For nearly a decade, analysts and experts have predicted the slow decay and ultimate demise of brick and mortar shopping. The rise of online retail, driven by expediency and availability, convinced many shoppers to change their spending habits. Studies proclaimed that millennial shoppers preferred the convenience of shopping from home and largely preferred to eschew the trips to the store, looking for items which may or may not be in stock. The pandemic played a key role in exacerbating the already shrinking physical retail space, as many stores faced worker shortages and issues with ensuring the safety of employees and patrons.
However, new research suggests that the same younger shoppers who take the blame for killing the likes of J.C. Penneys are actually gravitating to shopping in person once again, albeit for different reasons and with different goals than past generations. With the plethora of options for shopping online, these consumers are making the conscious choice to shop in person. While I cannot speak for all these members of multiple generations, personally, I am not ready to give up on shopping in person due to practical, experiential, and ethical considerations which make this an attractive option for me.
I would like to note, before going any further, that at the time of writing this, we are far from done with the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, any recommendations or arguments made in favor of shopping in person must be secondary to the precautions recommended or mandated to protect the health and safety of shoppers and retail workers.
Shopping at a physical store provides practical benefits, especially when shopping for clothing.
I rarely feel confident shopping online for clothing unless I am buying a duplicate of an item I already own. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, US sizing is largely useless, as it lacks any standardization between or within brands. Ordering an alphabetical or numeric size, even if it represents the median size you generally wear, is no guarantee that the garment will be close to the correct size. Especially when shopping for secondhand clothing which may be vintage, you may find yourself fitting in sizes as far as 10 numeric values away from the size you might think you normally wear. The best chance you have of shopping online is seeing a person modeling the garment and having a reference for their general size range. These stats give you an opportunity to at least eyeball the fit of the piece in question.
Furthermore, I am a tactile person. I love to touch fabrics and to see the way they drape or hang when worn. The ability to feel clothes, to see the colors against my hair and skin, and to see exactly where they hit on my body allows me to make conscious purchases of items which I know I will wear and enjoy.
Shopping at a physical store offers the chance for instant gratification. Nothing feels better than finding that perfect piece hanging on the back of a rack, trying it on, and feeling instantly like this is the newest and best way for you to present yourself to the world. The rush of a perfect thrifted find, though replicable online, is one of the best parts about shopping secondhand. Personally, I love to dig through the racks, find something incredible, and take it home that day!
In a pinch or at a distance, shopping online can be fun and rewarding, but given the choice, I will usually opt to try clothes on before I purchase them.
Successful retail stores in the modern era offer more than the opportunity to purchase items. They create a brand experience with an atmosphere and environment that gives consumers an intangible benefit every time they walk in the door. These experiential differentiators might look like unique decor, art items, lighting, seating, refreshments, engagement with staff, events, or other features which contribute to the creation of a sense of community around visiting a retail establishment.
Shopping at local stores, which actively cultivate a social experience within their walls appeals to me. I love building relationships, meeting people, and stretching the atrophied social muscles which have shrunk during periods of limited in-person socialization outside of a work environment.
A brick and mortar store which invites and engages with customers is a unique experience which provides much more than merely the opportunity to examine and purchase goods.
I believe it is important to shop at and support locally owned business and local artists, artisans, and craftspeople. Shopping at locally owned establishments provides an opportunity for consumers to vote with their dollars, to stand with individuals and against enormous corporations, and to keep their money in the communities in which they live. Like most people, I am not able to exclusively shop local, but I do make an effort where it feels possible for me. While many stores do offer online shopping options, I like to visit the space, enjoy the atmosphere, and browse. During periods when in-person shopping is not optimal for whatever reason, having the option to shop at small stores online provides a way to support these businesses without leaving home.
The pandemic definitely changed the way I approach shopping. Of course, there are some things I choose to order online. For example, I love the convenience of getting the heavy bags of dog kibbles delivered to my home by a certain pet supply company. A hybrid of shopping online and in-person feels like it makes sense for me right now. When I shop at physical stores, it is a conscious choice motivated by the reasons I’ve outlined above. As long as stores continue to offer practical and ethical considerations for shopping there while cultivating a unique in-store experience, there will always be a place for physical retail in the consumer economy.
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.