Future of Retail: E-Commerce vs. Bricks-and-Mortar Stores

It seems sometimes that every news article we read about the outlook for retail says e-commerce is the way of the future. And there’s no doubt e-commerce is becoming a more popular way to shop — it’s even one of the retail trends we’ve pinpointed for 2018 — but when we’re looking at the big picture of e-commerce vs. bricks and mortar stores, is e-commerce really tops?

Not so, according to the statistics. Or, at least, not completely.

A recent report from Microsoft, the Retail Council of Canada, and Wiseplum found that bricks-and-mortar stores capture the majority of retail sales. However, e-commerce nevertheless plays a big role, with consumers using online research to select in-store retailers and deciding what to purchase.

The Canadian Consumer Retail Research Study also found that different channels drive consumers to e-commerce stores vs. bricks-and-mortar locations, although some remain consistent. For instance, consumers shop prices no matter what channel they choose. The main differences boil down to how consumers want to interact with products. Bricks-and-mortar store shoppers are “touchy-feely,” according to the study. They want to interact with products before purchasing. E-commerce shoppers, on the other hand, prefer to read reviews, compare products, and browse for additional information before purchase.

The customer experience also played a large role no matter what channel, the study found. Whether they’re shopping online or in-store, consumers want a smooth sales process from start to finish. That means attractive displays, exceptional customer service, items kept in stock, and short check out-times — whether that’s due to a fast Internet server or enough staff in store.

The study also found that “channel switching is low,” meaning consumers who regularly buy through one medium — be it e-commerce or in-store — will typically continue to shop that way. In terms of demographics, younger generations are driving online purchases while older generations are more likely to visit a store.

So, as a retailer, what does this mean? Should you only focus on one channel — e-commerce or a bricks-and-mortar store? Not necessarily.

Retail Council of Canada president Diane J. Brisebois pointed out that e-commerce stats are lower as online shopping is still relatively new and less brands have embraced it. E-commerce websites are still being developed and will likely rise in popularity over time, particularly as the younger generations age and the world becomes even more digital focused.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s time to shutter those bricks-and-mortar locations just yet. The best course of action may be to focus on keeping both operations flowing well — making sure your brand management is on point, your merchandise is kept in stock, displays are attractive and revolving, and your products are priced appropriately.

If you don’t have an e-commerce presence yet, now may be the time to start as it’s likely to attract a different kind of consumer. The battle of e-commerce vs. bricks-and-mortar stores is less of a winner-take-all and more of a co-operation. As Retail Insider put it, it’s not a retail apocalypse that’s taking place, but instead more of a transformation.

Feeling overwhelmed by the idea of having a bricks-and-mortar location and an e-commerce store? Storesupport Canada can help. We’re experts at managing your brand and customer experience, be it in-store or digital. Check out the services we offer at www.storesupport.ca, or call 1-877-421-5081 to learn more.