Sears will close its last Illinois-based department shop on November 14, when it moves out of the Woodfield Mall location. Transfomco is the parent company of Sears, and the real estate manager for Woodfield Mall, and it stated CNBC that it would try to keep the space lively with a new tenant.
Sears Holdings (which also owned Kmart) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection October 2018. This was before Transformco purchased Sears from bankruptcy. Most Sears and Kmart stores across the country were closed. Transformco spokeswoman wouldn’t confirm how many Sears and Kmart stores were still open. However, the company’s website lists 35 Sears locations, including the Woodfield Mall location. There are also 22 Kmart outposts. Sears was established in Chicago in 1890s and had thousands of stores throughout the United States. When it filed for bankruptcy, it had approximately 700 stores.
Total Retail’s View: Although it’s not surprising that Sears will close its last Illinois store, it’s a sad end of an era. Sears was a successful business that sold everything, from apparel to homes, for much of the 20th Century. Sears’ history has been a mirror of the American economy’s ups and downs. But, closing Sears’ retail stores does not mean that brick-and-mortar retail has gone out of business. Amazon.com is also opening brick-and mortar locations, for instance. Although the company has not officially announced plans to open brick-and-mortar locations of the type found in department stores, The Wall Street Journal stated last month that it intends to open large physical retail locations in the U.S. to operate in a similar fashion to department stores. This is a move to expand the company’s reach in clothing, electronics, and other product categories. According to the WSJ, Amazon will open department stores in Ohio, California, and possibly other states in the near future.
Amazon’s New Department Stores Show That Physical Retail Still Matters
It is not surprising that Amazon.com plans to open more department stores in the United States. This is consistent with the evidence we have seen so far: Amazon has a long-term plan to transform retail in America and around the world. This is a signal that physical retail stores remain an integral part of consumers’ shopping experiences and should not be lost in the digital age. While online shopping has been hugely popularized, 88% of retail sales still take place in the “real world.”
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The new Publicis Sapient survey which examined consumer shopping habits for the Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend provides more evidence that brick-and-mortar shops are still preferred in many cases. 55 percent of respondents in the United States agreed or strongly agreed that they visit physical stores to inspect an item before buying it online. More than half of respondents from the U.S. also indicated that they have bought an item online but picked it up in-store multiple times.
Only 52 percent of respondents in the United States said that they would prefer to shop at department stores. These numbers are indicative of trends that will continue past the holiday season, as more consumers take advantage the ease, speed, and simplicity that BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) offers. In-store shopping offers consumers the opportunity to touch and feel a product before buying it. This is an advantage that cannot be duplicated online.
Retailers also reap the benefits from brick-and-mortar stores. The physical location allows products to be picked up and returned. This reduces shipping costs, and provides hybrid fulfillment centers and warehouses. BOPIS fulfillment can lead to increased sales for retailers. Publicis Sapient’s survey revealed that 68% of respondents in the United States who ordered online and picked it up in-store thought they were very likely or somewhat likely to purchase additional products.
Amazon is well aware of the importance physical retail. The e-commerce giant has been exploring physical retail for more than four years and recently expanded its grocery chain to over 20 locations. Amazon’s move into the department store space is not a recent one, but it could bring the company significant benefits. Amazon will be able to offer a wider range of physical goods customized and marketed to the local market in these physical locations. Amazon will have the opportunity to use its gesture-based and hand recognition technology to allow cashierless checkout in the future, at least within a small portion of the existing store footprint. Amazon’s ability at these stores to sell private-label brand products is a significant opportunity for the company.
Although stores are still a crucial part of retailers’ strategies they should be adaptable to meet the demands and expectations of modern consumers. This can be done by integrating both digital and physical elements. Here are some ways retailers can transform their stores to be more competitive in the future of retail.
Retailers should be focusing on two areas. The first is mobile apps. They are gaining popularity and will continue to be improved and offered in-store and online modes to maximize the user experience. Many retailers are adopting apps as a part of their platform strategy. A second strategy is to increase in-store digital signage and create more advertising inventory. This is especially true when paired with Bluetooth low-energy options. Many grocers have begun to place digital signage near checkout lanes, counters and endcaps. They also personalize messaging according to proximity. The new inventory is then being monetized along with other properties.
Enhance Fulfillment Opportunities
We will be redefining our expectations of leading retailers by the further development and expansion of micro fulfillment centers. Some grocers have begun to reduce the time it takes to pick up 95 percent of their products. These fulfillment speeds can be achieved through the use of additional robotics and dedicated space within the store — often adjacent to existing customer shopping areas — which will be disruptive. Retailers should optimize curbside pickup, in-store pickup and delivery. These methods, aided by COVID, will remain a significant part of the mix.
Transform Store Operations
A new generation of mobile sales tools is available for less experienced retailers who are not ready to invest in major new builds. These tools allow them to optimize picking and routing within their store. These tools can increase picking speed by up to two times per hour. The next generation of mobile point–of-sale systems will allow digital couponing, integration and mobile apps. They also offer more flexibility through a cloud-based and micro-serviced solution.
Bottom line: Humans will always want a physical experience that complements their digital one. It could be a quick delivery or a great customer experience via chat. Amazon and other larger retailers know that there is no substitute for a great experience in-store. The key to success for retailers is how they integrate digital investments with physical store investments.
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