By Sterling Xie. Edited by Arjun Chandrasekar.
As we socially distance and avoid contact, our world has increasingly digitized. Among the most affected—are retail stores, brick-and-mortar stores, and shopping malls. While e-commerce stores are still a sure minority in the market right now, the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the digitization of stores, bringing some of the largest retail stores like Sears to a close for good. The future seems scary. However, that begs the question—are all brick-and-mortar stores going to face the same fate?
Today’s consumers are looking for the cheapest, most convenient ways to access goods, which often means turning to the Internet. The COVID-19 pandemic was essential in starting the digital age in the US, leading to record growth in e-commerce stores and sharp declines in brick-and-mortar stores. According to Holly Draher from TotalRetail, “[i]n 2021 alone, plans were in the works to shutter more than 1,000 brick-and-mortar stores, and the number is forecast to reach as many as 80,000 over the next five years.”
However, despite this record growth in e-commerce, brick-and-mortar stores will remain resilient. E-commerce stores simply are not profitable enough to stand alone, needing a strong brand and physical stores to market and stay afloat. In fact, Kasey Lobaugh of Deloitte confirms physical “stores still accounted for 85% of retail sales” despite growth in e-commerce. Even though e-commerce theoretically can reach more consumers, the consumer loyalty it brings is weak.
The Science Behind This
There is overwhelming evidence that brick-and-mortar stores will be here to stay. Human psychology theories conclude that people naturally prefer physical interaction. In-person sociality is what brings customer satisfaction. Therefore, e-commerce requires more marketing than retail stores have. The in-person outreach associated with brick-and-mortar stores decreases the amount big corporations need to spend on marketing as it gives the intimate connection that changes the average consumer to a devoted customer.
Whether it be trying on clothes or choosing produce in person, it is a lot more convenient for people to know exactly what they are purchasing rather than relying on the pixelated images on their computer screens.
In all, American consumerism has evolved rapidly recently. Shopping is no longer a chore, but an experience. Americans see a mall outing as a social event, not as a necessity. E-commerce stores simply cannot recreate the experience of being in a physical retail store.
Despite the violent movement of e-commerce to the spotlight, it certainly is not the future just yet. Society is moving more rapidly than ever yet, we still rely on the basis of human nature of physical interaction. The personal relation is what is essential to marketing and outreach, a touchpoint that cannot be reflected in e-commerce. Although companies are forced to turn to the Internet right now with the pandemic, in the long-term they will always return to the more profitable brick-and-mortar stores.
However, it is true that e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores will be evermore linked from now on. Big e-commerce businesses like Amazon have reported record sales from their physical retail sales and big physical businesses like Costco have begun expanding their catalog of goods online. Whether we prefer in-person retail stores or online stores, the future is sure to hold a balance between the two.
Even with the speculation of the downfall of brick-and-mortar stores and the continued decline in their revenue, it is safe to say big retail stores will remain resilient. While the pandemic has shifted our focus to the Internet and digital markets, loosening pandemic restrictions have driven consumers back to brick-and-mortar stores, proving that the in-person shopping experience is still necessary for consumers today.