Dear Amazon, Zappos, or Dear any-other-online-retailer thinking about going "brick and mortar". And Dear high-street retailers, here's an idea that might bridge the gap between your modes of operation, or it might be an idea for fruitful cooperation or a joint-venture. Also, Dear power-sellers. Let's consider, for a moment, this crazy concept of, well, let's call it Amazon Showrooms:
So, as an e-commerce giant, you have these big-iron, no-public-allowed logistics and fulfillment centers. Usually, these facilities are in the middle of nowhere, so there's plenty of space around. Wouldn't it be an interesting thing to build something more public, more "shop like" next to these? Something accessible for people. Similar to these outlet villages, similar as they are somewhat remote, but different as it's only one or two buildings - your showrooms. A medium-sized shop right across-the-street from your fulfillment center. People can go there and have a look at products before they buy, a physical experience.
The Showroom offers a selection of popular or 'well-suited for showrooming' products from the whole Amazon (or, fill in your company name here) inventory, probably laptops, mobile phones, maybe even clothing. Only one item per product. Of stuff people usually showroom at Best Buy and the like. It might even be possible to pre-order an article for showrooming, so it sits on the shelve when the customer comes over to have a look. Once a customer wants to buy, s/he scans the product with a hand-held scanner or orders on a customer-terminal or taps "i want it" in a smartphone app . The actual product is then brought over from the warehouse across the street. The thing on the shelve, the stuff being showroomed, is only for display.
These Showrooms would bridge the gap between high-street retail and mail-order-only. Costs for running the Showrooms would be minimal, as they are located outside of cities, next to the warehouses. Inspired by UK's "Argos", a store where you order on ground-level from a catalog, while products are automatically dispatched from a small warehouse located on the levels above.
The showrooms would generate revenue like any other Amazon merchant, per sale, a separate profit center. And shipping costs would be much lower, near zero - well, the stuff, even with distributed fulfillment networks like amazon's, would quite probably be dispatched from across the street. The customer can showroom an item on display, order it, and carry it away a few minutes later, probably after a cup of coffee (hello Starbucks) in an IKEA-like waiting area (more revenue to be made here, if you haven't noticed). Shopping at Amazon (or, again, fill in your name here) could become an event.
Having these showrooms, would ease some of the problems and criticism of online shopping:
Mail-order businesses usually suffer from a high number of returns, especially with clothing or things that appear different on screen and in real life. Having a showroom would keep your inventory within the seller's (your) realm, under control, and customer who tend to order multiple sizes only to try on, would be able to try and match in a shop-like environment. Having an item shipped back and forth... wouldn't belong to the past, but, at least the amount of these nonsensical shipments could be reduced.
Then, high-street retail's criticism of 'merely being showrooms for online vendors'... By offering a showroom yourself, this critique could be countered, and it might well be that a large number of customers usually going to shop X only for showrooming, would simply show up at your dedicated showroom for browsing, comparison. Could be, the retailers currently complaining about showrooming would then notice how many of these customers actually bought something at their shops, and weren't these dreaded showroomers.
Thinking about Amazon Lockers, the whole idea of up-selling, of getting the customer into the shop, could be remixed again, in showrooms. Showrooms could be an elaborate version of a Locker location. People could pick-up their packages at the showroom. An elegant answer to naive questions of "can I come over and pick my stuff up at your logistics center?"... "Yes, please do!" - sounds much better, doesn't it?
And lastly, as a showroom is so much more feasible than showrooming commissions, having these showrooms could demonstrate a commitment to more traditional brick-and-mortar shopping, without going back to a 19th century shop model. A dedicated showroom right next to fulfillment would combine the strength of modern logistics and the "I want it now" mindset possible through gigantic warehousing, with a traditional mode of shopping, browsing and buying things.
So, Dear amazons and the like out there, let's talk.