eCommerce is a fast-growing space and the global eCommerce market is expected to be at $8 trillion by 2025. With the advancement of technology, eCommerce websites are getting more user-friendly for both the end customers as well as the business owners. As such, a natural question that comes to our minds is, will eCommerce websites replace traditional brick-and-mortar stores?
Will eCommerce Websites replace Traditional Commerce? It is unlikely that eCommerce will completely replace brick-and-mortar stores. There are specific use cases and products for which offline stores are preferable, and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. For example, offline stores provide advantages like the opportunity to touch and feel the product, to get queries answered by a salesperson, or to buy an item for immediate use.
Both eCommerce websites and brick-and-mortar stores have their advantages and disadvantages, and each one offers its own unique value. I have explained in detail which areas are eCommerce expected to win over traditional commerce, and where it cannot replace it.
Well, it’s true that the world is moving fast towards eCommerce and away from traditional commerce. Between 2016 and 2026, the worldwide eCommerce revenue is expected to increase from $1.8 trillion to $8 trillion, a 4.5 times growth. This explosive growth is driven by many factors.
The biggest factor is the change in demographics. A decade back, people were skeptical to input their credit card details into the internet and suspect a certain fraud. With the millennials and Gen Z now possessing high-paying jobs, this skepticism is long gone. This generation has native internet users and online commerce is their second nature.
Another factor driving this push is the worldwide adoption of the internet. The number of internet users worldwide is getting close to 5 Billion, about 65% of the world population. As people get familiar and comfortable with using the internet in their day-to-day lives, they are more likely to buy their products and services online.
Business owners have realized this and are looking to encash the opportunity to the fullest. Today businesses that do not build a strong online presence are likely to be left behind. Even those looking to buy stuff offline are most likely to do online research and will only brands that have a strong online presence. Offline businesses can put their growth on steroids by going online. This increases their reach and the extra revenue gained from their online presence can be used for the local marketing of their brick-and-mortar business and crushing the local competitors.
The low barrier to entry for businesses in the eCommerce space is another factor that has brought numerous players into the market and is pushing the growth further. Unlike the old times, when you needed significant capital to start a business, today you can start an online business by just building a website for a couple of thousand dollars. With techniques like dropshipping, new e-commerce business owners can get operational within weeks without any significant investment or risk.
Having said that, it is important to point out that it is highly unlikely that traditional commerce will be completely replaced by eCommerce in the near future. The comfort of physical contact with the products and the salesperson before buying is a big factor that is going to keep brick-and-mortar alive. Even many e-Commerce businesses are starting offline stores and experience centers in major cities where customers can touch and feel the products before buying online.
E-Commerce has a lot of advantages over traditional commerce, both for the business owners as well as the customers. Whether it is better than traditional commerce or not, depends on a lot of factors. You should rather be asking whether eCommerce is right for you or not, rather than generally concluding whether one is better than the other.
The number one advantage of eCommerce over brick-and-mortar for customers is accessibility. E-Commerce websites are up and running 24 x 7 and you don’t need to worry about the store open timings while making your purchase. It is also easier to do online transactions and your order is placed within a few clicks.
A lot of thought goes into making the website customer friendly and a professional web designer does it for you. It’s important to make sure that buying from you is easy for your customers, and involves the minimum number of clicks possible.
For business owners, the biggest advantage of going for an eCommerce website is automation. With eCommerce websites, your branding, customer support, and sales process, everything can be automated. Even inventory management and placing orders with your suppliers once the safety stock is reached can be automated. Your business is up and running even when you are sleeping or are on vacation.
Traditional offline stores are still alive and clicking, in spite of the many advantages of eCommerce stores. They are expected to be alive in the future as well but will be used for more specific purposes, while eCommerce will probably become mainstream. A close analogy is, while cars became the main source of transport in all major cities around the world, horses are still used, but for specific purposes, like recreational riding, racing, or for transportation in areas that do not have motorable roads.
The biggest disadvantage of shopping online is, you do not get to touch and feel the product before buying. This is the most valuable opportunity that offline stores provide. While buying clothes, customers would definitely want to try them on. While purchasing furniture or home décor, people want to get a feel of how they will look at their homes. While buying smartphones or laptops, consumers want to get a feel of how the screen looks and how the touch feels. Big brands understand this and they are going for click-and-mortar where people can see and feel the products before buying.
Another major value added by physical stores is that customers can have personal contact with the business. While buying an electronic gadget, a consumer likes to talk to the salesperson and get their queries answered. While consulting, the patient gets an emotional boost from talking to the doctor face to face. This is another factor that is expected to keep the brick-and-mortar business alive in the decades to come.