Brick-and-Mortar Retail Compared to Online

Read Part 1 of this article: Should You Sell Online or Offline?

If you are able to have a brick-and-mortar retail store, and that will need the factors of both location and financial resources, it can be a really great thing especially if you live in a community that can sustain the type of product mix that you would like to bring in and may not have as many shopping options as a major metro area with a very large mall or significant shopping resources. The big difference between brick-and-mortar and online retail is their acquisition of customers is completely different. Online is active but yet it’s passive. When you’re asleep, people place orders. You wake up in the morning and you can see what people have bought. In a brick-and-mortar setting, it is much more of an active endeavor because you need live bodies present in the store in order to complete a transaction. You can’t have a transaction when no one is there. In a perfect world, you would blend the two together.

Having a brick-and-mortar store with a significant online component will enable your customers shop easier when they’re not in your store. Even though the numbers, like the sales figures for online shopping and apparel are tremendous, the key thing to keep in mind is that the overwhelming majority of apparel that is sold is still sold through physical retail stores. At this point in time, online and catalog sales do not drastically reduce the people that shop for apparel in physical outlet stores. The reason is that shopping is a little bit social, especially for a female. It’s a little bit of looking at this, looking at that, picking this up, seeing how it looks with that, trying it on, going to the fitting room, having crisis under the fluorescent lighting where you can see all of your flaws and then putting things back and starting all over again. Some people really kind of need that experience – that touchy feeling that we call the ‘tactile’ experience of being able to touch the clothes. These are certain things you can’t really communicate online. For example, you can have two pairs of jeans and they can look identical in a photograph, even in a close-up, but one of them can have a much higher quality–fabric, wash, construction– all these are things that you can describe online but it becomes difficult to get the customer to have that ‘Aha!’ moment because they’re not there looking at and touching the merchandise.

The other thing about having a brick-and-mortar retail store is you don’t really have an offline equivalent of the market places like E-bay that can bring you customers. In a brick-and-mortar environment, you have a mall, or shopping mall or shopping center but the down side is that there is a finite amount of space. Ten thousand sellers could go and register at E-bay tomorrow and they would all be allowed to sell but ten retailers can’t even go open up shops in a desirable high traffic area because they won’t be enough vacancies to sustain them. The chances that you have of getting into a place that will bring customers to you on its own are just very slim because there aren’t that many opportunities for something like that.

But on the up side, there is a certain experience involved offline that can’t be replicated on the internet. And we can try with customer service agents, with live chat, with all of these tools but there’s a certain element that you can’t replicate online no matter how hard you try even if you have an online personal shopper service. That element of being able to consultatively sell to someone is something you really cannot duplicate outside of a face-to-face experience.

In summary, the best scenarios combine some of the technological advantages of selling online such as the ability to capture customer information, e-mail marketing, targeted marketing and merchandising, communication, adding in benefits of being able to shop online or re-order online or preview a new merchandise online but come and try it out on the store. Combining this with the brick-and-mortar experience is also an amazing opportunity.

Most of our online consumers are very, very focused about what they want. They’re actively looking for it and they’re going online to buy it. For a lot of them, however whatever it was they wanted, they saw it offline – like they saw it in a magazine or in a retail store or someone told them about it and then they go online and look for it and buy it because the technology.

A woman shopping on a mission can make her way through an entire store in less than twenty minutes and she can literally see everything that’s in that store. Going through a website is a very tedious and slow, time-consuming process and so when I said earlier that shopping can be social, it is because it’s a bit of an activity when you’re just shopping versus going through something specific or browsing and taking a look, maybe discussing it with someone who is shopping with you or the sales clerk, then it can be a leisurely activity.

Clicking and looking around on a website, it doesn’t have the same impact on people. It can be frustrating because the pages can take a while to load and the time that elapses, one rack of clothing in a store can have ten different styles and in two minutes, you can look at each and every last one of them but online, trying to look at ten different styles probably will take you somewhere between five to ten minutes. It’s just too slow a process and that’s why customers who were shopping online tend to be a lot more focused about what it is that they’re looking for. They’ll browse and casually come across new things but for the most part, they tend to be more focused as opposed to offline shoppers. Sometimes you just, you know, go and hang out, you shop at Bloomingdale’s, and you go grab lunch, catch up with your girl friends. It’s a different thing and there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both. For each person that is going into this, you have to make the choice about what makes sense for your business. I will say though, if you don’t have the retail experience, it’s better to start online because then you can learn certain retail and customer service aspects, also the nuances of dealing with off-price jobbers while not having to have the overhead and staffing burden of a retail store constantly, constantly gnawing at you.