We’ve gotten pretty used to talking about e-commerce and brick & mortar retail as if they were two entirely separate things operating in parallel universes. In fact, industry commentators often treat the “on-line shopper” as some sort of new species.
Yet more and more the notion of e-commerce as a channel unto itself is collapsing. A distinction without a difference.
Yes, some on-line only businesses like Amazon will continue to thrive, and no doubt we will continue to see purely digital retailers launched. Some will carve out profitable niches.
But with few exceptions, the real action–and the biggest source of future growth–lies with omni-channel retailers, that is, those brands with a compelling presence in brick & mortar and on the web (and mobile, and social, etc.).
When the media quotes the rapid growth of e-commerce, don’t forget that much of that growth is fueled by the digital operations of traditional brick and mortar players such as Macy’s, Best Buy and Neiman Marcus.
The reasons for this are simple. Consumers think brand first, channel second. Consumers use multiple touch points on their purchase decision journey. More and more, consumers value the unique convenience of on-line shopping, but often will appreciate the unique benefits of a physical store.
Forward thinking omni-channel retailers like Nordstrom have stopped breaking out the sales of their e-commerce division and their brick and mortar stores because they accept the idea that the distinction is increasingly meaningless. More importantly, they act on this insight and have worked hard (and invested mightily) to eliminate shopping friction and make their brand available anytime, anywhere, anyway.
So forget e-commerce and brick & mortar. Stop with the separate P&L’s, non-sensical incentives and channel-centric customer analysis.
Put the customer at the center of everything you do, and build from there. Rinse and repeat.