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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Prime changes in online retailing

Brick-and-mortar plays become part of the online playbook for Amazon and other online retail leaders. Here are two strategy changes of note.

Parcels move through Amazon's warehouse on December 5, 2014 in Hemel Hempstead, England./Getty Images

As Amazon declared a sale bigger than Black Friday—the July 15 celebration of its 20th birthday called Amazon Prime Day—we decided to look at the blending of the online and offline retail worlds. After all, retail is not all online, even if Internet businesses seem to get all of the mainstream media headlines.

Online goes off

Interestingly, the online headlines of the day focus on Internet retailers opening brick-and-mortar stores. Warby Parker. Fabletics. Bauble Bar. Even Amazon has something in the works.

"A lot of people see Internet as next-generation and brick and mortar as being traditional. The way we see it is as a physical space that we can leverage to communicate our brand value," Ethan Song, Frank & Oak's founder, told CNBC in April.

This week Birchbox, one of the early sample box retailers, announced additional offline expansion plans. 

“Our offline customers have a higher lifetime value with us online, so for us, this isn’t just another cute pop-up,” co-founder and CEO Katia Beauchamp said in a statement.

TechCrunch's Birchbox examination is worth the read. Of note is the company's focus on Birchbox Man. We have been watching the rising male personal care market in natural, too.

Click and collect

Click-and-collect services are familiar though not widespread in natural retail.

Big-box retailers certainly have found some success with the customer service. In 2013, just 4 percent of shoppers in the United States had purchased items online and picked them up in a retail store, Kevin Gardiner, director of store operations, strategies for Macy’s, told Retail Dive. In 2014, that figure jumped to 64 percent. “This is really resonating with customers,” he said. “This is really something they want.”

Now online retailers are exploring ways to offer the faster-than-mail (and more convenient?) approach by promoting purchase pickup at shops, lockers, supermarkets, post offices and other locations.

Earlier this year eBay and Woolworths partnered in Australia to create pickup locations.

Even Internet monster Google wants to deliver real goods, partnering with retailers including Whole Foods Market, Walgreens and Costco.

And yes, Amazon is working on the click-and-collect angle. The online retailer opened a staffed pickup location on the Purdue campus earlier this year.

Today’s retailing isn’t online vs. brick and mortar, it’s online and off, all at once, as retailers cross virtual and real lines and shoppers seek products on their own time, whether in store or online.

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