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Future of Retail is not just online, but still Hybrid

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Have you seen how many “bricks-and-mortar” businesses were bricked in various nations due to rather draconian crisis measures in these two years? Are these decisions even smart or wise in relation to preserving the economy moving forward post-crisis? I think not. And there are reasons.

As an Internet and webdev pioneer, early Apple DTP evangelist, and coder since 1970s, I am obviously pro-tech. I have lived and breathed technology and science since my youth. At the same time, I am:

  • pro-economy
  • pro-livelihood
  • pro-lifestyle, and most importantly,
  • pro-reality.

It baffles me to see continuous badgering of “bricks-and-mortar” businesses, expecting all to “pivot” to “online”. This notion is not only naive, but has future ramifications, including ramifications on the economy.

Just for some illustrative examples, think about these:

  1. Try buying a new or old US$40,000 car without testing out at a physical outlet.
  2. Try buying a high-end DSLR and assorted lenses, or some practical home appliance that cost abit, without trying out at retail.
  3. Try buying a used apartment or home without visiting the actual place, testing piping, taps, electricals, leaks, etc.
  4. Trying getting a fitted non-stretchy suit, shirt and pants, without being a perfect 6 feet tall, narrow shoulders, slim and “normal” physique.
  5. Try buying a pair of shoes without having “normal” feet.
  6. Try buying a branded watch without going to the store and putting it on.

No human being is “normal”, and everyone have varied height, weight, shoulder width, girth, feet width, etc. Some items are just hard to be fitted or work properly unless you TRY THEM OUT.

These are just some scenarios where ordering online from some marketplace or e-store won’t cut it, unless you relish in dealing with frequent returns, making relentless chasers and complaints, to get product after product sent to you. A simple visit to a REAL physical store would have solved all these potential challenges in a jiffy.

So if you ask me, is the future of retail online? NO.

It will STILL be hybrid, with real physical stores to test and try out, and buy on impulse (if it suits you) or buy after consideration, or buy online later. The convenience of online is just one virtue, while the reality and practicality of “bricks-and-mortar” stores are virtues too. The locales that honor the hybrid approach and celebrate it, will be the locales that succeed.

It would be naive to imagine the world out there working the way one envisage simply by hiding in a hole and making conjectures and decisions. Good problemsolving and decisions are not just about using AI to make projections, but also getting our feet muddy and hands oily at the ground. This is the mark of real leadership.

PS – Japan, whose constitution forbids lockdowns of any kind, managed to pass through its “state of emergency” (recommended self-imposed restrictions), and is back to normal. Read this news for a taste of post-COVID19 Japan.