One CEO Explains Why E-Commerce Is Key To Surviving The 'Retail Apocalypse'

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*This article was originally published by a Forbes staff writer on Forbes.com

This article series spotlights key business trends identified by the expert members of Forbes Councils. Find out if you qualify for Forbes Business Council.

Covid-19 has drastically impacted the retail industry, driving a huge shift from brick-and-mortar to online shopping for brands like Zara, which recently announced it will close as many as 1,200 stores to invest $3 billion in digital operations. According to a recent report from Coresight Research, as many as 25,000 retail locations could close throughout the U.S. in 2020, due to the novel coronavirus.

However, experts say the “retail apocalypse” isn’t new. Even before the pandemic, brick-and-mortar shopping was falling out of favor. In 2019, a record-high 9,300 stores closed throughout the U.S., topping 8,000 store closures in 2017. Though it may seem like Covid-19 incited the death of American shopping malls, trends over the past decade suggest that the pandemic is only accelerating the inevitable.

Forbes Business Council member Jack Kurtz is the founder and CEO of Fortuitas, an award-winning digital agency specializing in marketing, integration and ecommerce solutions, headquartered in Valencia, CA. With over 20 years of experience in the ecommerce space, Kurtz remembers surviving the original dot-com bubble and the emergence of Amazon. He affirms that the retail apocalypse was well underway before Covid-19.

“We noticed a trend over the past four years (since 2016). More and more clients were interested in selling online and having us either develop and integrate some type of ecommerce solution, or support and maintain their existing solution until they were ready to have us redesign and rebuild it,” Kurtz said.

Jack Kurtz Forbes Business Council

Founded in 2006, Fortuitas currently builds ecommerce solutions for mid-market and enterprise businesses and brands, such as Cragar Wheels, Powell’s Books, Bragg Live Foods and Ingram Micro. Offering comprehensive services, including strategy, user interface design, technology and digital marketing, Fortuitas supports the tech stack from the ecommerce system to the product information management (PIM) system, all the way down to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

This includes managing a company's products through an omnichannel strategy, which includes selling on the company’s website, through marketplaces like Amazon and eBay and in physical stores using a retail point of sale (POS) system, as well as order management, inventory and warehouse management, financial reconciliation, online payments and sales tax compliance.

Before 2020, the omnichannel experience was already in high demand. According to Statista, over 52% of web traffic worldwide stemmed from mobile devices in 2019. As wearable technology and IoT devices – such as smartwatches and smart appliances – become more prevalent and advanced, it will become increasingly difficult to predict how shoppers will find a product. Retailers must integrate a consistent and reliable shopping experience across multiple platforms.

Key to the omnichannel shopping experience is the option to buy online/pick up in store (BOPIS), which offers both customer satisfaction and supply chain benefits while allowing retailers to transition their stores into distribution centers. According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, 70% of consumers choose BOPIS to save the cost of shipping. BOPIS also improves the customer experience by allowing more flexible and lenient returns while mitigating the risk of fraud.

“Since Covid-19, BOPIS has become buy online/pick up curbside, but it's basically the same concept,” Kurtz said. According to the National Retail Federation, 63% of consumers sought the option to use curbside pickup even before the pandemic hit. Other key acronyms and close cousins of BOPIS are BORIS (buy online/return in store) and ROPIS (reserve online/pick up in store). These options combine the speed and convenience of online shopping with the tactile experience of in-person retail, allowing consumers to try before they buy without having to wait in long lines or physically comb through merchandise.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 caught many retailers off guard. Those businesses are now scrambling to invest in effective ecommerce solutions. The good news is that the return on investment (ROI) for ecommerce solutions is often swift and substantial. “The thing I love about ecommerce projects is that you can actually demonstrate ROI by increasing sales, reducing sales processing errors through automation and turning over inventory at a faster rate. The reporting tools available in the ecommerce, PIM and ERP systems allow a company to see tangible results in real time,” Kurtz said.

Ultimately, digital transformation for retailers should go beyond establishing omnichannel ecommerce to create a more personalized, immersive shopping experience for the consumer. Successful, progressive brands will take the reins and innovate ahead of consumer demand. Now more than ever, Kurtz says, time is of the essence.

“Don't wait. Speed is the currency of today's environment. Too many retailers didn't see the decline in retail before Covid-19; now they must embrace it in order to survive,” he said. Fortunately, today's modern tools allow ecommerce platforms to get up and running much faster than ever before. Kurtz’s advice to retailers: “Take the leap.”

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