Omnichannel Marketing Blurs the Lines of Retail

Watch stocks you care about

The single, easiest way to keep track of all the stocks that matter...

Your own personalized stock watchlist!

It's a 100% FREE Motley Fool service...

Click Here Now

The lines of distinction continue to blur between e-commerce and the physical world. Upscale department store chain Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN  ) and online diamond merchant Blue Nile (NASDAQ: NILE  ) recently announced a partnership that will allow prospective brides to try on select wedding jewelry in Nordstrom stores before buying online at BlueNile's site.

Perhaps it's the sluggish economy and retail fears over what is expected to amount to a disappointing Christmas shopping season, but companies that were previously Web-only are looking more frequently for physical locations to expand their reach. Whether it's partnering with an existing business, as Blue Nile and Nordstrom have done, or setting up shop on their own, as Gap subsidiary Piperlime did with its first bricks-and-mortar location in Soho, New York City, it's not easy to tell who's an e-tailer and who's a retailer.

It's an interesting phenomenon considering the explosive growth e-commerce is witnessing. While offline retailers felt the need to get the holiday shopping extravaganza started early this year to make up for a shortened shopping window -- yet still pull in anemic growth numbers -- Cyber Monday sales set a new record, surging to more than $2 billion this year. Despite the predictions we may be seeing dying days of physical retail, online shops are looking to it as a means of extending their own viability.

More likely it represents a growing consensus that omnichannel retail is becoming the rule. Like the automobile industry, where all cars seemingly look alike because designers seek to achieve the same aerodynamics, fuel economy, and so on, retailers, whether offline or online, are reaching for similar tools by allowing shoppers to make a purchase no matter where they are: in a store, on a mobile device, or flipping through a catalog. 

That's why we're seeing retailers as diverse as Target and Staples adopt the online price-matching policies unveiled by Wal-Mart to meet head-on the challenge imposed by's (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) ubiquitous presence. 

It's why Amazon installed delivery lockers in physical retail locations, and stores from Wal-Mart to Macy's launched ship-to-store policies while Google and eBay started up same-day delivery services.

The Internet has turned retailing upside down, and mobile communications are driving it to further extremes. So we'll continue to see the likes of eBay and Etsy testing out the physical model with pop-up stores -- just as Microsoft used to do, until it finally opened up its own chain of retail outlets.

Part of the change has to do with the safety consumers feel in being able to physically touch and test a product before purchasing it. The showrooming effect that nearly brought Best Buy to its knees was an outgrowth of that desire for a hands-on opportunity to kick the tires. So while Amazon and other Web-only retailers may enjoy a certain cost advantage to their streamlined operations, bricks-and-mortar retailers benefit from the comfort their customers feel by knowing there's a real store behind the name.

Making the sale has become of prime importance, and making the process as easy as possible -- no matter where, when, and how the customer is accessing a store -- will eventually erase the differences between online and offline completely.

Not your momma's retailer
To learn about two retailers with especially good prospects, take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform and how they're planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it by clicking here.

Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2765438, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/28/2016 1:08:46 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Today's Market

updated Moments ago Sponsored by:
DOW 18,212.48 -15.82 -0.09%
S&P 500 2,157.06 -2.87 -0.13%
NASD 5,298.37 -7.35 -0.14%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

9/28/2016 12:53 PM
AMZN $828.25 Up +12.14 +1.49% CAPS Rating: ****
JWN $51.32 Down -0.39 -0.75%
Nordstrom CAPS Rating: ****
NILE $34.93 Down -0.38 -1.08%
Blue Nile CAPS Rating: **