E-commerce has entirely transformed the face of retail in just a few decades. The wise adage of “the only constant in life is change” can readily be seen as retailers live out the digital transformation in our modern age. The transition from providing brick-and-mortar shopping experiences solely to offering online purchases may be, single-handedly, the most crucial facet of the retail industry in the last decade. Any recalcitrancy retailers experienced from “taking the plunge” were drastically minimized with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Perhaps, one positive outcome of the pandemic is that it brought about a global transformation in retail due to Covid19 restrictions, accelerating and positively impacting E-commerce and digital trade worldwide.
In the US alone, e-commerce grew 44% in 2020, with consumer spending clearing over $800 billion! As more and more E-commerce retailers emerged, several brick-and-mortar retailers struggled to survive. The changing landscape forced these retailers to reinvent their roadmaps and business models and find creative ways to compete in the growing market. In the face of global lockdowns, American retailers invented contactless shopping experiences by allowing customers to purchase products online from local retailers and retrieve their items from the brick-and-mortar stores, where employees delivered the purchases directly to their car. The most successful retailers utilize two varying strategies: in-store purchase availability and online shopping with their own branded E-commerce platforms. By offering both in-store and online services, retailers can leverage both marketplaces, ensuring they have the most significant reach.
Today, how consumers shop has changed dramatically due to this shift, creating exciting new business opportunities for entrepreneurs. The interest in e-commerce stores has increased exponentially as the popularity of online shopping has soared. Although in the past, shopping at a brick-and-mortar store was the preferred way to shop – shopping online is rapidly becoming the preferred method globally.
The consumer’s distinction between online and traditional shopping has become blurred, resulting from these shifts in the digital world. Mobile apps and open-garden digital platforms are blurring the lines between the online and offline shopping experiences. The most significant influence that e-commerce has had on consumer shopping habits is that consumers can shop anywhere, anytime, and almost anyplace. When making a purchase, their schedules are no longer confined to the store’s hours. Though the ability to shop online is not recent, mobile phones and integrated digital platforms have catapulted e-commerce to the next level! Shoppers can use their devices at any point during the sales cycle, thus utilizing their mobile units as an extension of their shopping experience. These interactive transactions between the store and online platforms provide customers with the chance to engage with their shopping experience fully.
The kiss of death comes when companies cannot create this seamless experience between online and offline shopping. The companies that have made the transition by optimizing their E-commerce stores, developing apps, and selling products online are giving consumers the choice of where, when, and how to shop. The advent of online and mobile shopping has reinvented the entire customer experience from end-to-end, significantly impacting how we shop; seamless integration is an experience that customers have come to expect.
With the expanding growth of E-commerce, we must ask: does the traditional storefront still have its place in retail? The answer is a resounding yes! The reason, you may ask, well, is that it’s the human condition. There may be less expensive or more convenient options online, yet the social aspects and experience of shopping make it a central part of why people love the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Human connection and leisure are the cornerstones of the shopping experience, and handling the products and seeing and feeling them for ourselves are experiences shoppers still desire when making purchases. With the popularity and rapid speed of online shopping increasing as they are, it is possible that brick-and-mortar stores may disappear at some point, but most likely only in the very distant future.
One of the most significant challenges facing retailers today is their stores’ physical limitations. Whether it’s restricted parking, location costs, or building maintenance, the brick-and-mortar retail model is designed to serve a passing retail era, namely, to provide a place for shoppers to browse and shop. However, in today’s market, our brick-and-mortar retailers need their stores to accommodate the increasing demands of the contemporary shopping experience. Some retailers attempt to compete with online alternatives by providing one integral aspect of the shopping experience that is unavailable online — social interaction and connection. They have redesigned their stores to focus on the “experiences,” complete with “living rooms” and private retail lounging areas. Additionally, many physical stores decided to double down on their locations and reallocate space that serves as distribution and warehousing centers for shipping and receiving products that have been purchased from their online platforms.
Businesses that understand the necessity of connecting different facets of the shopping experience understand the value of bringing the offline and the online worlds together. Their successes leverage the existing changes in the marketplace, strategizing their revenue by expanding their brick-and-mortar presence to include a digital presence, too, in the coming years.