Can Brick-and-Mortar Stores Survive in the Age of Online Shopping?


Going shopping used to mean getting in your car or hopping on the train and driving down to the nearest Walmart or GAP, browsing the clothes or goods and hoping for a bargain or half-price sale. Those times are slowly dwindling, however, as more and more stores take their business online. The reasons aren’t really mind-bending. The times have well and truly changed, as it’s now possible to build an online shop with ease, with companies no longer having to shell out a fortune on renting a physical space in malls and on main streets. This could be viewed as a good or bad thing depending on your viewpoint, but regardless, it begs the question: can brick and mortar stores survive the online renaissance?

Online Stores: An Early History

The first online stores started sprouting over 20 years ago – 1994, in fact – although the items for sale mostly constituted physical music albums, wine, chocolates and flowers. Slowly the revenue for online shopping continued to grow and more and more products entered the online market. In 1995, two companies registered their domains which would forever change the face of internet commerce. Those companies were called Amazon and eBay. While Amazon was initially an online bookseller and eBay an online auction facility, both websites have gone on to expand their ventures to sell items of virtually any description. Since then, literally thousands of online stores have followed suit, although it’s fair to say without as much success as those two.

The Decline of the Store

This hasn’t come without a cost, however. The trend of ecommerce – as well as other factors such as the over-supply of malls – has resulted in hundreds of store closures across the US. And while Amazon’s enormous growth has a large part to do with taking a chunk out of retail earnings from other businesses – currently half of all U.S. households are Amazon Prime subscribers – the reason is slightly bigger than Amazon. Other factors have to do with the very nature of ecommerce itself. Whereas it used to be something of a risk to order an item online only to have it not meet your expectations on arrival, current return policies have ensured that online shopping is cheap, easy and risk-free and allows you to return your goods if you’re not 100% satisfied. This convenience has been apparent nowhere else as much as in the fashion industry, which now dominates the greatest share of the ecommerce pie.

Furthermore, the rise of mobile shopping, as well as the ease with which people can pay quickly and securely, has helped people to spend money faster than ever, contributing to an ever-growing ecommerce industry. When you look at this convenience and the way in which products are marketed directly into our hands, is it any wonder that brick and mortar stores are on the decline? With higher minimum wages being fought for tooth and nail, rising rent costs and not to mention utilities on top of that, it’s no surprise that many people are going online to start their business, but where does that leave physical stores in the future?

The Future of Brick and Mortar

While it might be too soon to hammer any definitive nails into the coffin of brick and mortar retail, one thing is for sure: there is going to continue to be a massive strain as it competes with ecommerce. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Physical stores will always have their place; the tangible feeling of being able to inspect goods before buying them, not to mention the romanticism that surrounds shopping will always keep people coming back. At the very least there will likely be a continually synergistic relationship between physical stores and their ecommerce counterparts, a coming together to create a more holistic and comprehensive shopping experience.

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