Will Online Stores Eventually Replace Brick and Mortar Stores?

You probably are laughing at the title of this article, because at the back your head, you know the answer. In fact, you only need to look around you, or drive around your town or city, to get at the answer.

The answer, of course, is that increasingly, online stores are replacing brick and mortar stores. Still, I want you to reread the question. The question is, will online stores eventually replace brick and mortar stores?

It’s important to note that there’s a big difference between replacing some brick and mortar outlets, and replacing all of them. If it’s just a simple question of a massive displacement and a change in consumer attitudes regarding retail, both offline and online, it would be absolutely a correct claim that online stores have replaced some brick and mortar chains.

However, there are certain exceptions to this. Please understand that ever since the launch of online commerce in the mid 1990s, clothing sales have suffered a very high return rate. We’re talking about 40% or higher; that hasn’t changed.

If you think about it, the reason is quite obvious. If you’re buying stuff that you’re going to wear online, you’re obviously not handling the material. A shirt, for example, may say that it’s made out of cotton. If you’re an experienced buyer, that’s just the beginning of your inquiry, seriously.

This would just trigger a set of questions. It’s actually an avalanche of questions, which leads you to an informed choice. However, if you’re a casual buyer, or worse yet, you’re a clueless consumer, the moment you see that a shirt being sold by an online store is made out of cotton, you automatically assume that it’s exactly the kind of cotton that you have worn before.

This is where people get into trouble. This is also a learning experience, because if you bought stuff online again and again, eventually, you will learn the kinds of lessons experienced buyers automatically ask when they come across a certain product description.

Again, going back to the cotton shirt example; if you’re an experienced buyer, the moment you see that the shirt is advertised as cotton, you ask, “Which type of cotton? Is this the type of cotton that I’ve worn before? Is this cotton durable? Is this material easy to wash? Is this material’s coloring going to last?” And on and on it goes.

In other words, you ask very basic, yet important questions that get to the heart of the quality and durability of the item that you are buying. And unfortunately, you have to be this prepared if you are buying clothing online.

Sure, it’s quick, convenient, and easy, but it does have its fair share of drawbacks. You can’t handle the material, you definitely can’t put it on. Sometimes, online stores would say that an item is small when it turns out to be microscopic, or worse yet, is actually larger than your size.

So what do you do in that situation? Well, you end up wasting a tremendous amount of time, effort, and energy returning that item. Sure, returning stuff that you bought from online stores is much easier and more convenient than getting in your car, and going back to the outskirts of town to return stuff at a physical store, but it’s still wasted time.

You could have still used that time and mental energy doing other stuff. These other activities might have brought more contentment and happiness to your life. It also might have added a few extra dollars to your pocket. You see how this works?

So to say that online stores will eventually replace brick and mortar stores, is kind of neither here nor there. It’s not a question of total replacement, because there are certain segments of retail that are proving to be resistant to just blanket replacement, seriously.

If it hasn’t happened now, chances are it probably won’t happen in the future, unless of course scientists come up with some sort of teleportation device that you’ve seen in TV shows like Start Trek. It’s not unthinkable for technology to advance to the point where you can buy stuff online, it’s teleported to you. You can put it on, you can touch it, you can experience it. And then, if you’re not happy, you can return it by using that same teleportation device.

Obviously, we are probably many, many years away from such a situation. So at the end of the day, it really all boils down to practical considerations, and that 40% refund and return rate for clothing is not going to go anytime soon.

I wish I could tell you that clothing is the only product vertical that suffers from this issue, but unfortunately, it isn’t. There are many other product categories that suffer from high return rates when they are bought online. So keep this in mind.

It’s not as straightforward as you think. Online commerce, despite all the blessings that it brings to the table, is not without its reservations. The good news is there is no such thing as a perfect option. What’s important is that you have many different options to choose from, so you can at least be very flexible, and with all these options, you have a lot more freedom as a consumer.

So don’t think of the title of this article as a stark choice between offline and online stores. Instead, look at it as really a combination of options that have made your life so much easier and more convenient.

Given the way technology has morphed, mutated, exploded, and evolved the past few decades, don’t expect the changes to stop. There’s currently an automation revolution going on. Don’t be surprised if this technological trend will impact how you buy stuff online and offline.

For example, the rise in driverless vehicles has raised the very real possibility that stuff will be delivered straight to our door by robotic trucks with absolutely no human interference whatsoever. Amazon’s warehouses are already robot-driven.