By Heather Shaw
The word on the street today is that everything has shifted online. Why start a bricks-and-mortar business when you can retail products or your services online for a fraction of the price? However, despite what you may hear and sense, many people still believe that it’s worth starting a bricks-and-mortar business today, even as online technologies continue to develop at an alarming pace.
We’ve surveyed both side of the argument and here are a few of our findings…
Many who believe that bricks-and-mortar is dead cite J.C. Penney as their prime example. Facing serious decline in 2011, J.C. Penney CEO and highly respected retailing expert Ron Johnson launched a new plan, marketing merchandise in his retail stores as highly differentiated and exclusive from whatever was sold online. This strategy was bold but ultimately failed – however, we can take away a key learning. The lesson here is: it takes something extra to influence consumer behaviour, whether you’re trying to transition store customers to online shopping, or encouraging online shoppers to come in store.
Whereas shipping cost was once the major hurdle in the road of online shopping, today the cost of shipping is fast becoming an irrelevant factor. This has been spearheaded by the likes of UK-based online bookseller The Book Depository, which markets itself under the title “Free shipping worldwide on all books”. With the rising cost of petrol, we’d say that there is clear case to be made that online is winning out over bricks-and-mortar. If it’s cheaper to buy your book online and you know what you want, why would you physically go to the store?
Showrooming is simply the concept where consumers can go inside a physical store and see and feel products in real life. In other words, it’s what shopping was a couple of decades ago. One thing that online stores cannot win out on is the interactive element of the physical bricks-and-mortar store. This is particularly with products such as food, furniture, cars, and shoes.
Bricks-and-mortar businesses can also survive in catering towards the undecided. Ultimately, there is still the absence of the human touch online. Sure there can be user ratings and reviews about a certain product or business – and even live chats –, but when you go into a physical store or business, you can talk to the employee or perhaps even the manager. If you’re not sure what to buy or just uncertain about whether you require the services of a certain business, talking things through in person is generally much more comforting than making a cold decision over the web.
As you can tell, there are various factors to consider when deciding whether to start an online or bricks-and-mortar business. So far, we’ve mostly discussed the business end of things, that is, considering your clients, your product or service, and the business climate. However, we’d also advise you consider your own personality type and financial situation. How is your online competency? Are you willing to try something more high risk?
Although online shopping is all the rage, there is still value in starting a bricks-and-mortar business. You get to talk to your customers, and build trust which doesn’t happen as much online. However, if you’re short on cash, an online store is an affordable way to start out – this way your company can grow at its own pace and you won’t spend money on human resource management or rent straight away.
Ultimately, however, an omnichannel approach is best as your customers get the best of both worlds.
Heather Shaw is a freelance writer who is interested in new technologies and business.
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