Can E-Commerce and Brick-and-Mortar Stores Co-Exist?

Will the ever-growing popularity of online shopping cause brick-and-mortar businesses to die a slow death? Forbes, Huffington Post, Quora and essentially every digital business hub has taken a stab at predicting what will happen to brick-and-mortar businesses as e-commerce grows exponentially.

In the earlier days of the e-commerce explosion, many people were convinced that brick-and-mortar was doomed. We assumed that technology would rule everything. Who would want the inconvenience of having to get up and visit a physical store? But time has shown that brick-and-mortar vs. e-commerce isn’t the dramatic showdown we thought it would be. The tension has, however, given rise to plenty of creative new trends.

Consumers still value brick-and-mortar

E-commerce experienced a significant growth rate of 15 percent in 2017, and brick-and-mortar saw a 4.5 percent growth rate the same year.

Research by TimeTrade showed that 85 percent of shoppers still prefer to make purchases in person.

survey by PwC showed that consumers still value the perks of brick-and-mortar shopping:

“Sixty five percent of consumers said they shop in-store to avoid delivery fees, while more than 60 percent said it allows them to have the item immediately. Additionally, 61 percent said they like trying on the item or seeing it in person before buying it.”

The value of seeing and touching a product (especially an item of clothing) before buying it is undeniable. And no one wants to pay exorbitant shipping fees for larger items or items shipped from far away.

In addition to these benefits of brick-and-mortar, some consumers cited ethical reasons for shopping in-store. Supporting local business is a major factor for those who cringe at the idea of a homogenized retail world full of Walmarts and Amazons.

Mixing e-commerce with brick-and-mortar

Another interesting point the research highlighted was that shopping isn’t always an either/or scenario: e-commerce and brick-and-mortar shopping can be an integrated process. Some consumers said they’d browse online before making an in-store decision, while others said they’d resort to online shopping if they couldn’t find what they wanted in-store.

Business experts have urged brick-and-mortar brands to expand into e-commerce, not only to stay modern, but to drastically increase their revenue potential. No longer are brick-and-mortars limited to their local community; if a product can be shipped, a New Jersey company can now become a big hit in Uzbekistan. There are no rules and no boundaries. For brick-and-mortars that take this path, e-commerce may actually be the best thing that ever happened to their revenue stream.

One way brick-and-mortar brands are staying relevant is through the development of “click-and-mortar,” which allows customers to place orders through a store’s website or app and pick it up in person. Retailers are satisfying that urge to instantly purchase online while eliminating the wait and the shipping fees – a clever win-win that e-commerce-only brands simply can’t offer.

The reverse trend, which we weren’t expecting, is happening, too. E-commerce brands are opening brick-and-mortar storefronts. Even the most successful online platform, Amazon, has more than 100 warehouses around the U.S.

We’re seeing brick-and-mortar brands setting up online stores, e-commerce brands building physical stores and big retailers implementing “click-and-mortar” options to blend the two.

Specialization vs. one stop shop

In the marketing world, we’re told relentlessly to know our niche. Times have changed, and we can’t throw ads at just anyone and expect positive results. A company needs to carefully craft its brand and discover its unique tribe if it’s going to sustain itself in the modern world, right? Unless of course, your business is a one-stop-shop like Amazon, Walmart or Ikea. Major food retailers are another group that has no need to specialize, but only expand to more markets.

According to Business Insider, “Only 10 companies control almost every large food and beverage brand in the world. These companies – Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods, and Mondelez – each employ thousands and make billions of dollars in revenue every year.”

As we see increased specialization, hyperlocal marketing and a renewed interest in shopping local, mega-brands swell even larger, buying up smaller brands and selling more diverse products to the masses. These two opposing trends can exist at the same time successfully – at least for now.

While e-commerce shows no signs of slowing down, it doesn’t seem to be radically interfering with the success of brick-and-mortar retailers. Instead, it has only increased the number of options consumers have when they want to make a purchase. Both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar brands are striving to stay relevant in whatever creative way possible. Consumers haven’t grown tired of good old-fashioned in-store shopping; they’re just enjoying the convenience of their online options too.