There is an answer to the question of whether retail e-commerce or brick-and-mortar stores will prevail: They both will. Each channel has something to offer shoppers that the other can’t — and each has something that shoppers are demonstrably not willing to do without.
There is no substitute for the ability to touch fabric, feel how a shoe or a bathing suit will fit, operate an electronic device, or try a tool or appliance. Even virtual reality (VR) can’t duplicate (well, not yet) every first-person experience that leads to a buying decision. According to Retail Dive’s Consumer Survey in 2017, 62% of shoppers say they want to see, touch, feel and try out items before they buy.” Brick-and-mortar retailers, just as they have for hundreds of years, allow consumers to use their senses as they shop.
Brick-and-mortar retail also offers shoppers other advantages, including:
- Instant fulfilment: There is no need to wait for merchandise to be shipped.
- Simple returns process: It’s not necessary to ship items back; simply take them back to the store.
- Convenience: If a physical store is located nearby, it may provide greater convenience for the shopper to just stop in.
- Person-to-person contact: Knowledgeable sales staff can be a valuable resource when a shopper is making a buying decision or is in need of service.
Online shopping has grown and evolved to make it easier than ever for consumers to shop anytime, anywhere via computers or mobile devices. As more consumers have technology that easily supports mobile shopping and payments and as the tech-savvy millennial generation continues to represent more buying power, the success of e-commerce continues to grow.
Retail e-commerce provides shoppers with distinct benefits, such as:
- Convenience: Consumers can shop anytime from an internet-connected device or with a user-friendly app and receive many items in a day or two without leaving their homes.
- Personalization: When returning shoppers log into retail e-commerce sites, they are immediately recognized, personalized suggestions (i.e., “you may be interested in…”) appear, and relevant promotions and loyalty rewards information are right at their fingertips.
- Information: Product descriptions, inventory availability and pricing information are more accessible than ever through retail e-commerce websites.
- Connected: A link on a social media website can take you directly to a retailer’s site where you can place and order, and then check the status from your mobile device.
Your Customers Can Have It All
Nowadays, it would be difficult to characterize a person as an “in-store” shopper or an “online” shopper. Consumers are just “shoppers,” and they want all options open to them. Today’s consumers are likely to use both retail e-commerce and physical stores together to make a single buying decision. The 2017 TimeTrade State of Retail Report, for example, states that the majority of shoppers will perform discovery online and then go to a physical store to make final purchases.
To satisfy all shoppers, you need an omnichannel retail strategy powered by the right technology solution that includes a robust inventory management system. This will deliver consistent information and shopping experiences on any channel and enable your customers to choose the way they want to shop, whether brick-and-mortar or online.