The Catalog Showroom Retail Concept May Soon Make a Comeback

Many so-called business experts predict a bleak future for store-based retailers. In most cases, they cite the incredible pressure exerted by online retailers as the major challenge facing brick-and-mortar stores. While competitive pressure is certainly great, it does appear that some adjustments can be made by retail stores to attract more customers. Some of the changes are discussed in this story from NBC News story. As expected, the adoption of evolving retail technologies is widely considered an essential strategy. For instance, the story reports on how apparel retailers will soon be using body scanners to sell products. These scanners can take a shopper’s body measurement and then suggest particular clothing to match the body type.

Another change is a bit more intriguing, at least in terms of retailing history. The story suggests the retail selling space footprint of future stores will be much smaller because the need to carry additional inventory will be greatly reduced. This is because improved shipping methods (maybe even shipping by drone) will enable shoppers to see a product on a shelf, place an order and then quickly obtain their purchase that is shipped to the address they provide.

However, another example of this retail model is also interesting. As noted in the story, a company called Hointer operates apparel stores that have only one version of a clothing product on the retail floor. If a customer wants to try on an item, they use a smartphone app to request the clothing which then appears in a dressing room.

While the limited floor display approach may seem like a new type of retailing format, it is not. Limiting the number of products displayed on a retail floor was a common retail approach used by showroom retailers. Years ago, companies such as Best Products and Service Merchandise operated retail locations where customers could browse a showroom then place an order that could be picked up as they exited. However, by the 1990s the rise of mass discounters, such as Walmart and Target, and category killers, such as Best Buy and Staples, pushed the showroom retail category to the edge of extinction. Whether shoppers will accept a move back to this model is certainly something to watch.