How do people shop? It’s a question that retailers ask themselves every day as they try to provide the best shopping experiences possible for their customers. Operating brick-and-mortar stores is expensive and requires a lot of manual labor. Online stores are often considered to have a less personal touch.
So, what’s better?
Well, the answer isn’t exactly clear. There are advantages and disadvantages to both brick-and-mortar stores and online stores. Retailers would be smart to utilize both channels—whether through an omnichannel strategy or implementing the “bricks and clicks” business model—however, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Plus, although it may seem like everyone is shopping online, the vast majority of retail sales still happen in-store. Here, we’ll explore some of the most important numbers and trends that define the give-and-take of brick-and-mortar vs. online stores.
Does that seem small? Well, when you consider that in 2007, ecommerce accounted for just 5.1% of all retail purchases, it’s a little less surprising. Ecommerce has tripled in a little over 10 years.
Although purchases have risen substantially over 12 years, sales numbers have risen even faster. Americans spent 14.9% more online in 2019 than they did in 2018.
While online sales have more than tripled over the past 20 years, they’ve directly contributed to a drop in department store sales. Many major department store chains have struggled in the 21st century.
But it’s not all bad news for brick-and-mortar stores. During the 2019 holiday season—a traditionally booming time for both in-store and online retailers—brick-and-mortar sales grew by 1.4% over the previous year.
Comparatively, online sales grew by 8.1%, but it’s clear that both sales channels can coexist.
Some industries still thrive in brick-and-mortar stores. Because customers often want to try items on and have access to store associates to discuss apparel and style, most people prefer making fashion purchases in-store.
Shoppers are savvy. They don’t rely solely on the internet or their neighborhood store to find everything they want or need. The Harvard Business Review reports that 73% of people shop through multiple channels.
In fact, more than half of shoppers who plan to make a purchase online will visit a store first. This way, they can speak with a store associate about a product and actually get to handle a product before deciding to buy.
Although a June 2020 study indicated that overall, 84% of American shoppers still prefer to “shop at brick-and-mortar stores or at a combination of online and in-store retailers,” there’s reason to believe that habit may change over time.
Why do people prefer shopping online? For a majority of shoppers, it’s simply that online stores never close. 84% of shoppers also say they shop online because it saves them time.
Although many online-only direct-to-consumer brands like Allbirds and Stitch Fix have changed the way people shop, these kinds of companies aren’t ruling out brick-and-mortar stores. Nearly one-third of direct-to-consumer brands consider opening a store a priority.
People shop in brick-and-mortar stores. People shop online. As we’ve seen from our statistics, both things are true, which is why top retailers are investing to make their shopping experiences truly universal, whether you prefer in-person or online shopping.
Although it may seem like everything has gone digital in the shopping world, that’s not quite the case. Even though many younger people prefer shopping online, the general public still prefers shopping in stores.
And—people of all ages value the option of being able to visit a store to see a product, even if they plan on buying online anyway. Therefore, as ecommerce grows rapidly, it might present an opportunity for brick-and-mortar stores, as opposed to a detriment.
It’s for this reason (among possible others) that so many retailers seem to be investing in omnichannel experiences that will continue to define the future of shopping.
Nick Perry is a freelance writer based out of Boston. After working in Hollywood and Silicon Beach, he launched his own small business and frequently referenced Fundera’s resources. Now, he’s a contributing writer at Fundera. Nick has written extensively about small businesses, ecommerce, the restaurant industry, and entertainment. His work has appeared on Entrepreneur, Digital Trends, Toast’s On The Line, and more.