Brick-and-mortar versus online shopping

Peebles_NicoleHatfield_RebeccaKanaskieBy Will Lesoravage

Elm Staff Writer

One of my all-time favorite stores to visit is Barnes & Noble. Upon entering the bookstore, you are greeted with literature from wall to wall. You can read some of their selection, grab a coffee, study, work, or buy the book you’ve been eyeing for a while. 

Alas, the Barnes & Noble in my hometown, which ran as an extension of the mall, will be closing down as the property is being sold to developers. Perhaps it was inevitable, as brick and mortar stores across the nation are going under as online corporations, like Amazon, and big box stores, like Walmart, undercut them on prices. 

Sorrows aside, this leads to the question many of us have been asking for years: what is the appeal of shopping online?

Historically, brick-and-mortar stores have been one of the only ways to actually purchase goods; innovations like the Sears Roebuck catalogue allowed people on the frontier to order goods from a remote location, a store’s primary income was from consumers coming into the shops. 

Even early on, with the rise of the internet in the late 1990s, brick and mortar stores were still performing quite well. It wasn’t until the 2008 recession that American businesses and companies started to see challenges in bringing in customers. As people’s wallets tightened, sales declined. And with that, lost revenue led to bankruptcies.

It was at this time that internet and online stores saw an in. With little to no startup costs, businesses could sell items en masse without ever having to pay rent, or even directly parlay with customers. These online stores could even be run with fewer than a handful of people. For many people venturing out into the business world, brick-and-mortar was a massive expenditure, both in time and money. Online shopping provided an alternative. 

 For some time, we have seen this drive towards online shopping. However, recent studies have suggested that brick and mortar stores may be making a bit of a comeback. 

According to a recent study from AT Kearney, an overwhelming percentage of Gen Z’ers (81%) prefer the experience of shopping in stores as opposed to buying online. And, given some of the benefits, few can blame them. 

Not only does it help fuel the local economy, but buying in store allows you to do things you can’t do online, such as try on clothes and purchase on the spot. Even Amazon and Walmart, the United States premiere online shopping centers, can’t guarantee same day delivery. 

What’s more interesting, according to a September 2019 article from CNBC is that members of Gen Z have suggested that buying in store, as opposed to online, provides a departure from the perpetual cycle of online advertisements, which have contributed to mental health struggles for some. Shopping in store can certainly be an avenue for unplugging from the digital world where influencers and social media profiles are constantly pushing products for your consumption. 

It remains unlikely that online shopping will die out, as it provides accessibility and convenience for many people, especially those who don’t have the means to travel places to pick items up. 

Yet despite the ongoing struggle between these two means of commerce, we may see a resurgence in brick and mortar stores, which likely will change marketing strategies and commercial prospects in the future.

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