Brick-and-mortar stores, or at least their Web sites, just got a much-needed ego-boost from the media last week.
Reports suggested, fairly convincingly, that multichannel retailers might have some advantages over Web-only shops after all.
"Convergence is the new religion," said the Economist. "Internet retailers are being forced to recognise the importance of having a physical presence." Recent examples: the dot-com drugstores Soma.com and Drugstore.com did deals with chain drugstores CVS and Rite Aid, respectively. Clothing store Alloy.com saw its sales jump after releasing a print catalogue. Gateway has "computer petting zoos" for handling the direct-seller's hardware before buying it online. These companies think the grass will be greener when they tear down the fence.
The New York Times also took a swipe at online-only merchants, running an article on the difficulty of returning merchandise bought over the Net. Jupiter Communications says it's a problem and so does Boston Consulting. The answer? Merchants should enclose a UPS slip with orders and pay for return shipping, as clothing seller Bluefly does. Or let customers view products from several angles so they choose wisely the first time, said Furniture.com. But "perhaps the best option is one that remains unreachable for companies that operate only online", wrote NYT's Bob Tedeschi. "Namely, physical stores." Score another one for multichannel.
But Web-only retailers shouldn't get too worked up over this bad press. The media will probably return to its regularly scheduled spanking of traditional stores soon enough.