Brick and mortar retail: heading for extinction?
March 20, 2021
The short answer: no. While it’s true that some businesses are closing, or consolidating to online-only shops, there’s still value in utilizing your five senses to inform a purchase. Especially when it comes to expensive, long-term items like home appliances, electronics, furniture and fixtures. In fact, when it comes to purchases for a home building or remodeling project, visiting local retailers could be the best decision you’ll ever make.
And though it may seem like physical store locations are disappearing en masse because of the shift to online shopping, that’s actually not the case. According to an article on Vend.com, a company that specializes in retail point-of-sale operations, “Consumers are making more convenience purchases online, but they’re still making their luxury and experiential purchases in person. High-ticket merchandise categories still call for in-person product interaction, which can only take place in a brick-and-mortar store.”
“There is a huge benefit to shopping brick and mortar stores when you’re making decisions on expensive or long-term items,” says Nick DiCosola, President of DiCosola Group, which specializes in luxury home building and remodeling in the Chicagoland area. “Not only are you supporting the local economy, but you’re getting one-on-one attention and expertise to help you make the right decisions. As a general contractor, I love when my clients visit showrooms because it tells me they’re really invested in the process.”
If you’ve ordered big-ticket items online before, it’s highly likely you’ve dealt with any number of issues, including delivery delays, items arriving damaged, the item isn’t as pictured, measurements are off, color is wrong, and the list goes on. Plus, dealing with return hassles can often delay your project.
Emily Roberts, Showroom Manager at Studio41, a premier home design showroom in Chicago, iterates the potential pitfalls of online ordering: “Once you’ve gone through the return process, re-started your search and ordered something new, you’ve spent more time and energy than if you had visited a showroom in the first place, where you get to touch, feel and visualize the product in person.”.
Nick has experienced online ordering woes firsthand, and highly recommends his clients visit Chicago-area retailers he’s worked with before. Not only do they get the benefit of seeing and touching products, but they can also capitalize on the relationship and trust that Nick has already built with the retailers. “I’ve worked with some of these vendors for more than 20 years. If a client has an issue with a product, I can go directly to my contact to resolve the issue,” says Nick. “You just don’t get that kind of personalized service when you buy online.”
See the light
One of Nick’s longtime partners is Hortons Home Lighting, which has been serving the Chicagoland area for more than 120 years, and working directly with Nick for over 25 years.
Heather Olson, Hortons Regional Manager, not only celebrates the store’s positive community presence but also highlights the importance of in-person shopping for something like home lighting. “Anyone can pick out a lighting fixture, but when you work with a specialist at Hortons, we take you room by room and map out your entire lighting plan.”
Beyond that, the trained sales associates are able to pinpoint specifics that the client, or even the builder, may not have thought of. “With some types of lighting, there are tricky details that need to be noted so that installation can go smoothly,” says Heather.
And there’s just no substitute for experiencing lighting in action. Hortons has a sprawling showroom that showcases a wide variety of products from over 100 vendors. They also have a huge warehouse, which means quick (and free!) delivery, and if they don’t have a product in stock, they can always order it.
“We aren’t really here to sell people on our lighting,” says Heather. “We are here to help clients solve problems. We work with clients on their projects from beginning to end, and it’s so rewarding to see the same people 10 years later asking us to help them with their next project.”
Appliances, electronics and furniture, oh my!
Another one of Nick’s go-to retailers is Abt, one of the largest independent, single-store appliance and electronics retailers in the country. Founded in 1936 in Glenview, Illinois, Abt has taken experiential shopping to the next level. Walking into the store, customers are greeted by a Bellagio-inspired water fountain along with a supersized Lite-Brite, bubble machine, Humpty Dumpty, a LEGO table, and the 2012 Olympic Torch carried by Mike Abt.
And while it’s certainly fun to visit Abt, depending on what you’re shopping for, the best part of the store may be the Inspiration Studio, a 10,000-square-foot, hands-on showroom that features kitchen appliances from a dozen premier manufacturers, allowing shoppers to customize their own luxury kitchen.
“Having the ability to touch and feel what you are buying is so important,” says Aimee Neilsen, who’s in Abt’s Builder Division Sales. “You’d be surprised how many customers want the largest capacity washer/dryers only to find out they can’t reach the bottom of the washer! I often have customers bring in their most-used casserole dish, favorite coffee cup, or largest pot just to make sure the appliances they’re buying fit their lifestyle.”
Aimee also makes an excellent point when it comes to retailers really knowing the ins and outs of the current trends and products. She is able to track what’s being returned, customer complaints (as well as what they like), and she and her associates are able to correct negative feedback by teaching customers how to properly use and care for their products.
Another benefit of working with local retailers like Abt is that most services are offered in house, including deliveries, installations, and repair services—which typically means quick service and delivery and knowledgeable help. And like most physical retailers, Abt is taking extra precautions during the pandemic to ensure that they’re still able to offer the same level of service while working with customers in ways that best suit their needs.
Sweat the details
Other areas of the home that demand careful consideration and expertise include the kitchen and bathroom, or anywhere you might install plumbing fixtures and cabinetry. Being able to see the finish of a kitchen sink faucet, interact with cabinet hardware and determine the exact size of the bathtub to ensure a comfortable soak are imperative to the long-term enjoyment of a home. These may seem like insignificant details when you’re in the middle of a whole-house remodel, but taking time to make decisions in person, alongside experts, not only enhances your purchasing experience, but ensures that you are making the best decision to fit your needs.
Emily Roberts of Studio41 [LINK: https://www.shopstudio41.com/], agrees. “To put it simply, visiting a physical showroom location saves you time and energy. It may seem like you’re saving time by avoiding a trip to the store, but then your online order arrives and you realize that the color looks different on screen or the size isn’t quite right and then you have to hassle with returns. We strongly believe that our showrooms are not just a place to buy products, but also a powerful resource to help and support you in your decision making.”
In addition to expert help with decision making, customers are also building relationships. They’ll be able to call on the retail store(s) if they have questions about how something works, or if there are problems with their purchase. Establishing a network of experts to help troubleshoot, advise and support is not a service you necessarily get when you shop online.
“We love seeing a completed project,” says Emily. “Seeing homeowners get excited when everything comes together, or if they’ve had an exceptional experience with their salesperson, and follow up after their project is finished is the best feeling.”
So, whether you’re ready to begin building your dream home or considering a remodel, contact the DiCosola Group to get started on your journey. Nick and his team will no doubt urge you to spend an afternoon (or three) visiting showrooms, but you’ll quickly feel well educated to make the best possible decision, and you might even have a little fun too.