E-commerce is rapidly expanding. So much so, even traditional retail behemoths like Walmart want in on the action. It should come as no surprise e-commerce now accounts for 16% of all sales in the US alone. In 2019, it was a 601B dollar pie, and everyone wants a piece of it.
But what drives the growth of e-commerce? What is the reason behind this rapid expansion? What are the advantages and disadvantages of e-commerce over traditional commerce? Today, I’ll give you the answer.
What’s e-commerce, anyway?
Back in caveman days, early humans had to go out to places called “stores” if they wanted to do their shopping. It was a very crude and primitive way of doing commerce. They had to walk into buildings, talk to other humans, wait in queues… It was a nightmare.
E-commerce changed all that. Now we can simply enter a website through our smartphones, pick what a few items, pay for them electronically, and get them delivered to our door the next day. Without even leaving the house or interacting with anyone. It’s heaven for introverts.
E-commerce changed our shopping habits a lot. Unlike traditional commerce where you shop at a brick-and-mortar store, e-commerce allows you to buy things digitally. Any type of shopping you do through digital means (website, social media, email, etc.) is a form of e-commerce, and it offers many advantages over traditional retail.
Advantages of e-commerce over traditional commerce
The advantages of e-commerce over traditional retail cannot be overstated. That’s the reason e-commerce grows more and more every year and why it will only continue to grow. Some of the positives of e-commerce include:
- Retail websites work 24/7. Unless there’s a power outage that kills the server, online retailers work non-stop. This means you can shop while you’re sitting on the toilet at 3 in the morning (purely theoretical example).
- Online retailers offer lower prices. When your store is hosted online, you have fewer expenses. Therefore, online retailers can afford to offer goods at lower prices without cutting into their profit.
- You can easily compare goods and prices. Before the Internet, you had to actually walk around town to compare prices. In the end, you ended up wasting more time than saving money. But with e-commerce, you can easily compare prices online. There are websites dedicated to this. You can find the best prices faster than you can say “ka-ching!”
- It’s super quick. E-commerce allows you to buy whatever you want with a few clicks. Instead of physically going to the store, shopping for half an hour, waiting in a queue, and then coming back home.
- It’s super easy to find what you want. With just a few clicks and typing a few words into a search engine, you can find what you’re looking for. It’s the closest we’ve ever gotten to using actual magic.
- Low cost of entry. Basically, anyone with a good idea can start a business. It doesn’t take much capital to start unless you’re entering a very competitive field.
- You can get lots of information about a product. A competently built online store will be chock full of information about the products. And that information will be presented in such a way that it won’t put customers to sleep.
- E-commerce enables many niche markets. If you’re in a small town, it’s almost impossible to run a niche brick-and-mortar store. With e-commerce, being niche is actually preferable. Now you can get customers from all over the country (and even the world).
- You don’t have to worry about transportation. Whether you’re ordering a watch or a fridge, the retailer will handle transportation (and the good ones will even pay for it).
- You can order things that aren’t available in your country. Go to an international retailer and order whatever you want. Easy as that. As long as you have the cash to cover the delivery cost.
With so many advantages for both customers and shop owners, is it any wonder that e-commerce is eating away at traditional retail? “OK,” I hear you ask, “if e-commerce is so great, then why hasn’t it wiped out brick-and-mortar stores, yet?” Excellent question.
E-commerce is gaining fast. Even traditional retailers are investing heavily in digital platforms because they see where things are going. But that doesn’t mean that e-commerce doesn’t have disadvantages.
Disadvantages of e-commerce over traditional commerce
Enough praise. Now let’s have a look at the disadvantages of e-commerce:
- Low barrier to entry. One of the advantages is also a disadvantage. The low barrier to entry is amazing for people who genuinely want to build a legitimate business. But it cuts both ways and allows scammers a foot in the door. This is why it’s very important for real business owners to build a brand. So they can stand out and gain their customers’ trust.
- There’s no guarantee you will get what you order. There are many memes about this – you order something awesome, but when it arrives, it’s totally different (and a lot less awesome). You’re disappointed. Granted, if you bought it at a legitimate site, you can still return it. But it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
- You have to wait for delivery. With e-commerce, you skip the hassle of going to an actual store, but you have to wait for delivery. In recent years most deliveries happen within a day, so it’s really not that big of a deal. But still – if you want it right away, you better go to the store and get it.
- Security is sometimes iffy. Not all websites were created equal. Sometimes, security can be an issue, especially when you’re shopping at a smaller site. If their encryption has more holes than swiss cheese, you’re in it for trouble. Therefore, you should only buy from retail sites you trust.
- It often lacks a personal touch. Going into a physical store, you can talk to consultants and get a sense of personal touch. This is not the case on most e-commerce websites. A sense of personal touch is possible to achieve online through good branding, photography, and copywriting. But not everyone bothers to go that far.
- Software hiccups can be expensive. If you’re running a successful store, your site going down even for an hour can cost you piles of cash. Hence why it’s a good idea to invest in quality web development.
- The competition can be fierce. If you’re selling a popular product (watches, jewelry, shoes), the competition can be very fierce. You need to immediately find a way to position yourself well within a niche, or you’re done for.
As you can see, e-commerce is a beautiful rose and it smells ever so lovely. But it’s not without its thorns. While you shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of running a retail website, there’s always a caveat and you should understand the advantages and disadvantages of e-commerce. You should weigh the pros and cons before you go all in.
Till next time.