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Local expert weighs in on changing retail landscape

The internet has changed the way people purchase everything from clothes to mattresses
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More retail franchises are closing stores across Canada - from Zellers to Payless to Rona, and the list goes on. 

Martin Qiu is an Associate Professor of Marketing with Wilfrid Laurier University and appeared on Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke on 570 NEWS. 

He said the biggest threat comes from internet retailers - although it affects stores differently. 

"If you look at business - department stores and their parent stores take the biggest hit. But we've seen some low-end, bargain stores are actually thriving. But for those middle-range, middle-priced level stores .. they are suffering and that's not surprising."

Qiu added it's not all about price, it also depends on the category. 

You may still notice foot traffic in a lot of stores, but that doesn't mean people are buying things. 

"They're treating it more like 'showrooms'. People go to brick and mortar stores to try on things - but will then buy it online at a lower price."

While service retailers are unlikely to feel the pinch, this culture of convenience is having a big impact on mom-and-pop shops.

However, Qiu said there are things small businesses can do. 

"Make sure you have your own online store. Drive customers in-store to try on things, and then direct them online to buy it. Merchandise retailers need to find their niche and they need to have relationship marketing with their customers. They have to work harder to create a bond with their target customers."

Qiu said the technological age could actually benefit malls. 

"Traditional retailers could benefit from this widespread usage of smartphones. If customers are encouraged to download an app and hear about promotions or receive coupons. It makes this strategy of marketing more interesting and more complicated."

Unless you have a time machine, Qiu said there's no way to shift back to the old retail template. 

"In the U.S., a lot of shopping centres are being abandoned or converted into something else. The business models of shopping centres doesn't really work these days."

Looking to the future, Qiu said he believes we'll see more and more traditional stores disappear, and there will continue to be an increase in online shopping and marketing through smartphones. 

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