Given the way things have been going in recent years, you would be forgiven for thinking that the future of all commerce is just a gradual shift away from traditional brick-and-mortar retail outlets and towards people buying things online. This impression is understandable. Has not the meteoric rise of ecommerce sites such as Amazon (who seem to sell literally everything) not been the biggest business success story of the last few decades? Are not the majority of new start-ups in the modern day geared far more towards selling things online?
Well, the answer to these questions is, obviously, yes. But this has led to a pretty distorted picture of the modern business landscape. For sure, all these online based phenomena have grabbed the headlines in recent times. But when you remember that before the internet there was no such thing as ecommerce, it is pretty easy to see how they would. Something springing into existence where there was nothing before tends to attract attention.
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Ultimately, you cannot really answer the ecommerce vs. retail debate based solely on customer or retailer behavior. Rather, what we can conclude here is that ecommerce has become a valuable new option for many industry sectors, but it does not necessarily suit all of them. And if you are thinking about venturing into a startup, nor is it a foregone conclusion that ecommerce is the best way to go. It all depends on many factors.
The way, then, to truly answer the e-commerce vs. retail debate is to forget about generalizations and judge each case in its specific context. While supplies of a specialized product from a wholesaler, for example wholesale sunglasses from somewhere like Olympic Eyewear, is best conducted online, other things – for example, the impulse purchase of those very same sunglasses by a customer – are better conducted in person.
A Proper Comparison
So, instead of making sweeping statements, the best you can do to get as close as possible to the broad comparison of e-commerce and retail is simply to list the relative advantages and go from there. It is impossible to say which, overall, is the superior form of business, but it might be quite clear that one or the other is preferable for YOUR business. Therefore, here are the relative advantages of both:
Advantages of E-commerce
Ecommerce is convenient in one regard and inconvenient in another. The convenient aspect is that customers do not even need to leave the house in order to browse products, gather detailed information about them, make a choice, and then have that choice delivered to their home. For those that know the products well or who need repeat orders of something, e-commerce is obviously the way to go. To return to the previous example, this is why wholesalers often work online.
Advantages of Retail
The advantage of retail, on the other hand, is all about customer experience and the help of staff. In a physical store, you can actually see the object, hold it, and even try it out, before buying. Furthermore, the customer benefits from the face-to-face assistance of knowledgeable staff, an interaction that can impress the customer far more than even the product they purchase. This is impossible online. And as a final point, profitable impulse buy products – like the aforementioned sunglasses – are much easier to sell in person, as their full physical presence greets the customer and they can pop it in the basket without a moment’s thought. While not impossible, this is much more difficult online.
Ultimately, the only conclusion here is that – there is no conclusion either way. E-commerce or retail – both have their place.