Unshopping at the nonmall
: I’ve made many futureshock predictions that were bull and I thought this was one of them:
About five years ago, I sat with the boss and with Bob Lessin, damned smart VC, and predicted that some big retail outlets would be replaced by showrooms where you could see the merchandise that you could then buy online. The idea was that Amazon is efficient but isn’t always satisfying — you want to touch the stuff. And maintaining retail and local warehouse space and above all inventory may be convenient — but it is expensive and inefficient. So for big-ticket items (furniture, cars, electronics) a showroom could beat a store. And in the post-mass-market world, where I believe that unique or niche merchandise will make a comeback (eBay v. Walmart), a showroom would be far more effective than trying to blanket the country with inventory.
Even I didn’t fully believe what I was saying. It was theoretical, speculative, perhaps bull.
But now here’s a story in The New York Times reporting on just such a showroom for online sales:
new shopping complex in Ohio will try to combine the convenience of online stores with the hands-on experience of browsing at a mall.
Sometime near the end of 2006, the complex, called Epicenter, is scheduled to open in Columbus at the Polaris Fashion Place. The nucleus of Epicenter will consist of two parts – the Buypod, a hand-held electronic device, and electronic kiosks located throughout the mall.
Under the concept, customers will enter the mall and register their credit card information, which will then be put into their Buypods. As customers browse merchandise, they can use their Buypod – which, as the name suggests, looks something like an Apple iPod – to scan the labels of items they want to buy.
Although a small number of items will available to take home, most orders will be sent directly to the warehouse, where they will be filled and shipped. The electronic kiosks will print receipts and can be used to cancel orders, if needed.
According to Anthony Lee, Epicenter’s chief executive, Internet and catalogue retailers can use Epicenter to establish a place where their customers can feel, and in some cases try on, merchandise. The Epicenter design also offers the low overhead and reduced need for sales staff that online and catalogue retailers are accustomed to.
Retail has just begun to explode. And this will, in turn, continue to explode local advertising and media.