When I hear people proclaiming the death of catalogs or physical retail stores, I’m reminded of another classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
There is no question that the traditional mail order catalog is moving toward extinction, and that a profound shift from paper communication to digital is occurring unabated. But without understanding how different customer segments use different types of media–and the interaction between multiple forms of customer communication–you are likely to shoot yourself in the foot.
Witness JC Penney’s blunder of exiting the catalog business only to discover the significant impact their catalogs had on their retail and e-commerce business. We made a similar mistake at Neiman Marcus when we gutted catalog circulation in a quest for cost savings. After enduring a big hit to both the web and retail business, we finally got smart and built a model to predict cross-channel impact from circulation decisions.
Someone should have been there to say “I’m not dead yet.”
Same song, different tune for brick and mortar stores.
Yes, there is an ongoing shift toward e-commerce, and yes, many powerful pure-play models are thriving. This too will continue. But to declare an end to physical retail is both silly and dangerous.
There are plenty of retailers successfully opening new physical locations. And many of the most powerful retailers today are those who understand that most customers prefer to shop both on-line and in physical stores. A deep understanding of customer behavior, frictionless integration between channels and a commitment to treat different customers differently is what wins.
Maybe it is human nature to make gray situations, black and white. Maybe when we see something as mortally wounded it’s in our DNA to club it to death.
But the next time you want to pronounce a wounded concept or program dead, take a hard look at reality starting from your customers’ point of view. Maybe now is the time for a reinvention rather than a funeral.