For brick-and-mortar retailers, losing customers to a competitor that offers an online shopping experience is a real and ever present concern. After all, coming into a physical store takes a lot more time and effort for consumers than scrolling through their phone from the comfort of their own home.
While the COVID-19 pandemic taught us that things like online grocery shopping and ordering takeout from our mobile devices is convenient, it also reminded us that sometimes you really can't replace the feeling of in-person connection found at physical stores.
In this article, we break down the pros and cons of both the in-store and online shopping experience for consumers and share a few reasons why you can rest assured that brick-and-mortar stores aren't going anywhere any time soon.
Online shopping vs. in-store shopping
Both online stores and physical stores have their charms as well as their inconveniences for today's consumers. Let's break down a few of the key differences between online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores.
How convenient is it?
First, let's look at how convenient each shopping experience really is.
When it comes to convenience, online stores have the advantage here. You can't beat the ease of simply thumbing through your mobile device for a product you need, comparing prices from multiple online retailers with the swipe of a finger.
Plus, online shoppers can shop from wherever they are, whether that's while waiting in line at the drive-through or laying in bed at home. You can even save your credit card information right on your phone so you don't even have to reach for your wallet. It's that easy.
Physical stores don't offer the same kind of convenience that mobile shopping offers, however, there is a level of convenience that online shoppers don't get from their online purchases: instant gratification.
When you come into a physical retail store and find what you need, it's instantly yours as soon as you check out with it. No waiting for an item to be sent to your door or unexpected shipping delays to worry about. And sometimes, that balances out the inconvenience of having to get out of your pajamas.
How personal is it?
Next, today's consumers increasingly want a personal shopping experience, so let's compare the personal experiences online shopping offers compared to in-person shopping.
Given that online shopping is a purely virtual experience, there usually isn't much of a personal touch. However, if done right, it can have some elements of personalization.
For example, if a user fills their online shopping cart but never checks out, they could get an email reminding them to complete their purchase. Or, if a user visits a website and browses around for decorative pillows, they could be served an ad on social media for those same pillows later on.
Offering personal shopping experiences is where brick-and-mortar retail stores can really shine. This is especially true if a retailer is doing a good job of clienteling. This is a retail technique where sales associates work to build genuine relationships with buyers through learning a buyer's preferences, keeping in touch with them outside of the store, and even making personalized product recommendations.
Getting to know your buyers on a personal level can only happen when they come into your physical store, giving the in-store experience an edge over online shopping for those looking for real human connection.
How affordable is it?
Finally, nobody wants to pay more for something than they have to. Let's take a look at how affordable each shopping experience is for today's consumers.
Online shoppers are generally very savvy when it comes to comparing prices and looking for deals. Whether it's from a promotion they found in their email, a promo code shared by a social media influencer, or an ad they saw while searching on Google, it's not hard to get a discount on online purchases.
However, with online sales comes extra fees for delivery costs, shipping insurance, or even small order fees. Costs like these can add up, making the overall purchase more expensive than it would have been otherwise.
When shopping at brick-and-mortar retail stores, the price you see on the tag or display is usually the price you'll pay, unless there's a sale going on. So that means no extra fees for shipping, but also no additional discounts once you get to the register.
However, keep in mind that for luxury retailers, affordability may be less of a factor in consumers' buying decisions. When you're catering to more high-income clients, they're likely not searching for promo codes or extra discounts on the products they want, and are willing to pay more for an excellent, in-person customer service experience.
Three reasons why online shopping won't replace in-store experiences
Now that we've weighed the pros and cons of both the online and in-store retail environment, we're still left with the big question: Will online sales completely take over physical retail sales? Our answer is a resounding no.
Today's consumers want both shopping experiences
First, when looking at American consumers' shopping habits, both in-person and digital shoppers are equally present, with the average person participating in both virtual and in-store shopping on a regular basis.
Survey data from CI&T's Connected Retail Report finds that U.S. consumers are shopping in-store and online at nearly identical rates, with in-person shopping averaging out at 52% and online shopping with an average of 48%.
This shows that there really is room for both types of businesses in the world today, and consumers aren't looking to choose between one or the other—they want both.
Some experiences can't be replicated virtually
Next, sometimes you really do need to see, feel, and try on a product before you're ready to buy. This is especially true for high-end merchandise. You're not going to find very many consumers that want to buy a couch they've never sat on, a special occasion dress they've never tried on, or a piano they've never played.
While digital shoppers can look at pictures and videos all day long, they'll never be able to get a true feel of the product they're about to buy until it's actually in their hands.
What's more, if they have a question about a product, online shoppers have to comb through reviews and hope there's an answer to their concern. Physical retailers, on the other hand, have real people and experts they can talk to about the products on the shelves, getting instant answers to their questions.
Loyal customers want to support their favorite businesses
Lastly, today's consumers—especially the younger generation—largely distrust big corporations, and few believe they have a positive impact on society.
While big businesses like Amazon and Apple won't be hurting for business any time soon, people feel better about supporting a smaller, local business. Especially if it's one they've received personal service from.
So while online ordering is easy, consumer purchase decisions aren't always all about what's most convenient. If you treat them right, loyal customers will make the effort to go in person to support a business they know and love.
How clienteling can enhance in-store experiences
One of the best ways you can set your physical store apart from online retailers—and have a positive impact on the people who shop with you—is through clienteling. And with clienteling software like Clientbook, it's easier than ever to implement it with your team.
Clientbook is a mobile app and web platform that allows retail sales associates to collect and track client data, build custom wish lists for key clients with products they'd like, text customers follow up messages to encourage them to shop with you again, and so much more.
While the online shopping process is an easy one for consumers, in-person retail sales are still holding strong. And they'll continue to do so, especially if you're prioritizing the consumer experience through clienteling. By playing to your strengths, such as human connection and instant gratification, you'll earn loyal customers that will always make the time and effort to shop with you.
If you're ready to see how clienteling with Clientbook can make a lasting impact on consumers and earn you repeat business, book a demo today.