Christian bookseller LifeWay said it will close its 170 brick-and-mortar stores in 2019. "The timing of store closings will vary depending on local circumstances," according to a March 20 blog post. The company expects all to close by the end of the year.
The company will continue to sell its goods online, over the phone and "through its network of church partners who work directly with churches," according to the post, which also noted that the organization in a single month, "interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores."
In January, LifeWay had announced that it would reduce its footprint due to declining customer traffic and sales, but in March acting President and CEO Brad Waggoner said that keeping any open is "no longer a viable option."
The expense of running brick-and-mortar operations as consumers move online is motivating some retailers to become an entirely digital enterprise rather than an omnichannel one. LifeWay sells its goods and offers online workshops and other events in 164 nations and licenses resources in more than 60 languages, according to its post.
"LifeWay has been serving the church for 128 years, and we will continue to grow our ministry to churches and individuals into the future," Waggoner said in the company's post. "As the market continues to change, primarily through shifts in brick-and-mortar retail, we are taking steps to meet customer demand for digital shopping experiences and to expand our reach globally."
The Christian retailer isn't the only one to ditch brick-and-mortar stores, but others that have followed that path are mostly apparel retailers coming out of a debilitating bankruptcy process, including The Limited, among others.
Meanwhile, pure-play e-commerce retailers are moving in the other direction, opening stores or tying up with brick-and-mortar partners in order to interact with customers in real life. Among the many digitally native retailers moving assertively into physical spaces are Warby Parker, Casper, Adore Me, MM.LaFleur, Indochino and others. Last year, commercial real estate firm JLL reported that digitally native brands are set to open some 850 stores in the next five years.