E-Commerce May Currently Be King, But Brick-and-Mortar Could Reign Supreme Again

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E-commerce revenue keeps on climbing, as is evidenced by the $423.3 billion or so this sector of the retail industry brings in on an annual basis. And it should come as a surprise to no one that chief among those e-companies is none other than Amazon, the trailblazers who handily dominated retail sales in 2018, both online and off. But whether Amazon will stick to internet sales — or whether consumers are in agreement about their shopping habits — isn’t so clear.

Data shows that nearly 81% of consumers research products online prior to making a purchase. Many of those customers start and end their search on Amazon.com. Known as the hub for just about anything and everything, the e-commerce giant closed out a wildly successful year by generating $258.22 billion in 2018. That number represents a sharp 30% increase from a year prior, with the company’s sales representing half of all purchases placed online.

But Amazon isn’t content to rest on its laurels. For the last few years, the company has actually expanded into brick-and-mortar ventures. Amazon Books, which first launched a physical location in Seattle, can now be found across the nation. With the company’s acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon now owns hundreds of grocery stores on an international scale. Amazon Go, a cashier-free grocery chain, is set to appear in the United Kingdom before too long, and the Amazon Four-Star store recently opened in California and other locales. Experts explain that Amazon could end up improving the lackluster shopping experience for consumers who want to shop offline and their decisions could set them apart from pretty much any other retailer. And while Amazon’s fashion division is known for its reasonable prices and versatility, the company still has hurdles to clear before it can really be known as a stylish destination. Although there are 2 billion t-shirts sold worldwide each year, those who buy garments on Amazon aren’t always able to get an accurate sense of fit or quality. That’s a gamble many customers are willing to take, but setting up physical stores could allow Amazon to cross that threshold with shoppers.

And while online shopping is certainly easy and provides a lot more variety, there are some colossal consequences of the e-commerce boom. It poses risks to the environment, has actually made traffic worse, and threatens the livelihood of countless local businesses owners. You also might be surprised to learn that not everyone prefers to shop online. In fact, one recent report found that consumers are evenly split between online shopping and regular retail. Data shows that a comparable number of customers choose to shop in-store and on the internet, which means that many e-commerce businesses have seen benefits from having brick-and-mortar locations, as well.

The in-store experience, especially the social aspect, can’t necessarily be replicated online. Every year, women spend more than 100 hours (and take 30 trips) shopping for clothing. Getting the chance to connect with shopping companions, to see and feel the quality of the garments up-close, and to buy items when you’re on a tight timeline are just some of the reasons why people still choose to do business with local entities instead of e-retailers.

There are also items that you can’t just order online. Take balloons, for example. 11-inch latex balloons only last between 12 and 20 hours when filled with helium. This leads to a huge time barrier for e-commerce sites. So while you’re out buying balloons from the store, something else might spark your eye, and it turns into a bigger shopping trip than you might have intended.

Brick-and-mortar stores are also putting their thinking hats on to develop new ways to entice customers to shop in person instead of online. Many malls are opting for immersive experiences, exhibits, and social activities — including ice skating, virtual reality, obstacle courses, and more — to bring these shopping centers back to life. Other retail locations are offering secure phone chargers for shoppers, which is a win/win for both customers and businesses; shoppers are more likely to remain in-store for longer and spend more money at check-out when they aren’t distracted by their phones, and customers get a chance to charge their dwindling batteries in a safe spot for free.

Some reports speculate that while the malls were filled with shoppers this holiday season, the crowds aren’t what they used to be. But it could be that way again — if retailers are willing to think a bit outside the box (or screen).

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