Retail: Online vs. Bricks and mortar

This time of year always reminds me of back to school shopping with my mom. I loved coming across a pair of shoes or an outfit so perfect that my mom declared it to be a “moral imperative” that I own it.

My school years spanned shopping via catalogs (we’ve already acknowledged how old I am), brick and mortar establishments, and online. Each method of consumption had its own appeal: catalogs offered convenience in the ‘90s and allowed for easy personalization of items (I’m looking at you, L.L. Bean Deluxe Backpack Monogramming); online shopping offers some great bargains, 24 hour access, and the opportunity to shop brands you can’t buy locally; and brick and mortar shopping allows you to try things on, inspect details and evaluate quality, and satisfies the desire for instant gratification.

3935087159_2663557808_m James Vaughan/flickr/2009

The trend to buy online seemed poised to kill off brick and mortar retailers – Amazon, an online-native company, certainly contributed to the failure of some physical book retailers. But now, even Amazon is looking to open up brick and mortar locations! In fact, a lot of online native brands are now setting up physical shops: Fabletics, Birchbox, Shoes of Prey, Warby Parker, Bauble Bar, and Google, just to name a handful.

What is the reasoning behind this new trend? According to a TechCrunch survey consumers still do most of their purchasing in brick and mortar stores than online – 94% in stores versus 6% online!  That same survey shows that 78 percent of consumers prefer to shop in a store, and end up spending six times more than online, and 73 percent of consumers surveyed want to try on the merchandise, or inspect the quality up close. Macy’s customers spend 25% more when they purchase in-store versus online.


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Retailers look to add value to in-store experiences in a multitude of ways. They enrich the experience for consumers by having professional sales associates, creating an enjoyable environment, and integrating e-commerce. Ethan Song, a founder of Frank & Oat, an online menswear company, reasoned that opening physical locations allows the company to “leverage to communicate our brand value.” Amazon’s modus operandi for laying bricks seems three-fold: a mini warehouse for same-day delivery within NYC, product returns and exchanges, and product pick-ups, which satisfies the ever-present desire for instant gratification among consumers. By and large, retailers know that shopping is a social activity and there is a need for physical locations.

Planned openings

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Brick and mortar stores will stay around as long as the consumer has an immediate need for products, which suited me perfectly last Friday when my canvas sneaker tore and I was able to go down the block and choose a replacement pair from many options!

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Abby Creitz

Manager, NAR Library & REALTOR® University Librarian

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