If you’re a business owner, you’ve likely weighed eCommerce vs. retail to see which one is the best fit for your business. The Internet and online shopping have certainly made a big impact on the modern shopping experience. .
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However, it is far too early to dismiss the value of brick-and-mortar stores and the traditional retail experience. It is a false competition to pit eCommerce vs. retail. In fact, as you’ll see, many of the world’s most successful businesses use a mix of retail and eCommerce. Even Amazon, arguably the most successful eCommerce business in the world, is opening brick-and-mortar stores.
Let’s explore this issue more thoroughly. Let’s really look at the differences between eCommerce and retail and weigh the pros and cons associated with those differences.
eCommerce Vs. Retail: Is There a Difference?
Let’s start with a brief definition of both eCommerce and retail, so we understand the terms we are talking about. eCommerce is the process of selling products to customers solely through the medium of the Internet. Retail is the process of selling products to customers, but these sales can be made in a brick-and-mortar store, through a catalog, warehouse clubs, the Internet, and anywhere else you could potentially buy something.
Did you notice that the definition of retail included online sales? This is because eCommerce is not a separate entity. eCommerce is just a term used to describe a specific type of retail sale. Placing eCommerce and retail in competition with one another is a false comparison because eCommerce is retail.
Still, when business owners weigh eCommerce vs. retail, what they are really referring to is online sales vs. brick-and-mortar sales. Now that we have sorted out the meaning of the terms we are using, we can weigh the pros and cons of physical brick-and-mortar shopping experiences vs. online shopping experiences.
Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online Shopping: The Pros and Cons
Many people will tell you that eCommerce is killing brick-and-mortar shopping, but this is simply not true. Despite the popularity of online shopping, eCommerce still accounts for less than 25 percent of all retail sales.
The brick-and-mortar businesses that are failing are not failing because of eCommerce. They are failing because they are not providing their customers with value or a delightful shopping experience, but that is an issue for another time.
When comparing brick-and-mortar vs. online shopping, there are several factors to consider, they include:
- Time (store hours)
- Customer service
- Time (travel, product search)
Product interaction is one of the most valuable aspects of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Being able to hold an item, look at it in person, and interact with it before you decide to make a purchase is very important to most consumers. The ability to interact physically with an item gives traditional retail sales a leg up on eCommerce.
eCommerce has to rely heavily on good product photos, videos, and reviews. It is important for online stores to provide detailed pictures of every angle of an item in order to provide shoppers with an approximate idea of the item they are considering buying. A good interactive shopping experience is an important thing to consider during design and development.
In terms of product interaction, traditional brick-and-mortar retail has the advantage over eCommerce.
Another thing that your business will need to consider is how your customers will obtain your product when comparing eCommerce vs. retail. Once again, brick-and-mortar stores have the advantage when it comes to how customers acquire their purchases. Customers who buy their items in-store get to have their purchase immediately. This is very gratifying for many shoppers.
On the other hand, eCommerce shoppers have to wait for their products to be shipped to their address. In some cases, this could take weeks to complete. We’ve seen recently how the Covid-19 pandemic has upended global supply chains and severely delayed shipping times.
It is important to consider the urgency of the item you are selling. Will your customers want to wait for your product to be shipped? Can you offer fast shipping? Brick-and-mortar stores will always be able to deliver a more immediate shopping experience, and sometimes shipping times are outside the control of an online store.
Time (Store Hours)
While brick-and-mortar retail stores may have an advantage when it comes to product interaction and product acquisition, customers are forced to shop between certain hours. If they can’t get over to the store before it closes, they will not be able to make a purchase.
eCommerce stores are open 24/7/365. This is a major advantage. It gives people the ability to shop whenever they want. This is a very simple observation, but endless hours mean that sales can continue to happen all day and all night, which means more sales happen.
This is one of the biggest advantages eCommerce stores enjoy. This is also the reason why many large and small retailers like Target and Walmart also employ an online store to complement their brick-and-mortar locations.
While both brick-and-mortar and eCommerce stores offer customers the ability to speak with a human for support or questions, brick-and-mortar stores are able to provide better customer service since they are able to directly interact with customers.
eCommerce stores can provide good customer service, but over the phone or chat interface, it can be hard to deliver the same quality that can be delivered in person. However, eCommerce stores do have the advantage of being able to provide extended customer service hours or even 24/7 customer service.
Online stores can also automate some of the customer service issues that may arise by using chatbots and FAQ pages. Still, solely relying on these latter two resources for customer service will likely create a frustrating experience for your customers. It is always a good idea to provide some form of human support in an eCommerce store.
Time (Travel, Product Search)
eCommerce has another time advantage over brick-and-mortar retail stores besides being able to operate 24/7/365. eCommerce saves consumers time not only traveling to different stores to find the products and services they are looking for but also by significantly reducing the amount of time it takes to find a product.
Customers shopping online can find highly personalized, niche products in a matter of seconds. Walking up and down the aisles of a brick-and-mortar store takes a lot more time, and customers are unlikely to find the same level of customization and niche product in a retail store.
A lot of people enjoy the shopping experience of wandering around a store and finding items they might not have been looking for. Still, eCommerce provides a more expedient and efficient shopping experience for consumers who don’t want to travel or browse the aisles.
Final Thoughts on eCommerce and Traditional Retail
eCommerce and retail both offer consumers certain advantages. It is a popular refrain for people to say eCommerce is killing the traditional retail experience, but this is not true. Savvy businesses realize that combining eCommerce with their brick-and-mortar store is the most comprehensive way to reach consumers.