For some time, we have been hearing about big companies from the e-commerce segment planning to introduce their own brick and mortar stores. Now, Amazon has officially taken the first step. Will this development create a pull effect, is it only a short-lived phenomenon, or could this mark a resurgence of the brick and mortar trade – also in the adult market?
Let me preface this by stating the obvious: As most of our readers can certainly confirm, the brick and mortar trade was never gone. As a matter of fact, the stationary retail trade still accounts for a large share of sales in the European adult market, in spite of the impressive growth in the e-commerce segment.
However, that online growth continues, and the e-commerce segment is nowhere near the end of the flag pole. Roughly half of the consumers shop online on a regular basis, and there are many signs indicating that this number will go up in the years to come. Online consumers have become accustomed to the user friendliness and the vast range of products available on the internet. Online is also the preferred mode of shopping if the customers don’t really care whether they get the product today, tomorrow, or in a week. In many cases, there are few objective reasons that would compel a consumer to get in the car, drive into town, find a parking space, and then explore the limited product range of a brick and mortar store to pick a product. And that is also true for adult products.
Ignoring the internet and its possibilities for too long can have dire consequences. Just look at what happened with Beate Uhse last year. The company had relied too heavily on their offline and catalogue mailorder business, paying little attention to e-commerce. I don’t think I have to remind you how that ended. A pity, really, since Beate Uhse – with its extensive network of brick and mortar stores – was in a great position to benefit from online business. After all, the path to success seems to be a combination of both worlds. Why else would Amazon have decided to start their own brick and mortar stores? It is not about choosing one and giving wide berth to the other. Therefore, the adult retail trade – be it big store chains or small shops – have to open up to digitisation. If they do, the brick and mortar trade does have a future. Of course, it is too soon to tell what that future will look like. The only thing that is obvious at the moment is adult stores have to change in the long run.
Retailers who have no online presence are not only making life unnecessarily hard for themselves; they run the risk of being cut off from this development. Naturally, being active online does not necessarily mean launching an online shop. The internet is vast, and so are the opportunities of digitisation. Creativity will be the key to shaping the future of the adult retail trade in the online realm.
Currently, the online market is expanding across the board, and that also includes adult e-commerce. While we are in this phase of growth, everybody – online and offline retailers alike – can benefit from the expanding market. But things will not always be like that. At the moment, it seems as though online retailers will have the upper hand if and when the online marketplace starts becoming more competitive and the battle over market shares and mind shares begins. But there is still enough time for adult retailers to make their business future-proof. There is still plenty of life left in the old dog. And wouldn’t it be a pity to leave the future to e-commerce alone?
Let’s start by stating the obvious: The brick and mortar trade was written off too soon. The retail segment has been in a difficult position for years, starting with the disappearance of traditional ‘old school’ sex shops, followed by the change in consumer purchasing habits and the decline of inner city shopping as well as overwhelming competition on the internet – yes, it was indeed a difficult time. The general sentiment was bad, the trade was groaning, and many experts (including the self-proclaimed variety) prophesised that walk-in stores would die a slow but inevitable death.
And now? Do we see the brick and mortar trade rising from the ashes like a phoenix? Well, that would be going a bit too far. After all, the brick and mortar trade has always had effective, successful concepts, even in the dark days. And it was never really gone. Of course, the number of adult retail stores is nowhere near as big as it once was, and it cannot be disputed that the market has shrunk and is now accommodating fewer players – with some smaller players pushed off the game board by the bigger players. But isn’t that exactly the same thing that is happening in other markets as well? And credit where credit is due, some experts – including the self-proclaimed variety – have stated that there will always be consumers yearning for that special shopping experience only a brick and mortar store can deliver.
Which is 100% true. We know a lot more about the consumers and their wishes today, and as it turns out, they take the liberty to consume whenever, whatever, and however they please. So, when people talk about consumers who want personal service, who want to pick up the product and look at it up close … Well, that’s not something brick and mortar retailers are making up. It is a fact based on experience. Also, there has to be a reason if giant companies from the e-commerce sphere open their own brick and mortar stores – as Amazon did – or are at least thinking about taking that step. It is a feasible business move that promises sales and profits. And as omnipotent as the e-commerce segment may seem, it does have certain weak points and flaws that do not exist in the brick and mortar segment, and there are consumers who are more concerned about these weak spots than others; consumers who are drawn to different sales channels as a result.
But does this development in the mainstream market also apply to the adult realm? Going by the stories we have published in EAN these past months, it certainly looks that way. At the very least, there are strong indicators. Of course, that doesn’t mean that adult retail stores are popping up in cities around Europe like daisies, but it does mean that the brick and mortar trade is aware of its strengths, and that it is more confident and more aggressive in flaunting them than it was in previous years. Maybe this will create a positive knock-on effect, a new sort of dynamic that can open more people’s minds to the idea that brick and mortar adult stores are a viable business model well worth an investment.