Forecast

Walmart vs. Amazon: Can brick-and-mortar stores hang onto shoppers?

Not even the world's largest retailer is safe from Amazon, as more consumers turn to the web to buy everything from diapers to televisions

"A mobile shopping revolution is under way, and brick-and-mortar retailers are worried," says Steve Henn at NPR. The phenomenon of "showrooming" — in which customers go to stores to eyeball and test products before buying them online at a cheaper price, often at Amazon — is taking its toll on Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and other giants in the retail industry. Can Walmart fight the trend and cling to its customers?

Walmart can't compete with Amazon's prices: These days, "half of shoppers who buy products online first checked them out in a traditional store," says Ann Zimmerman at The Wall Street Journal. While online purchases only account for about 8 percent of retail sales, that's up drastically from 2 percent in 2000. "Amazon's growth is particularly eye-popping," with Jeff Bezos' company becoming the 13th largest retailer in the U.S. in 2011, up from 19th the previous year. Remember, Amazon has super-low overhead costs, and doesn't have to collect sales tax in most states, allowing it to offer much cheaper prices. "If brick-and-mortar stores can't compete on price, it is unclear how successful they can be." "Can retailers halt 'showrooming?'"

Walmart needs to bolster its online presence: Walmart is "the American retail superpower to rule all superpowers," but it "doesn't have a dynamic presence online," says Vatalyst at SeekingAlpha. "A hefty proportion of the public simply doesn't associate Walmart with online shopping, and therefore use other internet retailers such as Amazon and eBay." Unless Walmart can "boost its online image, internet retailers could fast become the new retail superpowers." "Wal-Mart: How a retail superpower could fall this decade"

Exclusive products would help: Big-box retailers have to offer "something exclusive that customers can't get anywhere else," says Tom Van Riper at Forbes. "That's how Barnes & Noble stayed in business while Amazon was wiping out the rest of the book industry — coming up with its own e-reader, the Nook, to compete with" Amazon's Kindle."What Best Buy needs: Exclusives"

Maybe Walmart should digitally stalk its customers: "When you shop online, marketers are following your every click," says Henn at NPR. But in the real world, retailers are flying blind. Soon, though, retailers will be able to track smartphones, enabling them to "deliver discounts and coupons based on where people are standing in any particular store." Such gambits, while creepy, could give "retailers who are being showroomed a fighting chance to win back your business before you walk out." "To keep customers, brick-and-mortar stores look to smartphones"

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