Is The Website The New Storefront?

A business storefront is the home of the entire operation, a place for customers to physically see and make judgement of your product. It has been a staple of consumerism for the longest time. Different businesses layout their storefront to best suit their brand, custom signage, wall decor and store layout that represents an image. An image that is portrayed to the world.

A website follows the same process. Instead of store layout we have product pages, wall decor is replaced with high quality graphics and signage is replaced with advertising space. A website and a storefront used to be comparable, but as we have seen over the last decade, websites have been dominating customer traffic and producing more bottom line while offering reduced operational costs and more sales volume.

A physical storefront is being seen more and more as a novelty rather than a necessity for the younger generation, since the slice of total global retail sales coming from online sales have grown significantly year by year, the importance of transitioning into an online focussed sales model is obvious.

Worldwide e-commerce share of retail sales 2015-2023
Published by Daniela Coppola, Nov 26, 2020
E-commerce share of total global retail sales from 2015 to 2023

Daniela Coppola writes “The fastest growing online retail market is India, followed by Spain and China. Digital retail development in these countries is strongly connected to the constantly improving online access, especially in mobile-first online communities that have long struggled with the traditional fixed broadband connections due to financial or infrastructure restrictions but enjoy the advantages of cheap mobile broadband connections.”

The 2020’s will most certainly see the biggest increase in online sales, from both desktop and mobile, simply due to ordering processes being more accessible to people that previously didn’t have such capability, which begs the question, what’s going to happen to physical storefronts this decade?

Well, currently during the whole Covid incident we are seeing several small businesses shutting doors permanently, physical industries such as construction, manufacturing and transportation have been struggling and restrictions have seen people focussed businesses such as counselling and hotels grind to a halt also. Remembering that a storefront doesn’t necessary mean that products are being sold, just a physical building that houses the products or services that are on offer.

One particular aspect that ruins small business owners with physical stores are the high running costs and constant maintenance of the premise. So many startups are running with an incredibly lean business model with the intention of keeping costs to the absolute minimum. A physical premise is not even a passing thought for most entrepreneurs. The website has quickly become the younger generations version of the high street, with the actual high street becoming more of an activity that draws customers in on specific holidays.

There is a lot of reasoning why storefronts are not going to be some sort of extinct aspect of consumerism, there will always be storefronts because people like experience. People like to go and feel and try on things before they purchase them. It’s more so about an experience than a requirement though. Which is why a lot of department stores have closed doors recently due to them not being in that ‘necessity’ bracket of shopping unlike most online stores. Furthermore, a lot of businesses have zero business outside of their store. So what happens when customers can’t go into your store? Quite simple. It’s the exact same simple idea of not throwing all your eggs into one basket. Which I think is what happens so frequently with physical store owners simply because owning a physical premise takes a ton of time and effort. So you would hope that it would pay out.

I mentioned before that physical storefronts are being seen as more of a novelty more now than ever. This has to do with the simplistic process of spending money and getting what you want online, that a physical storefront cannot compete with. The speed and choice is what sets these two apart. Whether it is a service or product you have the choice to pick the very first one you see and order it within minutes, knowing it will arrive in its entirety. Or to spend time travelling to other establishments and knowing you might not get what you sought after. The ease of purchasing is so powerful, combined with the decrease of patience in modern society, helps fuel the online industry even more. It is seen as a waste of time to talk with several different plumbing companies to see what ones the best, when whoever comes up on the first page on Google is reputable enough for most consumers.

Social interactions are being morphed into a new dimension that a lot of companies aren’t ready for. A lot of consumers value efficiency over an experience. Over a quarter of people in the world are purchasing online. Which helps reinforce the notion of everyone shifting into a perspective of wanting to be more time effective while purchasing products and services. A working culture change ought to be blamed for this, since many individuals simply do not switch off from their work long enough to spend a couple hours dedicated to shopping and exploring the high street. So those individuals will be more primed to spend more of their time flicking through pages online and finding something they like within minutes.

The process has been simplified to the point where you can find what you want within minutes while searching online. This has dented the integrity of most physical stores because they will of course only have limited stock at one time. It is such an interesting phenomenon because looking back to how consumerism was in the early days of the internet and before. It is crazy how much different every process is, alongside a shift in consumer values directly from online shopping.

To conclude, the website is most definitely the new version of the physical storefront. Many companies run with big margins and push out a ridiculous volume of products to consumers without ever owning a physical store. Gymshark is a perfect example of this. A lean business model is here to stay and I am very excited to see how the consumers perception of shopping changes within this decade and I wonder how long before online shopping takes a larger chunk of the global retail sales than physical stores.