Brick-and-mortar Stores or Online Business: Which One Is Your Cup Of Tea?

Brick-and-mortar Stores or Online Business: Which One Is Your Cup Of Tea?

With a rapidly growing internet user base to the tune of 3.6+ billion across the globe and the rising popularity of smartphones and tablets over the last few decades, it is not surprising that the thriving e-commerce industry has taken the retail world by storm ever since it first made its presence felt way back in the 1990s. Establishing itself as a non-negotiable retail strategy by the early 21st century, the trillion dollar e-commerce market of today is all poised for a double-digit growth in the coming years with millions of retail stores existing online and many more gearing up to rear their heads on the internet anytime soon!

So, is a strong e-tail presence the way forward for all business sectors and verticals? Does it sound the death knell for the traditional brick-and-mortar and kirana stores in the near future? Well, there’s more to it than meets the eye as a recent study reveals. Read on to know more about the latest trends that are all set to shape the future of the rapidly evolving e-commerce industry with online retail sales projected at $4 trillion+ by 2020.

Is the web the perfect launch pad for your business venture?

While there’s no denying the fact that online retail is the need of the hour in a highly globalized and internet-savvy world, the fact remains that certain market segments in India are still heavily reliant upon the ‘see, touch and feel’ aspect of their products. This is especially true of the FMCG space that still derives majority of its sale from the ‘kirana’ merchants. To add to this, the considerable number of online refunds (Indian e-commerce major Flipkart alone processes about 25,000 refunds daily) further attests this facet of Indian consumers.

If you are wondering whether your distinct product line-up can benefit from game-changing e-commerce solutions, then here’s some food for thought for you. According to independent studies conducted by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and the Indian Institute of e-commerce, travel and fashion are the dominant sectors in India’s ‘yet to be fully tapped’ e-commerce market. Globally, consumer electronics, toys and video games, apparels and shoes (both regular wear and sportswear), jewellery and accessories, auto parts, computer hardware, software and peripherals, books, gifts, music, videos, flowers, items of home décor and furnishings, over-the-counter medicines, beauty products and office supplies constitute the ‘most sought after’ product categories on the World Wide Web.

However, this is no way implies that niche offerings cannot survive on the internet, particularly those that boast a high demand but are limited with a meager supply. In fact, e-commerce is fast becoming one of the best avenues to sell and popularize relatively lesser-known products and services such as health supplements and drinks that include detox tea and matcha, organic coffee and customized subscription boxes related to beauty, food, clothing, pet care etc. Indeed, with sound understanding of your offbeat domain and with a detailed analysis of your targeted demographic, you can literally sell almost anything online and still laugh all the way to the bank every month!

Online vs. offline presence

Ask anybody whether an online presence is required these days and they will probably rattle off a series of definitive pluses that can give your business a much-needed boost and an edge over the rest.

For starters, unlike physical stores which are hugely dependent upon location and foot traffic to set the ball rolling, e-commerce offers your venture the flexibility of a widened reach that is not restricted by geographies and cultural barriers. Secondly, the urban consumer of today is pressed for time and hardly has the luxury or inclination to hop into a brick-and-mortar store and spend hours browsing through the display in the company of haggling store assistants and a maddening crowd. On the contrary, e-stores offer consumers the respite to shop from the convenience of their homes and make neat savings in the form of lucrative deals, Happy Hours, Rush Hours, Mega Sales, Flash Sales etc. One can benefit from the vast inventory of innovative online products and compare them across multiple websites until one is fully satisfied that only the best deal has been booked in terms of its make, quality, price, reviews and other subtle features that warrant a comparison.

Cost-effective operations, low set-up costs, flexible working hours, multifarious payment options, swift delivery, free shipping, timely updates of order dispatch and other essential tracking information, supplementary product recommendations, hassle-free return policies and a secure payment gateway are few of the other attributes that make e-commerce an appealing alternative for both the business owners and the consumers.

Importance of a result-oriented e-commerce web design

One of the major drawbacks of a ‘pure-click’ channel system is its inability to attract traffic and generate sales by virtue of its sheer existence. Unlike an offline store that is easy to spot and visit owing to its physical location, an e-tailer needs aggressive marketing in the form of online promotions and pay-per-click advertising along with a strong social media presence and a user-friendly web design that can effectively draw organic traffic and magnify the conversion rate by leaps and bounds. Case in point is Body Ecology, a health and wellness e-commerce store that increased its revenue by 56.43% by tweaking its website and adding a graphic product category page that depicted vivid images and elaborate descriptions of the health products on offer.

Entailing the professional services of a reliable and reputable e-commerce website design company is often the differentiating factor that can earn your business faster visibility and sales. An award-winning e-commerce website development company will bring to the table the latest web development trends such as a responsive web design and smart SEO solutions along with the designing prowess of experienced and proficient developers. The amalgamation of all the above is bound to ensure that your website ranks high on leading search engines and stands out for its aesthetic look and feel, an intuitive interface, easy navigation and compelling call-to-action features.

Emerging e-tailer trends

While retail e-commerce shows no sign of any immediate popularity wane, in an unexpected turn of events, an interesting trend has come to the fore in the last few years. Increasingly, there is a shift to a click-to-brick or a brick-and-click model whereby retailers are complementing their online efforts with walk-in stores or vice versa. Take the case of online biggie Amazon or the popular American fast fashion retailer called Forever 21 for inspiration.

With burgeoning marketing and expansion costs, many virtual stores are now resorting to a unique online-offline model, better known as an omni-channel, to tap the very best of both worlds. Not only does this novel model allows you to curb your maintenance and promotional costs and foster closer ties with your clients but it also attracts both the mobile-friendly new-age consumers and the conventional brick-and-mortar customers who still prefer visiting a store and having a detailed face-to-face discussion about the quality of the fabric and its price before settling for cash payment at the counter. This is especially true for growing economies like India that still exhibits a low e-commerce penetration when it comes to retail with e-commerce accounting to only 10% for most of its retail categories.

The final verdict

The writing is on the wall. With increasing urbanisation, a robust digital roadmap, pronounced internet penetration, pocket-friendly data plans and considerable income growth, the Indian e-commerce market is forecasted to double to $1 trillion by 2020 with its online retail segment poised for phenomenal growth in the next 2-3 years. Same is the case in the global e-commerce scenario that looks aspirational with a prediction of online retail sales contributing to 14.6% of the total retail sales worldwide in 2020 as compared to 7.4% in 2016.

From pure brick-and-mortar to click-to-brick omni-channels, the verdict is very clear – supplement your virtual efforts with an unmistakable physical presence if you want to retain customers across the board and improve your ROI with a dynamic model that promises a competitive edge and an unparalleled user experience!

I'm a professional freelance writer. Over the past 5 years I've worked with various businesses, companies and individuals on their content strategy.