I've written before about why people visit stores if not to buy. None of the reasons I listed require inventory be available for customers to carry out right away. As a result, and out of operating necessity, more and more stores today are filled with samples to see or try on, with actual purchases delivered on a day or two's notice.
Bridal shops always have operated this way (granted, not delivering the final gown very quickly) and Bonobos' "Guideshops" gained significant recognition for an inventory-light model. Nordstrom just announced it will open a relatively tiny location with no inventory. Some stores are taking a hybrid approach, such as Anthropologie, pictured below. I moderated a panel at M.Gemi last week and the team confirmed customers rarely are disappointed to learn they won't have to carry around a shoebox to carry for the rest of the day because it will be sent via next-day delivery.
But sometimes, the purpose of a store actually is to buy something and take it home right away. It might be because one has a need that's even sooner than ever-faster online shipping can accommodate (something from a home improvement store, perhaps). Or it could be because selection is important and I'd rather try on 20 dresses in Bloomingdale's today for a last-minute event this week than buy 20 dresses online with the uncertain hope something will work (and then send back 19-20 of the dresses).
In a different and non-urgent scenario, last week I wanted to replenish a skin care item that's only carried by Bluemercury. I could've ordered it online and while there's free 2-day shipping with no minimum order (which I didn't realize), I thought it would be faster - not be mention cheaper for the company and better for my carbon footprint - to pick it up in a store I pass daily. But my shade - medium (i.e. not a long-tail color!) - wasn't in stock.
Given store traffic trends and fickle consumer behavior, it's hard to blame a store for not having sufficient inventory. But being out of stock on an item a customer is seeking to take home today is a disappointment every time. It reduces the chances she'll drag herself to the store the next time she wants something right away. Call it the self-fulfilling prophecy of foot traffic declines.