Surviving the Amazon Armageddon

Last week I wrote about Amazon’s newest efforts to speed up delivery and how that likely spells disaster for brick-and-mortar retail in places like downtown Provo.

But all retail isn’t actually going to die and while researching the topic I happened upon this list of strategies for stealing customers away from Amazon. Like most of information on this topic, the list discusses the retail experience, not cities. But even so, it offers useful insights for making urban retail centers work in the age of the internet.

The entire list is interesting, but two points are particularly applicable to downtown Provo: “turning the store into an experience” and making shopping “smaller.”

The first point calls on retailers to make stores more than just a place to buy goods. Citing Disney’s attempt to make stores “the best 30 minutes of a child’s day,” the idea seems to be that people should derive a kind of unique pleasure from the retail experience. Besides Disney, Apple strikes me as particularly skilled at this; Apple stores are less about buying things and more about trying out something new. They’re showrooms, which may be the primary function of retail in the future.

The second point — making the shopping experience smaller — is particularly applicable because most potential retail spaces in downtown Provo are smaller than those of typical big boxes. For years, that probably seemed like a disadvantage: downtown stores could stock fewer items and thus perhaps struggled to compete with larger corporations.

But today I can buy anything I’d find at Target on the internet. As a result, when I actually go to a physical store I’m looking for a faster, more pleasant and more expert experience. In those areas, small retail may be able to edge out larger competitors.

The road ahead for retail is a rocky one, and I’m not convinced that downtown Provo — or any physical space anywhere — is ever going to be a massive retail destination. But if business owners and city leaders think critically about what the internet doesn’t offer, the area may be able to carve out a niche for itself.

Small retail spaces are going to have a rough time in the future, but they may be able to thrive by offering experiences that the internet cannot.

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Filed under Downtown, economics

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