Many small towns wish they had a big box store of some kind as an answer to the retail needs of their residents. The owners of Main Street stores, of course, worry about big box stores. After all, Walmart grew into the colossus it is today by first serving the small town and rural market.
Then the growth of Amazon and other e-commerce companies just made things worse for bricks-and-mortar stores on Main Street.
Some stores have sought to survive by focusing on especially narrow niches or creative, quirky products. But this hasn’t been enough to replace all the retail business that has been lost.
Of course, local leaders and economic development officials just want to revive their main streets somehow – and making the stores their viable is part of that revival.
Meanwhile, the retail business is shifting and using space to create exciting and entertaining environments inside the store, rather than stocking up as much inventory as they can.
Stores in small towns need to jump ahead and aggressively adopt the new retail technology. There are some interesting examples of technology that could be used in these Main Street stores.
Adidas built a virtual wall which shows off all of their shoes, lets shoppers see them at all angles and purchase what they want, which can be delivered later. It amounts to a limitless inventory for a small store.
Using an approach several companies have taken, Ray Ban has a virtual mirror that will show how a pair of sunglasses looks on your face.
Similarly, there are variations of virtual mirrors that let you see how a particular item of clothing looks on you before you buy – or perhaps even before the store orders it from the manufacturer.
Since most small town stores can’t be open all the time, there’s always a way to allow shoppers to peek inside when the doors are closed.
Projectors are a relatively inexpensive way of blending the virtual and physical in stores. Sometimes they can be used to provide further information that a customer wants.
And store owners of all kinds realize that part of what draws people in is just an entertaining environment. So here’s another projection example that’s installed for pure fun.
Finally, there’s nothing to stop a retailer with unique products – like art works – from taking pictures and putting those on the Internet for customers to see, both local and potentially worldwide customers.
Indeed, the retailers in small towns should take advantage of their greater agility than the big store chain behemoths. That’s the way they will succeed and, in the process, help make Main Street more exciting to visit.
The lesson here is the same as for small towns and rural communities in general – the intelligent use of information and communications technologies can help them flourish in this century. The impact, indeed, will be much stronger and more visible than it is in big cities.
© 2015 Norman Jacknis