Study: Brick-and-mortar stores may have e-biz edge

Hybrid "click-and-mortar" companies are better positioned than pure Internet plays to grab the benefits of the e-commerce boom, a new study finds.

The study was performed jointly by consulting firms Bain & Co and Mainspring Communications. It concludes that in many retailing sectors, pure Internet companies will remain niche players.

Retailers that combine online and off-line assets will have an easier task at easing customers' chief concerns about e-commerce, the study concludes. "One of the things that encourages consumers to purchase, is the ability to examine the goods in a brick-and-mortar store before ordering them online," said Julian Chu, director of online retailing at Mainspring. And a key driver of customer loyalty is the ability to return goods quickly and cheaply, according to the study. "Customers object to returning goods by mail," said Chu.

The economics of retailing may also work to the advantage of traditional retailers. For instance, in the apparel market, click-and-mortar stores have lower customer acquisition costs, greater per-customer spending and higher referral rates.

As part of the study, 4000 consumers were asked what had held them back from buying groceries online. More than half (54 per cent) said that they preferred to select groceries themselves, while 32 per cent said they enjoy shopping in brick-and-mortar stores and the same number of consumers said they don't want to pay for delivery.

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