There is no question that the retail industry is under-going a tremendous amount of change. Record numbers of store closings. Legacy brands going out of business--or teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Venture capital funded start-ups wreaking havoc upon traditional distribution models and pricing structures. Discount-oriented retailers stealing share away from once mighty department stores. And, oh yeah, then there's Amazon.
In assessing what is driving retailers' shifting fortunes most observers point to a single factor: the rapid growth of e-commerce. But they'd be wrong.
To be sure, online shopping has, and will continue to have, a dramatic impact on virtually every aspect of retail. One simply cannot ignore the dramatic share shift from physical stores to digital commerce, nor can we under-estimate the transformative effect of e-commerce on pricing, product availability and shopping convenience.
Yet a far more profound dynamic is at play, namely what some have termed "digital-first retail." Digital-first retail is the growing tendency of consumers' shopping journeys to be influenced by digital channels, regardless of where the ultimate transaction takes place. It's obvious that this shift helps explain the success of Amazon and other e-commerce players. But when it comes to how traditional retailers need to reinvent themselves, several factors related to this phenomenon need to be better understood and, most importantly, acted upon.
The majority of physical store sales start online. Deloitte has done a great job tracking digitally influenced sales and its most recent report indicates 56% of in-store sales involved a digital device--and this will only continue to grow. Moreover, quite a few major retailers, across a spectrum of categories, have publicly commented that they are experiencing 60-70% digital influence of physical stores sales.
Digitally-influenced brick & mortar sales dwarf e-commerce. While e-commerce now accounts for (depending on the source) some 10% of all retail sales, both Forrester and Deloitte have estimated that web-influenced physical store sales are about 5X online sales.