The Reports of the Death of Brick & Mortar are Greatly Exaggerated

By: Jim Tompkins
CEO, Tompkins International

Today, June 2, 2017 I picked up a journal article that stated that the death of Brick & Mortar is upon us, which is a complete exaggeration. Mark Twain faced a similar dilemma 120 years ago, June 2, 1897, when he replied to a New York Journal article stating, “The report of my death was an exaggeration”, in which the journal confused him, with a seriously ill cousin. 

Even though you can read the obituary of Brick & Mortar please consider the evidence:

  1. Brick & Mortar stores in the United States have been over built. The U.S. has about 24 square feet of retail space per capita, more than any other country; Canada is second with 16 square feet per capita and third is Australia with 11 square feet per capita. Therefore, if 10,000 stores close in the U.S. this year, the U.S. still has more square feet of Brick & Mortar per capita than any other country.
  2. The Brick & Mortar stores that are being closed in the U.S. were not alive and well. They were open, but dead.  Stores offering customers a unique experience however are alive and well, and in some cases opening stores.
  3. Some examples of stores that offer a unique customer experience:

    Lowes Foods

    The Beer Den

    TJ Maxx

    The “Thrill of the Hunt”

    Home Depot

    Knowledgeable, Helpful Staff


    Great “How To” Support


    Fast Fashion


    True Luxury


    Instant Gratification, Feel Beautiful

    Dollar General

    Great Bargains


    Great Leadership

  4. Customers have attractive alternatives to shopping at open but dead stores. It is a better experience and more convenient to shop online, than to travel to an open but dead store.
  5. In fact, in many discussions people are talking about Brick & Mortar, but are referring to a wide category of stores. I saw a list earlier this week that included apparel, grocery, discount, auto rental, pharmaceutical, department stores, off price, music, toys, vitamins, restaurants, home improvement, and more, classified as Brick & Mortar.  They are all physical locations, but to group them into a single Brick & Mortar category loses the meaning of what is really happening. From this perspective there are two questions:
    1. What if the Amazon, Alibaba, or Walmart/Jet’s business models are right for certain product categories but not for others?
    2. What if the Amazon, Alibaba, or Walmart/Jet’s business models for eCommerce are superior to Brick & Mortar, because standard Brick & Mortar is being done incorrectly? Also, what if Brick & Mortar was done correctly, would it be superior to eCommerce for certain product categories?

There are some categories where folks are now having significant success in opening Brick & Mortar. In some categories the eCommerce leaders are opening stores creating a unichannel approach.

Closing a record number of Brick & Mortar locations has nothing to do with the death of Brick & Mortar.  Unlike Mark Twain who eventually died, Brick & Mortar will not die and will continue to provide a healthy portion of all sales. Going forward in a variety of categories eCommerce will be a big player and Brick & Mortar will dominate.  eCommerce will continue to gain share in other categories and Brick & Mortar will be less of a player. In conclusion, there is so much associated with retail, it gets overstated and misconstrued. To state that Brick & Mortar is dead is a complete exaggeration, Brick & Mortar is alive and doing well for those retailers whom want to create a total unique shopping experience for their customers.