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eCommerce: Will online retail replace the in-store experience?
February 2012


In every news or blog article I read about a successful eCommerce or online retail business, the writer states that the online buying options will “never” replace the in-store experience. I wonder if the book industry still has this same opinion after numerous book stores have closed their doors (at least here in Australia). To my idea we will see the end of the physical store within the next decade or two.

Is the book industry different from other retail?
Of course the book industry is different from other industries. For one, it is possible to buy books in a digital format and ebooks are cheaper and can only be bought online, while a digital couch or pair of shoes is (still) science fiction. With books there is no difference between the information you get online and in-store. In both cases you can read a resume of the contents, while being able to sit on the couch in-store or trying on those shoes before buying is a whole different experience. Thus one could state that the demise of book stores is inevitable, while consumers will always want to get a feel of most other products in-store before purchasing them. Then why is an online shoe company like Zappos such a big success?

Advantages of online shopping
Shopping online has a lot of advantages, like being able to do it from the comfort of your home, while going to a store means you need to travel, stay in traffic jams and have to find and pay for parking space. Then you have to walk around to find the right store, which has the right product, and you need to do some more walking around to find alternative stores to compare price, quality and characteristics. Next you have to find a sales person to help you or stand in line for the check-out counter. Online you can shop at any time and any day, while you have to plan your shopping in store, having to run there after work or just before dinner and of course they close while you are still making the decision what or where to buy. Another advantage of online shopping is the ability to compare prices between stores quickly and most of all, to read consumer reviews: what was the experience of fellow shoppers with a certain product or store? This kind of information is not something you can get in store and might avoid you a lot of headache afterwards.

Why are people still buying in store?
Yes, I know I am a typical male, who hates shopping, etc. etc. and you are right, as in-store shopping does have its advantages and most advantages mentioned above can be reached by doing online research before you go in-store to buy the product. In-store you can see, feel and touch the product and try it out. A helpful sales person can explain things or help you choose and just going shopping with your friends is a day of fun all by itself.

A new era of marketing and choices
But remember that the shopping experience we know has been created by the mass production and mass marketing culture of the last decades. This culture has allowed us to buy everything we wanted to have, as mass production enabled cheaper production of luxury goods and mass marketing created brands that became a necessity in itself. Everyone wanted to have the same things their neighbours had, further encouraging mass production. But we have now entered an era where the internet has enabled people from all over the world with peculiar niche choices to connect with each other, showing them that their choice or wish for a certain product is actually not so peculiar and allowing companies to start providing these niche products. This means consumers will be making more choices defined by their personal wishes instead of by mas advertising and it will be harder for stores to keep all available choices in stock. The only way companies will be able to reach all their customers is online and by sending their products to their clients, as their clients will be living to wide spread to be able to come and buy the products in-store.

Will eCommerce take over all store sales?
As consumers will get more and more used to buy products online; as they will get acustomed to the ease of it, the percentage of merchandise bought online will grow, causing the keeping of stocks in store to become exceedingly expensive, leading to closing stores until most of them will have gone. There will always be physical stores, but over time they will deliver a special shopping experience, like antique stores, where people go for the fun of shopping, or because they have very high quality products, allowing the cost of a store through their high priced products. As the book industry has shown, only those companies that understand this trend and act in time will survive.

Do you agree that online shopping will almost completely replace physical stores?
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Some examples of social media and social media marketing campaigns that caught my attention:

United breaks guitars
Still an excellent example of how social media can damage a companies reputation and how this tends to stay for a long time.

 

 
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