Brick & mortar

Will we ever return to bricks and mortar?

A big US e-commerce solution provider, Channel Advisor Corporation, recently released the results of a major survey into US consumer spending habits, which revealed some interesting trends.

More than half of those surveyed (52%) predicted they will shop online in future more than pre-pandemic, while more than a third (37%) said they plan to do more holiday shopping online than last year.

This survey serves to underline what I’ve been witnessing – that the pandemic accelerated the retail sector’s move to e-commerce, and that trend looks set to stay.

There are a number of reasons why e-retail will continue to dominate shopping habits:

Especially in retail, the customer is always right – and if people want to shop online, that should be a key asset in a multi-channel approach

The world has adjusted to online retail, dominated by vast corporations like Amazon. Still, there is room for innovators in the space, for example rapid grocery delivery, online arts and crafts like Etsy, and creative niche retailers like, which is bang on trend with its longer-lasting products designed to halt the behaviours of a ‘throwaway’ society.

Regionally, food delivery aggregators such as Talabat and Deliveroo have seen massive growth in online orders amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Online sales in the UAE’s food and beverage market surged 255% year-over-year in 2020 to reach $412 million, new analysis by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has revealed.

The analysis forecasted the value of online food and beverage sales in the emirates to reach $619 million by 2025.

The cost of accelerated pivoting to e-commerce platforms – for many retailers, the large costs are yet to be recouped

The accelerated speed of shifting a retail operation online saw increased, unexpected costs. Many supermarkets, for example, are still not actually profiting from home deliveries, considering the cost of maintaining a large fleet of refrigerated vehicles, extra staff in-store to fulfil deliveries and extremely complex websites and logistics.

Then there are associated costs of marketing, database management, data security and privacy rules, stock control, imagery and written content.

Most consumers expect fast – and often free – delivery, further costs which have to be absorbed by modern retail firms.

The norm – for many people previously resistant to shopping (and paying) online, the pandemic forced them to try it, and now it’s become the de facto way to shop

For many people, old and young, shopping was often something they preferred doing in person. But there are also those who were technology adverse or felt uneasy doing card transactions online.

As we moved deeper into the pandemic, online shopping became the safe, easy way to get not only essential groceries to your home, but also other products.

Those previously adverse to online purchases are now familiar and comfortable with the platform – even if they were ‘forced’ into it.

Technology continues to improve, with new ways to shop including 3D product views and virtual store walk arounds

For many of us, nothing can replace the real-world experience of bricks and mortar shopping, but even the traditional mall experience is being enhanced by technology.

I’m seeing 3D product views, and clever marketing from some brands allows a ‘virtual’ store experience. Those of us who embrace technology are thoroughly enjoying this retail renaissance.

Of course, there are many of us who like to do product research online before heading out to a store to touch and feel the product in a real-world store.

But if a retailer isn’t online nowadays, most people would be surprised or consider the retailer to be behind the times – and probably doomed to failure.

Success in the retail sector today demands a multi-channel, highly creative approach, and it’s us consumers who benefit from this new era.

Meanwhile, the irony was lost on me when I recently discovered Amazon, the online retail behemoth – arguably is the reason for a lot of retail store closures – is moving into bricks and mortar, with plans to open department stores.

Our Malls and High Streets may have changed; they may have to adapt to a different reality, but when the most significant online retailer is eyeing real world sites, I think it’s safe to say bricks and mortar retail experiences are here to stay.

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