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.



  1. GiftSMS posted on September 18, 2014

    A very insightful article. The ROT equation is a good one- there is definitely a driver in this market for the retail experience that is also an entertainment experience. Great physical experiences won't always beat price, but an engaged, loyal, charmed and satisfied client will most likely return to your physical premises if you engage them in the shopping experience on these multiple evaluation levels. Price is ONLY an issue, when the things that should be included in the shopping experience are absent.

  2. Mark S posted on September 19, 2014

    The article rather presents retail only in its two extremes: physical and virtual. This does not account for what will be in my view at least the winning retail combination of the future: a hybrid model that integrates the virtual (ie digital) into the physical. That's the essence of omni-channel retailing, allowing customers to shop the channels however they want, and presenting a seamless experience across them.

  3. GiftSMS posted on September 19, 2014

    Isn't that what webrooming discusses. A cross over between multiple access points to the shopping experience. I like to call it "feet and finger shopping" I think the big issue fore omnichannel is - one channel has almost disappeared - and that would be the non mobile channel. Not long before OMNI is replaced by mobichannel.

  4. Ryoma posted on October 9, 2014

    A fantastic article, Peter - and the concept of return on time is spot on. My spouse is foreign-born, and we spend a lot when we go overseas. I'll admit some of this relates to cost, but mostly, it is because the customer service and the experience is so utterly different. I am SO bored with local retail offerings - they are virtually all bland architecturally, and the Westfield shopping centres are like a virus of boxy ugliness from Hobart through to Broome. The stuff on offer is usually made overseas, there is no story to it, and no feeling of having had an experience. The music is either loud enough to need to shout to hear anyone talking, or endlessly recycles the Baby Boomer generation greatest hits; nothing post-1995 gets played. By contrast, shopping in Japan is often quiet, dignified and compelling. The staff can tell me everything about the product, and if they don't know, they go to great lengths to find out. They are proud of what they sell, and they don't sell rubbish. Most proudcts have a heritage and a sense of refined beauty. The contrast with Australia is like night and day.

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