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As We Predicted, Retail Shopping Boundaries Are Dissolving

We recently completed our whitepaper: 10 Ways “Online” Will Change Life for Brands and Retailers in 2012, where we declared “No Boundaries” the theme for the future of retail commerce. And lo and behold, brands and retailers are taking actions that clearly confirm our predictions well before the New Year.

Take Walmart, for example. Walmart is doing a trial run over the holidays of specialized eCommerce stores located in two popular shopping malls in southern California. Shoppers visiting the eCommerce stores, which contain several computers and are staffed by Walmart associates, can touch and try sample products and then purchase online right there in the store. They can choose to have their purchases shipped to the “eCommerce store” or any other local Walmart store for free, or pay standard shipping to have it shipped to their home.

I must admit, I didn’t see this particular scenario coming. Walmart appears to be breaking down several boundaries at once—extending their customer reach and market penetration, in addition breaking down the more obvious convenient-path-to-purchase boundary. While a staffed “store” of computers connected to a branded website may seem bizarre, this may be one of the most genius, forward-thinking implementations of “no boundaries” commerce to date. We’ll have to wait and see.

But that’s not all. Walmart is also looking to boost its eCommerce sales in other ways (watch your back, Amazon), even giving store associates credit for online sales that take place in their territory. According to a recent article on, the “key to Walmart's emerging e-commerce strategy is integrating store and online marketing like never before.”

Customer service darling, Apple, is also breaking down the retail barriers. If you thought shopping in an Apple store was great, try doing it with the new Apple Store app. According to this Elia Insider blog, with the new app, you can self-checkout with your mobile device, no store associate needed. Simply scan the barcode, type your iTunes password, et voila, you are outa there. It sounds almost as exhilarating as shoplifting, without the jail time, of course (not that I’d know).

My point is—and the point of our new whitepaper—smart retail strategy is about meeting customer needs in new and better ways. Because there are so many options out there now—so many ways to shop and so many places to buy products—any boundary you place between the customer and their desired product or service is going to cause customer frustration and lost sales.

Like Apple and Walmart, businesses need to experiment with ways to better serve their customers. Start by meeting their basic needs with an easy-to-use website, an optimized mobile site, an option to buy online or in a store, and ways to reach you through social channels. Then you can move on to more experimental tactics like Apple and Walmart.

We talk about “having your cake and eating it too” as a bad thing, but that’s what consumers want nowadays. And, if you’re not willing to give it to them, I’m willing to bet they’ll find someone who is.

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