With Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, it is the perfect time to talk about the viability of traditional retail in the midst of an ever-growing e-commerce industry.
Online shopping in the U.S. has increased dramatically in the past decade or so. In 2002, desktop business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales in the U.S. was $72 billion. In 2014, the statistic was $359 billion. In other words, e-commerce sales have grown 5 times in 12 years. Although domestic traditional retail sales in 2014 totaled $3.19 trillion, they haven’t increased much compared to $2.12 billion in 2002. The numbers haven’t even doubled.
Even though sales figures for traditional retail are slowing down while numbers for online retail are rising rapidly, that should not stop traditional retail operators from opening up storefronts. Buyers will continue to visit physical stores for a number of reasons, which are noted below:
1. Sensory experience
Consumers still like to buy online because they like to know what they’re getting. Just like picking fruit in a grocery store, shoppers like to look at and select the product that feels right in their hands. This is especially the case for perishable or customizable items such as food, jewelry, clothing and shoes. Smelling and tasting are other senses people use when they visit retail stores. Costco samples, anyone?
2. Personalized service
In addition to a sensory experience, shoppers prefer to shop in-store because they like the personalized service they receive, something that is typically lacking online. How nice would it be to talk to an expert about obtaining a recommendation for over-the-counter medicine or furniture?
3. Prefer to pick up in-store rather than have delivered
According to an A.T. Kearney survey, 55% of consumers prefer to purchase in-store rather than purchase online. They may prefer it for a number of reasons. Undoubtedly, many would rather have the product today than wait for the UPS guy to deliver it in a few days.
4. Easy returns
In the survey, about 75% of respondents prefer to return items in-store than online. Many brick-and-mortar stores that have shopping websites (Staples, Target, etc.) allow you to return the item by going to the retail store. This saves any shipping costs associated with returning an item. Returning items in-store also expedites refunds.
Consumers will always be patronizing brick-and-mortar shops for a variety of reasons, including the ones described above. Shoppers still prefer physical stores to online stores, according to the A.T. Kearney study. Findings from the Omnichannel Shopping Preferences Study showed that 90% of retail sales in this country still occur in stores.
However, e-commerce is here to stay and electronic retail spending will continue to increase in the years ahead. Virtually everything can be purchased online, even items such as groceries, prescription drugs and live ladybugs. Coupled with free shipping, cheaper prices (at times), no time spent in traffic, et cetera, online shopping appears to be a no brainer compared to buying in-store, but shoppers will find that the benefits of traditional retail shopping outweigh the conveniences of online shopping.