Online or In Store

online retail

Welcome to the new era of retail where in-store and online shopping actually work together. "The two worlds have merged," according to Josh Boaz, managing director and co-founder of digital marketing agency Direct Agents. "Consumers go into stores, evaluate products, and buy online, or research online and go into the store to make purchases."

Retail director at UPS Bala Ganesh agrees, stating that recent research from UPS showed that 40 percent of today's shoppers use a combination of online and in-store interactions to complete their purchases. Yet, it's not always feasible for someone with a physical shop to also open and manage an online store. If you're deciding between opening your own store - either online or off - How do these two selling channels differ? What similarities do they have?

Similarity Research

One of the biggest similarities between online and brick-and-mortar retailing is research. When shoppers enter a brick-and-mortar store, it isn't a coincidence that they'll find winter wear in section four or sunglasses near the checkout. It's actually the result of hours of customer behavior analysis. The same can be said for all online shopping sessions since items are strategically organized and placed in a way that will enhance the whole experience and increase the likelihood of completing a sale.

Plus, staying up-to-date on what customers are looking for and how they want to interact with your store is crucial. "People are on the go, researching on phones and tablets," Boaz said. "If you're not savvy to what's happening out there… [you'll miss out]."

Difference: Costs

Overall, selling online is typically less expensive than opening a physical store. With an internet-based store, you don't have to worry about renting space, paying utilities, designing décor or creating signage. Besides products, shipping, website costs, and online payment options are the most expensive factors online retailers regularly incur.

However, before you're completely sold on selling online, you might consider what kind of items you're offering. Research by the California Institute of Technology states that consumers are willing to spend more on products they can see and feel, so items like designer clothing, furniture, jewelry, makeup and cars are usually purchased more often when viewed in person.

Similarity: Customer Service

Customer service needs to be an emphasis in both online and brick-and-mortar retail situations, even though tactics can vary a little. The goal is the same - to make customers confident in their decision to purchase from you and ensure that they're thrilled with what they bought. Whether you're interacting online or in-person, continue the conversation after a purchase is made and pay attention to what their actions tell you. Remember, social media is great for solving any problems quickly, no matter what selling format you choose.

Difference: Invenotry

Space is limited in an actual retail store, while you can offer as many items as you want in an online shop. Generally speaking, "a retail storefront will perform better for a business that sells a select number of products, while an online store may work better for a business that carries an extensive selection," according to Houston Chronical blogger Stacey Zeiger.

Similarity: Marketing

It doesn't matter if your store is virtual or brick-and-mortar, you'll need to successfully advertise your items and create consistent branding. The overall look and feel of either type of store, your signs, slogans, and logos, all come together to form your store's marketing and help establish your business's unique brand. Whether you're using offline tactics to support your online store or online strategies to promote a physical store, a detailed marketing plan is essential in helping you decide how you're going to attract the attention of your customers.

Difference: Competition

With an online store, you're competing against businesses in other cities, states, and even countries. Shoppers can find a product they like and easily compare and contrast costs, shipping services, and reviews. With a retail store, you can investigate your surroundings to make sure you're selling different products or offering lower prices than your competitors. According to Zeiger, "If what you are offering is not unique, then a retail storefront will be more successful at trying to earn new customers than trying to break into an already saturated online market."