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Are There Still Benefits to Shopping Offline?

Not long ago, news sources were heralding an impending “retail apocalypse” as online shops and e-commerce in general began to change our shopping habits, drawing us away from giant malls and letting us shop from home on our computers or smartphones. You may wonder where that leaves us now. Is offline retail dead? Are there any reasons people still want to visit brick-and-mortar stores?

The answers are “no” and “yes,” respectively.

What’s really happened to shopping

The most recent data, from sources like the National Retail Federation (NRF), shows that while e-commerce continues to grow at a slightly faster rate, physical retail spaces are still growing, too. In fact, retailers that started out strictly selling merchandise online are now opening physical stores—Amazon is one example—and they wouldn’t be doing this if they thought offline shopping habits were truly dead. It’s where stores are opening (and closing) that gives us a more accurate picture of how shopping habits have changed, and why we should start calling the disappearance of sprawling mega shopping centers a “mall apocalypse” instead.

Throughout the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, there was an over development of big malls across America—earning us the largest footprint of retail space per capita than anywhere else in the world. Like any instance of over development, the bubble began to collapse in the early 2000s, especially as people did more shopping online. After watching these trends for several years now, economists and other commerce experts believe the market was simply making a correction to bring the number of malls and other large shopping centers back into balance with population movements and demands.

This movement includes a shift from giant shopping malls back to main street and mom-and-pop stores. Many of these stores with smaller retail spaces are able to focus on participating in and supporting ethical trade and sustainable practices and participate more intimately with their communities—all things that younger shoppers are keen to support.

What shoppers will experience moving forward

Shoppers may, or may not, be surprised to find the aspects they like best or use most when shopping online now show up during their offline shopping experiences and vice versa. This is called “omnichannel retailing.”

One of the benefits of this approach to shoppers is that there is no price advantage in any channel over the other—you can take your smartphone, scan the price tag on a purse, and see if the retailer has other colors in their online store. If you do order something online, you’ll be given the choice to return or exchange it in store, or you can order in store and have it delivered to your home. Smart mirrors in changing rooms can pull up your online shopping wish list and you can add the pants you’re trying on to that list to buy later.

App-centric, flexible omnichannel retailing is what will allow shoppers to get the best of both worlds.

Offline benefits that keep people walking through retail doors

Here are some of the reasons why people still like shopping in person in a store:

  • No added shipping costs
  • No risk of product damage during shipping
  • No risk of someone stealing the item from the doorstep
  • A straightforward returns process without having to pay for return postage
  • Take immediate delivery of the purchase
  • Touch and feel materials
  • More accurate color matching for outfits when you can bring the shoes or top you’re trying to match into the clothing store
  • Ability to try on clothing and shoes
  • Ability to ask a sales associate questions
  • The social experience—you can bring friends along to give opinions on a purchase