It’s Not Medieval; It’s a Renaissance: Why Retail Isn’t Dead

We hear it quite a bit these days: online shopping is killing brick and mortar retail. It’s only a matter of time before it runs traditional stores out of business. Malls are drying up, stores we all grew up with are going out of business, and comparison shopping with the swipe of a finger on a digital screen has customers leaving stores without a purchase because they can buy it online, or somewhere else, for less.

As of the last quarter of 2018, e-commerce sales account for just 9.9% of overall retail sales in the US. That means 90.1% of all purchases are still being made in physical stores. The increase in online sales is growing, which creates a digital disruption of brick-and-mortar, but retail is far from dead and buried. To remain competitive in today’s mobile-fueled marketplace, retailers need to pay closer attention to market demand and conform their stores to changing consumer habits. Better yet, set a new standard for shopping and buying.

Despite the gloomy forecasts of retail, consumers still enjoy the instant gratification that comes from buying products in person instead of waiting for delivery (even if it’s only a day or a few hours). They enjoy the experience of shopping--not necessarily the simple act of purchasing. Those are two different emotions and should be catered to separately. They love a clever, or attractive, package that they can hold and inspect which might offer a spark of wonder and intrigue -- all before they buy. They love a curated box that speaks to their inner “foodie” or “self-care” opportunity.

They want to explore new products and brands to break out of the same-old experiences they are used to. They want products (and services) that make them feel catered to and special. Even those on tight budgets love a little luxury that comes with experiential, adventurous shopping. They want beautiful environments with lovely smells, soft items to “pet,” and products with a wow factor (for themselves and others).

Moreover, the products consumers buy from retail stores are not just items they may need or want, but these items are also like souvenirs they bring home from the stores they frequent. I have been in eye-catching stores with beautiful set-ups and soft lighting, and I found myself wanting to buy something, even if it is a small item because I wanted to take a piece of that experience home with me.

As long as retailers are differentiating themselves on unique products and more remarkable shopping experiences (including exceptional customer service, BOPIS services, vibrant environments, and corresponding digital channels that pair well with their stores), it is easy to recognize that physical retail isn’t dead at all. The atmosphere is quite robust for stores that listen to consumer demands and think like consumers, not like legacy retailers.

Stop into Hudson Yards in NYC for a view into experimental retail spaces -- touchable art, IG-friendly stores (Atelier Cologne), food halls and unique food stops (David Chang's Fuku), landmark experiences (The Vessel), boutique coffee (Blue Bottle), stores that offer self- or assisted-checkout (Stance, Dirty Lemon), alongside a family-friendly sweets-and-games experience from Snark Park -- all as ways to bring stickiness (borrowing from digital here) to an environment. And it’s working. Try not to feel wowed when you walk in.


Apocalyptic retail forecasts are only accurate for companies that continue down the “one-size-fits-all” branding and dull store experiences where products are stacked on shelves to get lost in the clutter. There is significant opportunity to take advantage of the 50% year-over-year growth that still exists in physical retail--it just has to be different than what has been done in the past.

Learn more about how Vivabox can curate exploratory, experiential packaging for your products to meet current consumer demands and offer your company better options and fresh SKUs for growth in the changing retail landscape.

Post by: Desiree Paquette, CEO Vivabox