The Brick-And-Mortar Shopping Experience: How To Avoid Becoming The Next ‘Toys ‘R’ Us’

0aaaChelsie Lee Shipsi

The stakes for brick-and-mortar retailers in 2019 have never been higher.

You see it. I see it. We all do. People are calling this the retail apocalypse, for crying out loud.

We’ve watched Sears — one of the kings of retail — file for bankruptcy and close 283 stores. We’ve watched Mattress Firm say they’re closing as many as 700 stores. And of course, there’s Toys ‘R ‘Us, which liquidated its business last year.


Since 2010, the nationwide brick-and-mortar death toll is over 12,000 stores now. Why is this happening? Well, as the narrative goes, everyone wants to order online now.

“Brick-and-mortar is out, Amazon is in,” they say. And they have a compelling argument. Because Amazon is redefining how consumers buy. And if these retail titans can’t make it in this brutal new climate for physical retail locations…who can?

The truth is: YOU can.

There are a handful of retailers that are absolutely thriving in this new reality. And they’re thriving because they’ve evolved in one specific, replicable way: Many successful 2019 retailers have implemented an omnichannel strategy.

In other words, all their buying experiences and systems are fully integrated with one another.

Imagine if:

  • After browsing your store, your consumers could choose for each item whether they wanted to pick it up in-store or have it shipped to them;
  • Your consumers could return merchandise to any of those places, regardless of how they bought them;
  • You were able to ship their orders from the fastest and cheapest location relative to the consumer — because you knew where the inventory was;
  • They had the same user experience on every channel — store, web site, mobile, etc.; and
  • You always had a clear understanding of your business’s health, even if you have multiple brands or web sites.

That’s omnichannel.

Toys ‘R’ Us taught us a few harsh lessons — one such lesson is that retail must evolve to stay relevant. Struggling retail companies would do well to look into moving to an omnichannel model before it’s too late.

How An Omnichannel Strategy Can Save Your Business

The stats on integrated customer experiences speak for themselves. Here’s just one example. A recent Harvard Business Review study observed 46,000 shoppers to see how omnichannel retailing changed their buying patterns:

  • 7% only shopped online
  • 20% only shopped in-store
  • But 73% used multiple channels.

Retailers make more sales and retain more customers when they go this route, so it’s no wonder so many are staying afloat — even thriving — in this climate. They’re riding on top of the online wave instead of fighting it.

Before co-founding Shipsi, I worked with and consulted 500+ retailers. If I were still doing that, I’d be telling every single one of them the same thing:

Run, don’t walk, toward an omnichannel strategy. The clock is ticking and it will inevitably be the difference between life and death.

Here are my top three recommendations for setting up an omnichannel strategy that’ll pay massive dividends for years to come — and empower you to thrive in today’s turbulent retail market.

3 Tips For Creating Your Omnichannel Strategy

1. Don’t just stick your toes in the water. DIVE IN.

I cannot tell you how many huge brands talk about omnichannel. All the time. Talk is cheap and a complete waste of time unless you make the choice to actually do something about it.

They explore it over and over, they create one-pagers, they pass it around upper management, they talk about it in board meetings. But nothing ever happens. And they end up wasting everyone’s time and the company’s money because they never actually make an investment.

And worse, they’re in the exact same place they were when they started talking about it.

Listen: Talk is cheap. Don’t just pretend to give a damn. Actually DO something about it.

Your goal should be to learn as fast as you can and figure out what omnichannel strategies work for your business. And if it doesn’t work, at least you evaluated it. Be vulnerable, fail fast.

But don’t spend your corporate dollars going to all the big-ticket events and listening to innovative new ideas if you’re not going to do anything.

Make the resolution NOW that you’re going to take action on innovative ideas and take the risks necessary to evolve with the market — rather than just not changing, which can be even more dangerous (ask a Toys ‘R’ Us executive — I hear they’ve got time on their hands these days).

2. Don’t run five different ways at once, or you’ll find yourself running in circles.

Retailers do this ridiculous thing where they’re afraid of “tossing all their eggs in one basket,” but they’re totally fine with half-assing five smaller things — and totally wasting their investment without properly vetting an idea.

In fact, one web site I saw recently had all sorts of things going on with their checkout page:

  1. Option to subscribe (clothing, flowers, etc.)
  2. Install payments: pay $25 over 4 months instead of $100 today
  3. Google pay button that takes me somewhere else
  4. Honey (coupon pop-up)

How are you ever going to tell what works without vetting ideas one at a time?

If you’re going to explore omnichannel, fully commit to it.

Otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time and money — and even worse, you risk confusing the hell out of your consumers with a perplexing buying experience that just scares them away for good.

3. Listen to your consumers.

How important is this? Enough that you could be missing your biggest sales opportunity — or worse, the opportunity to stay in business.

I used to consult a company that created exotic shirts. One time someone on their team rebelled and made a plain shirt. The upper management hated it.

So imagine their shock when this happened:

I called a meeting and said, “I’ve been reviewing the data — can anyone guess how many of your least favorite shirt we sold last week?”

The C-suite was reluctant as I passed around post-it notes, demanding them to gamble. I read out loud ‘10, 250, 400’ and so on from the small neon-colored pieces of paper.

They had sold 20,000 shirts and they were out of stock in every location.

Moral of the story:

WAKE UP. Listen to your consumers.

They will tell you exactly how they’d like you to implement omnichannel resources into your business. But you have to ask ‘em.

What Now?

Omnichannel can completely change the game for you — just like it has for so many other businesses. But you have to give it the respect and dedication it deserves.

Don’t cut corners. Commit fully to a strategy. And let your consumers tell you exactly what they want. A few months from now, you could be looking at a bright future and thanking yourself for evolving, staying relevant, and avoiding turning into the next Toys ‘R’ Us.


Chelsie Lee is the CEO of Shipsi, a technology company that leverages last-mile networks like Postmates and Uber to give any retailer the ability to add an “instant shipping” option to their checkout process. Prior to Shipsi, Lee held positions at high-end luxury retail chains both internationally and domestically — including Saks Fifth Avenue, New Look, UGG, O’Neill, Nike and more. She has also personally contributed to dozens of emerging brands through a mentorship program she founded in the early 2000’s. Lee is a Minnesota native, yoga instructor and surf enthusiast residing in Venice, Calif.

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