IS RETAILING DEAD?

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We’ve all heard the stories or seen the hard evidence: shopping malls like ghost towns, storefronts shuttered and accumulating cobwebs.

What’s more, the trend is not exclusive to the general retail or variety store model (think Sears and JCPenney); retail specialists such as Radio Shack, Payless Shoes and Gymboree have also succumbed.
But while the Amazons and Walmarts of the world are becoming online retailing juggernauts, brick-and-mortar actually held its own. For the first half of 2017, retail sales were actually up by 4% over the same period in the previous year, and while that’s not necessarily cause to shoot off fireworks, it does indicate that retailing still has some fight left.

What success the category has had is due to one thing: the growth of omnichannel shopping and the willingness of some retail to accommodate it. What was “the flavor of the month” just a couple years ago is an essential practice now. Certainly online shopping has seen an uptick in sales—particularly in apparel and consumer electronics—but the demand for physical stores is still present.

For the uninitiated, omnichannel refers to the blending of physical retailing/marketing with a digital component that, to the consumer, appears seamless and personalized.

Shopping is an experience, whether it’s done on a computer or in an actual store. And that experience needs to be unique and consistent with consumer preferences and proclivities.

Optical, for its part, has remained somewhat resilient within the retail world, notwithstanding the pressures created by third-party reimbursements and lack of disposable incomes. But regardless, in this age of consumer dominance what impacts traditional retailing will eventually impact optical as well. And if shopping malls—where many optical locations reside—are seeing sharp declines in customer activity, that will certainly affect the business of those locations.

In order to stay ahead of the curve on retail trends, optical will have to change along with them. That means doing business online at some level, merchandising store environments consistent with consumer expectations and maintaining and balancing both the physical and cyber stores so that the customer sees continuity.

Conventional retailing has taken a hit because it didn’t see change coming, and when it did it didn’t respond to it. Optical should be sure not to make the same mistake.

email me at FG@VisionCareProducts.com

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