Online vs. Brick and Mortar Retailers: Pros and Cons

As retail and business have evolved, so have the locations in which customer the average transaction takes place. In addition to brick and mortar stores, customers have the option of shopping online through e-commerce stores. Brick and mortar and e-commerce stores have many similarities though each has unique features that give it both advantages and disadvantages.

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While it may seem surprising that two very different storefronts have things in common, there are several similarities between brick and mortar shops and online stores. One similarity is the need for advertising and marketing to attract potential customers. While the methods may differ, each realizes the role advertising and marketing play in the success of the venture. Additionally, both online and brick and mortar retailer require UPC barcodes to be used when managing inventory and handling customer transactions.

Brick and mortar companies and online shops are also similar in the way they utilize an online platform. Both models, even brick and mortar companies that do not sell online, recognize the importance of their online presence. Social media pages and Internet advertising methods give businesses a way to connect with their target market that eclipses the exposure they can achieve strictly through direct interaction. They are also able to collect the data needed to make decisions about how to market their products and what items they should sell. Both brick and mortar stores as well as ecommerce shops use such techniques as mobile phone promotions, email marketing, and electronic newsletters to connect with their markets. Additionally, both models can take advantage of new, fixed-rate merchant solutions like Fatt Merchant that are hitting the market — cutting the cost of sales by credit card for the benefit of both businesses and consumers.


The differences between brick and mortar and online stores are just as vast though some may also be similarly less obvious. A major difference is that you can walk into a brick and mortar store and physically see and touch the items for sale. Online stores do try to compete with this by using such elements as detailed descriptions and pictures of a given product, or a liberal return policy. Brick and mortar stores also have a higher percentage of customers that spend more money than they intended to. Online stores can be more niche while still offering a variety within that niche, but brick and mortar stores give customers the opportunity to view, not just multiple products but multiple types of products, while they shop. Pricing, likewise, offers many opportunities as sometimes online stores can offer more competitive price points, even if shipping then becomes a consideration.

Advantages of Brick and Mortar Stores

One of the biggest reasons that customers have a preference for brick and mortar stores is the comfort they feel with the physical shopping process. While there are advantages to online shopping, many still find that they prefer physical storefronts. Shopping at a brick and mortar store also makes customers feel as if they are supporting local merchants and contributing to economic growth within their area. Another advantage is the shopping experience, itself. When you buy products from a physical location, you can touch them, look at them, and even try them on. This gives customers a better idea of exactly what they are purchasing and lowers the chance that they will need or feel inclined to make a return. Customers also get to enjoy their purchase immediately, rather than waiting for it to be shipped.

Another advantage is that customers sometimes prefer the interactions they have with sales associates. A good company will usually have product experts on-site for each department of the store. These associates may be knowledgeable on many different topics, such as fishing or electronics. They may also be able to provide information about the local area that are less tangible to your sales metrics, but make all the difference to the customer experience, like the best spots to ice fish in the winter.

Disadvantages of Brick and Mortar Stores

While the advantages for brick and mortar retail shops are great, there are also several disadvantages when shopping at a physical location. While the sales associate can be helpful to some, other shoppers find it a source of stress. If you are not comfortable telling someone you do not want to buy a product, then you may end up walking out of the store with items you didn’t want. Worse than that, a customer who feels pressured may walk out without buying anything at all. Finally, brick and mortar stores make you walk through the store to buy even one item, which can make it tempting to spend more money through impulse purchases.

Advantages of Online Stores

There are also several advantages to shopping online. First, online shopping is very convenient. If you are looking for a specific item, you can enter a search query and find what you need almost instantly. You can also easily see the store’s inventory, so you do not have to locate a sales associate to ask if the type, size, or color of the item you want is in stock. You also do not need to leave the house to shop online. This is an advantage that is very appealing for senior citizens, the disabled, and people who cannot drive.

The other advantages to online shopping are numerous. First, distance is not a problem when locating an item. If you are looking for a novelty item, for example, you may not be able to find it locally but you absolutely can find it online. Another advantage is that if you decide not to buy an item, you will not have to answer questions about your decision or feel pressured to change your mind. Finally, items purchased online are more likely to be competitively priced because there are numerous other online stores prepared to attract your potential customers.

Disadvantages of Online Stores

Online shopping also has several disadvantages. First, customer support cannot always provide a high level of expertise on every item that you may purchase. Additionally, you do not always have a clear idea of your purchase. Even with descriptions, pictures, and videos it can be difficult to know the exact size/color/shape of what you are buying. Finally, you do not have the option of instant gratification when you make purchases. If you do try for quick gratification, express and 1-day shipping can get quite expensive.

Lautaro Martinez is a freelance writer and professional student who offers articles and insights into trends in business and technology, as well as advice for the aspiring entrepreneur.

Online vs. Brick and Mortar Retailers: Pros and Cons
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