just buzzwords and trends. Zero waste has been part of my model for 11 years. I hate how vintage has been ruined by the trend. All the beauty is gone. There’s not enough embedding of the values beyond the virtue signal provision.
  • Yes ~ I love vintage, especially houseware products, and I love sewing with vintage fabrics. Sadly vintage clothing sizing us usually too small.
  • Yes. I think Amazon created a monster and that monster is wasted energy used to satisfy impulse purchasing. The costs of delivering everything and boxing it is unacceptable.
  • Absolutely not.
  • Most definitely. We’re past our tipping point. Zero waste and repurposing absolutely must be the wave of now and the future.
  • They are!!! we are killing this earth faster than we know!!

8. What is your opinion on The Future of Retail?

  • It will mostly die out due to greedy landlords who it seems would prefer to have empty spaces than lower the rent
  • Big stores out, small stores in.
  • Shops that are unique, care about their customers and provide a specialty, hands on, will thrive. Consumers love experiencing cozy, comfy and something real and heartfelt. Creating an atmosphere that allows them to imagine and adapt their lives to include unique items is still the natural norm, yet convincing them there’s a twist will be the trick.
  • I think we’ll continue to see a rise in people erring on the side of a local community shoping experience which involves procurement of vintage, locally sourced, eco sustainable and earth friendly purchases.
  • Must provide an eperience for the customer and establish relationships. We provide much more than a transaction. We are a neighborhood fixture that costomers enjoy visiting, even if they aren’t buying.
  • Bricks and mortar stores will decrease in number as online outcompetes.
  • It will be exciting, experimental like nothing we have seen before!!
  • Small is better. Less is more. Personal relationships. Authentic customer service. Community + neighborhood-centric.
  • I think the days of disposable everything are over. Purchasing fewer things, but much better quality things is inevitable. Thank goodness.
  • If we don’t support local shops we’ll end of with Walmart; it’s my mantra!
  • E-commerce will continue to grow and brands will have to try harder than ever to push for brand loyalty. Brick and mortar shops will still exist but purely for experiential purposes in representing the brand.
  • B&M shops moving into specialist niche sectors and online splitting between mass produced and artisan.
  • Many will close. The well curated ones with stellar customer service will survive.
  • It’s very much in trouble. Retailers do more than vend. They provide an education on the origin of their merchandise. Often, the things they carry can’t be found on search engines because shoppers don’t even know they exist.
  • I hope we see the trend going away from fast fashion and cheap, disposable type items, back to classic and sustainable items.
  • Staying power, online shopping isn’t as fun.
  • I think it’s going to become more popular again, malls are dying. But not brick and mortar shops.
  • I think we will be buying more secondhand, more sustainably, and making sure those producing our goods are paid a fair wage.
  • It’s in transition for sure. I think one of the bigger issues is the cost of rent. Landlords are way over charging for spaces at the moment causing shops to close and then the spaces just sit empty. Ridiculous.
  • Sadly I think it’s struggling so the future doesn’t look very bright for retail.
  • The cream will rise.
  • Unfortunately I think more shopping will be done on line and less in real life – unless we can stop and realize what we are doing to each other and this earth — many in Vermont are changing but still not enough…
  • Hopefully independent shops will have more of an online presence so people outside of big metropolitan areas can have access.
  • As we get less and less connected. Small retail becomes more and. More important to me.
  • Only the best will survive ..service and difference.
  • I certainly hope not. Some cities are currently looking into “legacy business” policies to try and protect these unique businesses – San Francisco, Toronto Seattle, etc
  • I hope that people realise the importance of supporting the high street …… the corporate homogenising of most high streets are what have put people off …… uniqueness is important ….. mass manufacture is boring everyone silly.
  • A struggle for sure. There has to be an entire change of shopping mindset…
  • I think malls are a thing of the past and not sure about quaint small town main streets.
  • Bleak mostly because stores over stock cheaply made ill fitting clothes rather than understand real want desire.
  • The Weak will die off, strong retail with loyal customer base will survive and be fine. But Amazon and 3rd Party will crush a lot of Brick and Mortar.
  • There has to be more that draws you away from your phone.
  • Think there will be a reduction of the large retail brand unless they are forward thinking, such as Selfridges. Smaller retailers are likely to be more successful but will need to have a clear proposition for the consumer.
  • That the future is the showroom, but also places that intimately know their customer and rotate vendors. Big spending brands are a holdover from brand premium overvaluation versus provision of promise staked on reputation. It all starts with grocery retail. That’s the indicator.
  • I hope local shops take over the online market.
  • I’m concerned that we’ll lose even more specialist and creative independent shops and with it, our community ties will be eroded even more.

9. Additional comments & opinions.

  • Governments need to lower taxes for retailers as all retailers I know are failing because of a combination of high rent and taxes.
  • It’s an exciting time to be an independent but also hard as more people are doing it and we run the risk of all looking the same as people look for inspiration from other indie retailers. Individuality is key to survival.
  • Really interesting time for retail I think. Many opportunities for smaller, more innovative retailers.
  • Press and social media could change people’s opinion on how important it is to shop at independent retailers.
  • Boring disposable retail is just that, boring and disposable.
  • I love to buy local from food to everything else. However, I will still only pay for quality so it has to meet my standards.
  • Customer Service is worth paying more. True customer service where sizes are searched for, store is kept pristine. Genuine experience and service.
  • Its very simple here. IF you don’t shop local, you won’t have any local shops. I think most people do not truly realize how much they value Brick and Mortar retailers in their neighborhood until they are gone.
  • I think more rural towns are leading the way in supporting the high street
  • Shops form the character of a neighborhood and city. Going to new places and seeing the same merchandise isn’t inspiring – it’s depressing. We need shops to help us understand what makes our place in the world unique.
  • What places (towns or countries) are doing small independent retail particularly well and what can we learn from them? How can we all support legislation that supports small shops i.e. both carrots and sticks for landlords. Carrot – tax breaks. Sticks – fees or taxes for huge rent hikes or empty storefronts. I would love to read more on your wonderful site on who the prominent voices studying small independent retail trends now are and how the beautiful shops you feature exemplify the theories the thought people are exploring.
  • I am dubious about town centre’s ability to survive on coffee shops/eateries alone but that seems to be the way things are going! A mixture is still needed but support would need to come from local authorities to ensure a mix is maintained.
  • I love your site. Just try not to keep things too precious. There are some interesting retailers out there who don’t have the prettiest shops–think hardware and some vintage places–but they are true to your commitment to keeping small, local retail alive.
  • Landlords have a lot to answer to as they would rather see a shop sitting empty than reduce the rental ~ or so it seems.

Have opinions on the future of brick & mortar changed?

Check out the results of our 2019 and 2018 surveys.

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