Good-Bye, Brick and Mortar

“Unfortunately the large retail music store is a dinosaur. It does matter because it was also a social gathering space, and that’s one thing that buying music online lacks.” -- Tony Beliech, 39, a former Virgin employee.

It's official. The Virgin Mega Store in the United States is no more. Earlier in the year, Virgin announced the closing of its music stores in America. First, the Times Square location shut its doors and now the Union Square location is gone too. Is this another nail in the coffin of physical brick-and-mortar retail stores? Have digital downloads finally struck the death knell for hardcopy CDs purchased from in-store music racks? Although I miss places like Virgin or Tower Records, I think it might be premature to go that far.

Nevertheless, I do think the giant record labels misjudged the consumer interest in digital distribution of music. Dare I say it, they should have heeded my call to embrace Napster and work with it to generate a mutually beneficial business model instead of seek its demise.

When the mega stores and super chains began replacing the mom-and-pop shops, many people bemoaned the loss of independent outlets for hard-to-find niche content, but online distributors broadened the scope of available content beyond anything that any single retailer could arguably provide.

I also don't believe click-and-mortar sites such as will totally do away with physical retail stores. We still need tactile connections with some of the stuff we purchase, like clothes or cars or book covers (which is why Barnes and Noble Booksellers still thrives).

My prediction is that we will see an evolved hybrid of brick and click, physical stores with online presences. Retailers need to view themselves more than just four walls housing physical inventory to be sold. They need to offer their customers a place to gather to see, experience, and learn about the content and/or brands/ideas they are trying to sell.

Digital distribution is the future, but physical stores are the havens for the human element that many shoppers still seek.