Researcher Sabrina Helm from the University of Arizona wanted to see how shoppers really feel about the looming “retail apocalypse,” that being the death of brick-and-mortar stores at the hands of online retailers. Although consumers were generally at odds about their preference of in-store versus online shopping, they agreed that the disappearance of brick-and-mortar establishments would be detrimental to society.
Between 2016 and 2017, over 7,000 store closures happened within the United States while e-commerce sales rose a staggering 101% between 2011 and 2016. And Helm and her colleagues found that consumers are aware that they only have themselves to blame for this massive shift in shopping.
For Helm’s study, published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, she and her colleagues surveyed 400 consumers about their shopping preferences, habits, and outlook on today’s retail landscape. As a whole, the group of participants largely agreed that the loss of physical stores would lead to job losses, threaten socialization opportunities, and could even increase certain types of crime.
Helm, an associate professor in the UA Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said, “There’s a sense that brick-and-mortar stores are part of the social fabric of our society. If they disappear, many are concerned about the economy and what this will do for jobs and revenue for communities. Many people also said stores were vital to their quality of life.” Others added that they fear social skills amongst a community would decline.
She continued, “There are also fears that come from the closure of store spaces: What happens with all that empty space? Is crime going to increase because now we have all these empty areas? Crime rate was also a concern with regard to increased online shopping: Are there going to be more home invasions because there are all these packages on door fronts?”
Of course, both forms of retail shopping have pros and cons. Many prefer the ease of online shopping to physical in-store shopping. Others like being able to touch and try the products before buying. And consumers are realizing that their preferences hold power in changing the retail industry.
Helm notes that it’s important for brick-and-mortar stores to understand how consumers are thinking. The power is in the shoppers’ hands after all. Improving customer service, keeping fresh stock, and hiring the appropriate amount of staff to mitigate long lines and wait times, could help physical stores stay away from the threat of online retailers.
“It’s up to retailers to increase consumer preference again for brick-and-mortar shopping,” Helm concluded, “and keeping people in the store starts with the basics.”