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Online vs Offline Retail? No, Just Retail

Mike Mack

The buzz.

The buzz that sends fear into the hearts of retailers, suggesting that online shopping has come to replace offline, and there is no turning back.

Indeed, with the technology available to the large public today, which allows to order anything from diapers and chips to perfectly fitting clothing and comfortable furniture, why would anyone bother to take the time to visit a physical store when they can simply order everything online?

But then…

In 2015, Amazon opened its first brick and mortar store.

In 2016, Amazon already had 21 fully operational brick and mortar stores across the U.S. and they plan to open 80 more by the end of 2017.

Feel the irony? Online retail giant Amazon – the nightmare of all bookshops around the U.S. – casually opens up a brick and mortar store, and doesn’t plan to stop there.


Because online cannot compete with offline when it comes to these three things:

  • Customer experience
  • Building trust/engaging with customers in person (by the store’s employees)
  • Educating customers on new and existing products

Let’s go deeper.

The evolution of brick and mortar

As Perry Kramer, vice president of Bostonretailpartners, put it “Brick and mortar isn’t dead, it’s evolving.” For many companies, sales started to shift online primarily due to convenience and lower prices, and the retailers that managed to adapt to the new evolution are thriving.

The thing is, brick and mortar stores aren’t what they used to be. They are not simply shopping centers anymore, but rather giant 3D catalogs for customers.

When viewing a store as a 3D catalog, it does what it’s meant to do outstandingly well – educate customers on various products and introduce them to new products that they didn’t know about before. This is exactly why Apple’s store are always full in any mall around the world: these stores aren’t meant to sell, but rather, educate customers and offer high quality service.

Customer experience matters

No matter how you look at things, there are consumer advantages in physical retail, which simply cannot be replaced online. Whether it is the personalized approach, the ability to try on clothes without the hustle of ordering and returning them, or simply touching and feeling the products before buying, shopping experience is, and always will be, an essential part of the shopping process.

This is one of the primary reasons why some successful brands that swore to never go offline, suddenly open brick and mortar stores.

Bonobos, a menswear online retailer specializing in providing high quality, custom fit men’s clothing, never intended to have physical stores. Today, they have over 30 physical stores and aren’t planning to give up on brick and mortar anytime soon.

Bring the customers in, let them touch and feel the products, and then let them shop online. This is Bonobos’s approach to retail, and it’s working very well in their favor.

Taking a closer look at the supply chain

One of the main reasons why customers choose to shop online in the first place is cheaper price. With transportation and distribution costs being much higher for brick and mortar, customers get better deals online, which naturally incentivizes them to do so, rather than visit a store.

Knowing and understanding how shopping works today, retailers need to fix the gap between online and offline, giving customers the chance to shop anywhere they like, providing them with all the advantages of both e-tail and retail and blending the physical and virtual worlds into one.

Conclusion – Two sides of the coin, one retail.

Businesses need to understand that there is no online and offline retail, there is just retail with different mediums that connect products and customers. Customers are people that live in a physical world and online is there to compliment the brick and mortar shopping, not overtake it. It’s just a matter of choice.

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