"Web sites will replace brick-and-mortar stores within five years. I realize that's a bold prediction, but here's why."
These "bold" words were published by Laurie Sullivan in Media Post Blogs' SEARCHBLOG today. In her piece, Laurie continues on and indirectly describes TEHAN's, a really cool old "catalog store" or "catalog showroom" that existed in the Utica, New York area for many years. You probably had something similar in your hometown. She writes:
"Brick-and-mortar retail stores selling everything from clothing to high-ticket items like flat-screen TVs will turn into warehouses where consumers can touch and feel the merchandise."
Tehan's was way snazzier than a warehouse, it was a nicely-appointed retail store, with clean and orderly glass shelves, stocked with one each of the very same items that appeared in their thick catalog. And everyone in the area possessed the newest issue of that catalog. We all pored over it, in search of medium- to high-end birthday presents, gadgets, or household appliances.
Once our selections were made, we went to the showroom to see and touch each item. We then made our selection, filled out a form, and presented it to a clerk who went into the back warehouse. Minutes later, our item bounced along a small roller conveyor into the hands of the cash register clerk with whom we completed our transaction.
Well, Tehan's is gone. And you know what we do today. One reason Zappo's is so popular is that they offer free shipping (both ways) and free 365 day returns so we can see and touch each item with little consequence.
Tehan's "issues" were that we had to use only their (relative to the internet) limited catalog, and we had to drive all the way over there (can you believe it!?!?!?). The internet's issues are that we can't see and touch items (unless they also happen to be stocked in a local store, or a friend has the same item) and we have to wait several days to take receipt of the item (thank goodness for overnight delivery!).
Might we see the return of "catalog showrooms" to display items for sale by major internet retailers in the next 10 years? I guess that we will for really mainstream consumer items - maybe even a Amazon Store. And, in a reverse manner, some retailers might become catalog stores, supported by central distribution - in support of a new online retail model. But I doubt we'll see such a service for business to business (btob, b2b) shopping in the near future.
Give me YOUR comments on this.