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Traditional retailers can fight off e-tailers. Here's how.

Samantha Christmann

In 2015, 90 percent of retail's top 100 consumer brands lost market share, according to a report from Catalina Marketing. That's a big deal when you're talking about a $4.58 trillion industry.

That disruption, led chiefly by eCommerce juggernaut Amazon, has rapidly changed the way brick-and-mortar retailers are doing business, and it will continue to shape how retailers behave this year and beyond. In many ways it will lead retailers to be more creative and offer consumers an improved shopping experience.

Here are three trends we'll see as brick-and-mortar stores scramble to compete in the new landscape.

Small retailers will share space. Want to cut your rent in half? Split it with another company. That's what more and more retailers are doing and will continue to do in the year to come.

Sharing space is a handy way to stay competitive, especially when small businesses are undercut at every turn by online retailers who aren't saddled with the overhead of a physical storefront. Sharing space saves on operating (and often advertising) costs and draws traffic and attention to micro businesses that might not build momentum on their own.

[Related: Prospectus 2017/Unveiling the New Buffalo]

As more artisans go into business for themselves, selling their own lines of specialty products, the concept makes sense. While an artisan cheese maker might not be able to carry an entire retail space, for example, it could hold its own alongside makers of handmade pottery and small-batch chocolate. That way they share more than space – they end up sharing customers.

In Buffalo, custom furniture showroom Wrafterbuilt shares space on Hertel Avenue with custom lighting shop Emerson James. They're both in a space with clothing retailer Modern Nostalgia. In the Old First Ward, small-batch liquor maker Lakeward Spirits shares the Barrel Factory with kombucha maker Snowy Owl and kayak tour and rental company Elevator Alley Kayak.

Stores will offer in-store experiences worth leaving home. When customers can shop from the comfort of their own couch, why should they venture out into the cold just to make a purchase in person? That's the question local retailers will try to answer as they look to offer unique, exciting in-store experiences shoppers can't find elsewhere.

Penny Lane Children's Boutique in East Aurora sometimes hosts "Champagne Shopping," treating customers to complimentary champagne and snacks while they search for baby booties and layette sets. Niagara Hobby & Craft Mart in Cheektowaga is already a wonderland with its model train sets and fully furnished doll houses, but the store goes further, hosting several free events each month, such as slot car races, plastic model building and Thomas and Friends play days.

Monkey See Monkey Do children's bookstore in Clarence often hosts children's story times as well as meet-and-greets with storybook characters.  Annarlette, a women's fashion boutique in Amherst, serves customers wine, champagne and coffee and hosts fashion shows. Blush Boutique, a women's designer clothing store with three locations in Orchard Park, Williamsville and the Elmwood Village, hosts private shopping parties while the store is closed. Hostesses bring wine and cheese, invite their family and friends, and shop 'til they drop after hours.

It's all part of making retail spaces feel more like comfortable, inviting, exciting spaces where shoppers can relax, rather than places of business where they're pressured to buy.

Customers will demand convenience, nudging retailers to innovate. Amazon has set the bar high when it comes to customer expectations. It has trained Prime customers that they can take their phones out of their pockets, do some scrolling and buy what they want with one click. Their purchases arrive on their doorstep – free of shipping charges – within two days.

The company has inched the bar even higher with its Amazon Dash Buttons, which let customers reorder home supplies like coffee and paper towels, and Amazon Echo, which lets them shop online, make lists and even dim lights with the sound of their voice. Now, Amazon is pushing firmly into the future with Amazon Go, a convenience store based in Seattle that eliminates what can be the most unpleasant part of the retail experience – the checkout line.

The more Amazon spoils its customers with convenience, the more customers will come to expect the same from brick-and-mortar retailers. Armed with more data and software than ever, retailers have the potential to deliver it. Just as Amazon anticipates what purchases a consumer might want to make next, retailers can use data to anticipate a customer's wants, needs and preferences.

Retailers will also respond by stepping up their customer service game to provide better and faster service, accelerating shipping time and simplifying product assortment. Apps will have improved search functions, help customers navigate stores and provide a depth of information, product demonstrations and reviews. Retailers will build smaller-format stores with lower shelving, place popular items near the front of the store and adopt mobile payment systems. Gas stations, discount stores and cafes will offer more meal replacement products and grab-and-go foods.

Grocery stores will continue to make great strides toward convenience as they further develop their click-and-collect shopping programs. Dash's Markets' program, Dash's Delivers, has seen success and expanded delivery to Grand Island. That program allows customers to select products online, then pick them up already bagged or have them delivered. Wegmans continues to perfect its "Personal Shopping" program at its Pittsford store, which allows customers to order groceries online and pick them up curbside. Tops customers can now order party platters and pharmacy prescriptions online to be picked up in-store, and the company has been working on a full-blown click-and-collect program since 2014. It's expected to be ready by the end of next year. National warehouse store Sam's Club already offers a "Click n' Pull" program.


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