Brick and Mortar Supplement Stores…It’s Adapt or Die Time!
“You are just a physical retail hater!”
…I’ve heard that comment far too many times on my content, but its actually the furthest thing from the truth. Simply put, I hate what brick and mortar supplement retail has become!
Everyone knows the current playbook…
- Four boring walls of unimaginative space
- Inventory tossed on some cheap bland shelves
- Staff that sits back and waits for customers to come in and once they are in the store, they are too “busy” on their smartphones to help
Talk about uninspired and a waste of time, when you compare it to the current substitute of digital retail.
In my opinion, retailers exist for these five reasons:
- Immediate Gratification
- Sensory (the idea of touching, feeling, and trying products)
- Experience (social enjoyment of being somewhere)
Based on this rubric for a retailer’s purpose, let’s take a current snapshot of the brick and mortar supplement retail landscape…
If you are reading this article, odds are you have been into a specialty supplement store in the last 12 months. Have they changed much since the first time you went to one? There might be more product variants on the shelves, but outside of that, they look and feel the same way today as they did decades ago.
Does that inspire you to keep coming in to those stores when there are other options now in the market to buy your supplements (both physical and digital)? I didn’t think so…
For the most part, brick and mortar supplement stores are usually smaller in square footage than other specialty retailers. They are also not attached to malls, except several GNC locations and most of the remaining Vitamin World stores. Additionally, unless the physical stores have a challenging geographical location, the convenience reason does not provide large purchase hurdles and can be considered a small positive.
Is this small positive an advantage though? No…at least not anymore! Truth is, a consumer can experience the ultimate convenience by not leaving home to get their favorite supplements. Today, items are shipped and arrive in two days or less with Amazon. Add in the superior selection, ability to compare prices across retailers in seconds, clarification it will be in stock (thus taking risk away from wasted trip), and the once small positive is no match for its digital retail competitors.
To me, immediate gratification is a more hardcore version of convenience. If you want a nutritional supplement right now, the fastest way is going to be driving to the nearest physical retailer and buying that product or a close substitute that is currently in stock.
Despite that obvious advantage, digital retailers are making huge strides in their efforts to close the gap. If you live in a major city in the U.S., that has Amazon Prime Now, you know the awesomeness that is two-hour delivery.
Ideally, this is where brick and mortar supplement stores would shine, but they don’t for whatever reason. Firstly, functional CPG like vitamins, minerals, and supplements are a consumable. Secondly, they are usually sold in containers that have larger total servings, which makes the customer commit to something that might be new or overwhelming if they aren’t educated on those intent-driven products. Having the ability to trial products for taste and experience before you buy creates a huge advantage over digital.
Social experience…this is far and away the biggest reason physical retail survives today. This is also not easily copied by digital…well not until virtual reality is up and running, right? Yes, there are many forms of real-time social media and everything that has to do with connecting digitally, but it is not the same as you and another person in the same physical space. That need for real human interaction is going to be hard to give up and thus physical retailers will survive.
Now, does that mean we need physical retailers supplement stores? No…well not as many as we have today!
According to a UBS retail analyst, for every 1% increase in e-commerce penetration, approximately 8000 retail stores would need to close across all retail categories. Though not specific to nutritional supplement specialty retailers, it does infer that the need for social experience only goes so far when its not backed up with some level of value exchange that warrants its existence.
Physical retail is in fact dying and though it might not ever completely go away, what will winning brick and mortar supplement stores offer to standout and give consumers a reason not to accelerate e-commerce penetration?
The answer to this question today will not be the same as tomorrow, but the brick and mortar supplement retailers that understand this constant need for change to exceed the expectations of evolving customer needs will win. I can tell you one thing though…those four boring walls of unimaginative space, packed with non-differentiating inventory that is tossed on some cheap bland shelves, while you sit on your cell phone posting terrible social media images thinking you’re “marketing” is not going to help you survive…