The rise of e-commerce and the web store in particular threaten the good ol’ shop in the street. More and more people find their way to online shopping centers like Amazon and ASOS. Meanwhile, cities are left behind with empty malls and shopping streets. It’s hard to stop this development, but there seems to be help from an unexpected angle. New hybrid online-offline shopping concepts fill up the empty spots in the shopping street of the future.
The development of the QR code has led to new experiments in shopping that enable customers to buy stuff on-the-go with their smartphones. It also enables shop owners to feature their goods without having them displayed in physical stores, which is a lot cheaper. Last year Tesco and Samsung opened their virtual HomePlus grocery store in Seoul. Customers can purchase products by scanning the related QR codes on their smartphones with the HomePlus app and get the items delivered to their doorsteps.
The new-style supermarket should be considered an extension of 2011’s subway platform supermarket that was developed to give people the opportunity to buy their groceries while waiting on the platform.
Many people are negative about QR codes and question their usability. However, from this perspective, the QR code seems to be an interesting connection between the offline and online world. Offline one can better showcase a product, online one can pay more easily. Also Procter & Gamble and Walmart teamed up using QR codes to promote their online sales in an offline way. Their QR code truck store drives the streets of Manhattan, enabling pedestrians to buy household products from the side of the truck by scanning a code with their smartphones.
In Toronto Mattel Canada and Walmart Canada opened a pop-up virtual toy store. With two walls of three-dimensional toy images, consumers can simultaneously window-shop and make purchases with their phones. It’s not a coincidence that big brands like Walmart, Samsung, Tesco and Procter & Gamble are all exploring these forms of combined online-offline sales — they recognize the power of online shopping. But at the same they understand that people are still addicted to the ‘old’, physical shopping experience.
Last year a concept was launched in The Hague that combines the experience of city shopping with the functionality of QR codes. Twiet.nu is a cross-over between a box store and a web shop. The company rents out boxes in a shopping street window to web shop owners which they can use to display their products offline for once and promote it to another group of potentially interested people. By scanning a QR code, shoppers can purchase products immediately on their smartphones.
Also without using QR codes we see the web shop’s comeback in the less fortunate shopping streets. A new typology of shop emerges here: the hybrid niche store. These stores combine the web shop with a specialized one-man store. Small niche shops would normally never survive in an off-center shopping street just because their niche is to small, but now that local shopping streets face a lot of vacancy, the empty shops are good spots for web shop owners to extend their imperium into the ‘real’ world. They combine their huge group of potential clients on the Internet with the very local support of their own network and people from the neighborhood. These new hybrid shops are accelerating gentrification processes in neighborhoods as they appeal as first pioneers in derelict shopping areas.
In Amsterdam low rents are available in the northern part of the city. In the Van der Pekstraat, one of the main shopping streets in the oldest part of this district, many of these combined online and offline shops fill the gaps that traditional shops have left behind. Next to the traditional butcher, smaller grocery stores and bars, the street’s new shops are hybrid niche stores. This is Soul, for instance, sells inline skate equipment. Their shop is small and clients do not necessarily live in the neighborhood. Instead, the shop focuses on the worldwide market on the web and serves the Amsterdam metropolitan region from its store. The same goes for American Cake Decorating Supplies, located in the same street. The local market is definitely to small to run this niche business, but with an online business on the side this business can afford a shop space and help the street to stay livable in times of transformation.
Also in other cities small niche shops start to occupy empty shopping spaces in neighborhood shopping streets. In Rotterdam De Snoerboer is a shop specialized in retro and design electricity wires. In the same street the creative office Mwah occupies a space while it sells its creative work online at the same time. One of the best examples, however, is Salsamentum, a shop specialized in all kinds of salt that’s not located in a fun shopping area, but in a neighborhood shopping street in the western part of Amsterdam. The rise of online shopping is a huge threat for the livability and economic vitality of shopping streets in urban areas. But there’s still hope. This trend shows that new kinds of shops with a stronger focus on the Web are becoming visible in the city. Isn’t it ironic?
This article is part of The Pop-Up City’s Trends for 2013. Reflecting on what we’ve written in 2012 and looking into the new year, we’ve composed a new list of remarkable trends that we consider to be important for our cities in the coming time. Feel free to contact us in case you want to learn more about our reports.