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Experiential retail driving customers to brick and mortar stores, even in the age of online shopping

Macy's Stow-Kent Plaza
Ulta Beauty stocking stuffers as low as 76¢ each (regularly $2.99)
Posted at 9:35 AM, Feb 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-07 19:36:13-05

CLEVELAND — While online shopping makes it easier to buy most of what we need, it's making it harder for many stores to keep their doors open.

Business Insider reports that more than 9,300 store closings were announced in 2019, 2,200 have already announced closings for 2020, and that experts say 12,000 stores could close by the end of the year.

Just in Ohio, Macy's announced it will close its corporate headquarters in downtown Cincinnati as part of a massive restructuring and Earth Fare announced that it will close all of its stores, including three in Northeast Ohio.

It's a problem that's only likely to grow in 2020, and yet, make up seems to be one product that bucks the trend.

"Yeah, there's always a bunch of people in there," said Hannah Rudolph, referring to the store she goes to when she needs to buy make up.

Rudolph and Savannah Higgs both say they won't buy make up unless they've had a chance to try it in person first.

Ulta has been expanding its brick and mortar footprint, shoppers say, because many people prefer to test out make up before buying it.

"It's really good to go to the store because if I want to have something but it's not as good quality, you can definitely tell at the store," said Higgs.

In the last decade, financial reports from makeup companies Ulta and Sephora show that they've opened almost 2,000 stores over the last decade combined.

Make up bars like this one at Sephora give shoppers an experience they can't get online.

At the same time, stores like Pier 1 Imports, Sears, and Gap are reducing their brick and mortar footprint.

"It is not a smooth and 21st Century process," said Ashland University College of Business and Economics Dean Dr. Elad Granot.

He says many large retail locations have been wiped away in the internet age.

"The actual acquisition of basic stuff certainly doesn't make any sense getting out of the house for," said Dr. Granot.

The impact is already being noticed all around northeast Ohio.

Richmond Town Square is shrinking down it's retail, has already added a storage facility, and will eventually tear down the old Sears location to build residential space.

See our previous coverage of the changes at Richmond Town Square here.

The old Parmatown Mall got a nearly $100 million renovation to remove the traditional mall space in favor of The Shoppes at Parma.

See our previous coverage of the changes at The Shoppes at Parma here.

"It's really becoming a significant shift where retail is going to be an experiential thing that just is a part of acquiring whatever it is you need.

That experience can be music, entertainment, or a place to test the product before shoppers buy it.

"The reason [makeup stores are] doing well is they're adding another layer on top of just the transaction," said Dr. Granot.

Dr. Granot says other retail stores can do the same thing but many of them haven't figured out how to effectively do it yet.

"If you don't attach an experiential component to it, I think you're on borrowed time," said Dr. Granot. "You're a dead store walking."