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Physical retail needs to win physically


shoppingIn the 3500 year history of retail one thing has been a constant. There has to be a compelling reason for visitation.

In the contemporary blur between physical and virtual the same law applies. The consumers’ sub-conscious rationalisation is a value equation based on R.O.T. – return on time.

What is it that will make me want to spend my time when there are a million other competing diversions? Consumers don’t live to shop, but they do shop to live.Shopping, while satisfying a great many needs, has always played an aspirational role in stimulating and satiating wants. After all, the term ‘retail therapy’ wasn’t coined to cover shopping for toilet paper and soap.

Retail plays a key role in most developed nations in helping consumers keep a healthy balance of needs and wants fulfilled. Consumers rationally and emotionally develop embedded criteria for return on time.The roles physical and virtual retail play in their lives comes down to the perceived power of the attributes they deliver.

There is no doubt that physical retail has the greatest array of attribute weaponry at its disposal but in the past much of this weaponry has been at best misunderstood if not ignored altogether. And as virtual retail has increasingly invaded the attributes of access, price, and convenience, many physical retailers have been caught out when exposed to the consumers return on time comparison.

As has always been the case, physical retail needs to win physically. What that means is that all of the attributes, that can only be delivered physically, need to be dialled up so that they are seductive, recognised, acknowledged, attributed, and valued. Part of this is the human connection. A buyer and a seller forming a mutually beneficial relationship. Part of it is the environment. A multi-sensory experience that stimulates the five senses in a way virtual retail cannot. Part of it is emotional. Charming and seductive.

A physical retail store playing on the same turf as a virtual store is a massive strategic mistake. A physical store playing on turf that a virtual store can’t even dream about providing is powerful. Furthermore, the best retailers in the world realise that without this the physical store can’t justify the cost. A clever blend of the two however is the modern equivalent of shopping and ordering.

For 3500 years this has been in play in retail and it will always be thus. The virtual world isn’t a ticket to commoditise retail down to cost and price. It is a new and more efficient way of delivering the blend of buying we’ve always enjoyed. Physical retail is the heart of retail. But to survive and prosper it needs to win physically.

Peter James Ryan is head of Red Communication. He can be contacted on (02) 9481 7215 or at

© Copyright 2014. Red Communication Australia.

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