Online or Brick and Mortar?

Brick-and-Mortar Businesses and Online Stores – A Definitive Guide to Understanding the Best One for You

It is an age-old dilemma that continues to face the human race. Abandon an established traditional convention or adopt a new innovation and technology? When it comes to brick-and-mortar business and online store, the same conundrum persists.

On the surface, one would think making a decision would be so easy. After all, new is always better, right? Well, not really. In reality, it is actually harder than we think. Not only is the idea of technological innovation and advancement scary to many, but it is also usually mysterious and takes some getting used to.

Getting rid of established traditional methods of doing things is also tricky because, well, there is a reason they’ve lasted so long in the first place. If a method of doing a certain thing survives for as long as say, brick and mortar businesses have, then there must be a great deal of positives which they provide that shouldn’t be let go of so easily.

To shed more light on the topic and hopefully help make your decision easier, below are the most important pros and cons of both brick-and-mortar businesses and online stores. We begin with the former.

Brick-and-Mortar Business – A Solid Establishment

The brick-and-mortar style of doing business requires no introduction. It is the form of business operation that requires having a physical store that people can easily visit whenever they require any of your products and services.

In this day and age, brick-and-mortar businesses have a traditional charm that is appealing to many. They also have a few other pros and cons, all of which we discuss below.

Pros of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

  1. Physical Interactions – One of the appeals of brick-and-mortar businesses is derived from their physical and personal interactions. In physical stores, you still get to meet people and interact with them. This personal touch is considered by many as one of the most fundamental traditions of doing business.
  2. Relative Safety – To those who feel reluctant about using their credit or debit cards online (thanks to numerous cases of hacking and identity theft, for example), the physical cash exchange of brick-and-mortar stores offers a welcome alternative.
  3. Traditional Appeal – It is hard to write-off the importance of traditions when it comes to human behavior. Regarding business forms, many will always find brick-and-mortar businesses an appealing alternative majorly thanks to the traditional appeal that they provide.
  4. Instantaneity – When you shop in a physical store, you get what you order right away and can go about making use of it as you see fit. This is not the case with online stores where you have to wait, sometimes for days, to get what you ordered.
  5. Assurance – When you buy something in a physical store, you know exactly what it is you are buying. Now you may think this is the same for an online store, but many users have reported getting something significantly different from what was ordered when they shopped online.

Cons of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

  1. High Cost of Maintenance – Compared to businesses who run online stores, brick-and-mortar businesses tend to have a higher cost of maintenance thanks to the expenses associated with rent, building maintenance, equipment, and so on.
  2. Geographic Restrictions – It is generally agreed that an online store is capable of reaching more people than brick-and-mortar stores can. This is due to the vast reach of the internet and its open nature.
  3. Scalability – Scaling and expanding an internet business is usually a lot more easily done than scaling a brick-and-mortar business. Whereas an internet business would require acquiring more domain and hosting, scaling a brick-and-mortar requires acquiring physical stores and warehouses, which are usually more expensive.

Online Stores

Online stores, also known as electronic commerce or e-commerce stores, are the result of a rapidly growing internet space. Many business owners recognized the economic potential of the internet and capitalized accordingly. Today, e-commerce stores are reportedly growing three times faster than their traditional counterparts.

The reasons for this growth are numerous – a changing demographic with more emphasis on convenience, a changing demographic which spends more time online than it does engaging in real-life interactions, added incentives and comparative advantages of setting up a store online, and so on.

Below we take a look at some of these paradigm-shifting benefits, as well as some of their undeniable drawbacks.

Pros of Online Stores

  1. Convenience – Perhaps one of the biggest advantages a physical store has over its brick-and-mortar counterpart is its convenience. It was mentioned above that many prefer physical interactions of physical stores, well it is also worth mentioning that many do not. And most importantly, most people nowadays do not want to leave the comfort of their apartments when they could get what they want lying down, literally. This, without a doubt, is one of the biggest advantages an online store has over a physical one.
  2. Speed – Another distinction worth noting between online and physical stores is the speed of online stores compared to physical ones. Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce stores do not usually have queue hold-ups, and require no checkout with a physical cashier. Everything from shopping to carting to checkout is done as fast as the speed of your internet can take you.
  3. Wider Geographic Reach – On average, an online store is able to reach more people easily as your store is literally only a mouse click away.
  4. Added Incentives – A particularly appealing aspect of online stores is the fact that they can offer certain incentives which physical stores cannot match. For example, an e-commerce store can easily promise free shipping, a key marketing strategy that eliminates consumer stress at no cost at all.
  5. Maintenance & Entry Costs – As mentioned earlier, the cost of setting up and maintaining an online store is a lot cheaper than the cost of setting up a brick-and-mortar one. And thanks to drop shipping, many e-commerce businesses do not even have to provide a warehouse for their products.

Cons of Online Stores

  1. Reluctance – Many people are reluctant to carry out transactions on the internet thanks to the high frequency of fraud cases reported in that space. Many would rather go with the relative security of cash exchanges in a physical store.
  2. Doubt – Many online shoppers have expressed doubts regarding the quality of their incoming orders. It is not a rare occurrence to order online, especially from less reputable stores, and receive a product that is quite different from what you thought was ordered.
  3. Slow Delivery Time – It is fast and convenient to order online, but it also, quite naturally, requires a waiting time before you get your delivery. Of course, some big e-commerce stores like Amazon, thanks to their vast resources, offer incredibly fast delivery time, but most medium-sized stores remain constrained by delivery lags.

Ambiguities of Online and Brick-and-Mortar Stores

As you may have figured, so many of the pros of e-commerce stores are the cons of physical stores, while almost all the cons of e-commerce are the pros of physical brick-and-mortar businesses.

Yet there remains to this day a struggle for dominance between both forms. Many believe there is no reason why both cannot coexist, while some believe that all brick-and-mortar businesses will have to adapt to the online sphere at some point in the future.

One of the reasons why this struggle continues is that the differences between both are not so clear cut as they might appear. Many are usually highly dependent on a business’ target demographic.

Let us take the idea of physical interactions, for example. Sure, some people prefer physical interactions while conducting businesses, but for some particular demographic, it is the complete opposite. In this case this singular criterion could both be an advantage and disadvantage for both forms of businesses at the same time.

This is why, as a business owner, it is important that you analyze both forms in the context of your own target audience and decide accordingly.

And then of course there is the fact that adaptability is not off the table for either of them. Should the need arise, a brick-and-mortar business can create and online version of its store, as many have done. And conversely, an online store can also set up a physical store if needed. The question of which is easier to do is another contested topic, seeing as the size of a business also plays a huge part in its adaptability.

In Conclusion

Both brick-and-mortar stores and online ones have their undeniable advantages. And they both definitely have their drawbacks. Above we examined the most important of these, along with the reasons why they are the way they are in the first place.

Despite the incredible growth of ecommerce stores, physical stores seem to be holding up nicely, too. Maybe one will give way to the other in the near future. Maybe they both will continue to coexist successfully. Either way, it is imperative for you as a business owner, or perspective business owner, to discover which is best for your business.