By Neil Parker, chief strategy officer, Co Collective
FORTUNE -- Just a few months ago, I witnessed retail's present and future collide in a Best Buy (BBY). It was ugly. A twenty-something couple fiddled around with the flat screen TVs on display; mauling the remotes, thumping the speakers, and generally behaving like carefree shoppers. When they settled on a Samsung LED model, the guy whipped out his phone, captured a QR code on the TV, and beamed it up to the web to check for more favorable prices.
"It's 49 bucks cheaper through Amazon," he said to his girlfriend.
They rubbed salt into Best Buy's wound by ordering the TV online while still standing in the store, enjoying Best Buy's endless display models, all to the benefit of Amazon (AMZN) -- and themselves, of course.
Even though this story contains many elements of retail's future, like hand held devices, the web, and empowered consumers; this isn't sustainable for retailers with boots on the ground. Fantasy futures aside, real-world stores are here to stay.
Death of retail, really?
Back in 1998, Nicolas Negroponte predicted the death of retail as we knew it. While he was correct to say that the Internet would transform shopping, he was wrong to think it would be the end of physical stores. Still, they are changing, no doubt. For instance, there's the Shopbox, a self-conscious Brooklyn pop up store selling that borough's playful bohemianism in the form of products like the Thing-o-Matic and Wiffle balls. The showroom is a shipping container, with a big picture window and no clear entrance. Recently, when the store had to move, a crane just picked it up and carried it to a new spot.
You are not going to be flirting with any sales clerks at this store. Instead of stepping inside, you examine the goods through a window. When you want to buy something, you text your order to Shopbox and they ship the stuff straight to your house.
This ties in nicely with the fairly common practice in Europe of paying for goods via cellphone. Korean grocer, Home Plus, a division of English giant Tesco (TESO), pioneered this concept. To expand their market, they set up 2-D posters of a typical grocery aisle on the walls of commuter rail stations. They included milk, juice, dumplings, bibimbap sauce and everything else you'd expect from a grocery store in Korea. Except none of it was real. Feed an item's QR code into your smart phone, and that food goes into your online shopping cart, to be delivered straight to your home. Why waste time in a store when you're already wasting time at the train station? More
In the Sears of old, you could mail order just about anything you wanted, even a house. Consumers came full circle in the late 90s, but the department store chain didn't catch on quick enough.Jan 9, 2012 12:04 PM ET
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