We’ve certainly come a long way from the early days of e-commerce when we were all a little dubious about purchasing online. Big players such as Amazon exploded onto the scene and revolutionised the way we shop. Throw in pocket size mobile devices that allow us to purchase at the click of a button wherever we are in the world and it’s no surprise that the ecommerce market is worth billions each year.
But what is the best solution? Is it more profitable just to set up a purely online company or do you need a physical shop as well. With the increased competition online, many major outlets including Amazon, are starting to invest in bricks and mortar.
The Pros and Cons of E-Commerce
- Convenience: There’s no doubt that shopping online is very convenient. If you suddenly need a product and don’t want to leave the comfort of your own home, you can simply go online, pick a shop and buy it with a few clicks of a mouse button. For retail businesses, it also allows you to have more products up on your site, unconstrained by space as you would if you were in a physical store
- Lower Set Up Costs: Setting up online has a much lower cost than opening a physical store. It can often take just a few minutes with just a little knowhow to open an ecommerce store and begin trading. You have great scalability as well – you have the opportunity to start small and then build your brand and product over time
- Greater Reach: The big advantage for online retail store owners is the reach that comes from being interconnected with the rest of the world. You can sell just as easily to someone in China as you can to a customer down the road as long as you can attract their attention
- 24/7 Opening: Of course, your store is open all the time. That means you can attract buyers across different time zones and you don’t have worry about having staff on the payroll to handle orders. It’s all done automatically at the point of sale.
It’s not all positive for online stores, though most of it is. There’s the issue of security and protecting payments, the wider damage on social media that can be done to your business if you get it wrong. There’s also the investment you have to put in with marketing, building your brand online and reaching out to potential customers. Then there’s the work you have to do in building images and perhaps even video that show your products in the best light.
The Pros and Cons of a Physical Retail Store
A lot depends on the type of products you sell. High end or expensive products such as furniture and clothing, certainly benefit if you have a physical store. There’s that sense of adventure that many consumers get when they walk into a really well designed shop. There’s the chance to build greater customer loyalty by delivering the personal touch which many online stores don’t possess.
That bond between buyer and seller is very useful when you want to create repeat business and develop your brand. That’s why many large retail businesses retain their physical stores even though much of the profit is coming online. Even Amazon has started opening physical stores in recent times.
Of course, the downside of having a physical store is the cost. You have to find the right premises, design it with your brand in mind, hire staff to work there and cope with all the other costs such as rates, electricity and security. Your access to a wider customer base is not as great as with an online provision but that’s not always the point of a physical retail store.
For retail, the act of trying on clothes or sitting down on a bed or sofa to test it out is an important part of the buying process for many consumers. And, according to some experts, bricks and mortar is becoming more important as a differentiator while the online world becomes cluttered and competitive. According to the Guardian recently:
“The trend also reflects the broader industry imperative around “omni-channel” retailing, where merchants aim to provide customers with a seamless experience whether shopping online via desktop or mobile device or at a traditional retail store.”
The question of affordability probably lies at the heart of why some businesses forego the development of physical stores. When you are just starting out as a retailer, you need to keep the costs as low as you can and maximise those profits. For many, this is simply enough and they don’t need to build their brand beyond the online world. For others, there may come a time when moving into a physical store becomes more imperative – after all, 60% of us still like to shop in the old fashioned way, particularly for items such as clothing.