How To Start & Grow Your Business

E-commerce vs Traditional Retail: Friends, Enemies or “Frenemies”

Elli St. George-Godfrey
Jan 2nd, 2015
  • Estimated reading time: 5 min read
  • Hummy's

    1Retailers, both online and off, must adapt new methods. 2The one thing online sales lacks is personal touch. 3Gaining a new customer=21x the cost of keeping one.
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U.S. $20 bill with two credit cards.

This chat idea stemmed from a couple of blog posts about e-commerce (and its sibling “m-commerce” for mobile/smart phone/tablet commerce) and the effects on retail and bricks-and-mortar or traditional commerce and shopping. One of them was from Ten Approaches That May Shape the Future of eCommerce.

Let’s define our commerce terms

E-commerce – selling goods (physical or digital) or services via the internet (via a computer) or mobile phone or tablet. Other related terms: e-shopping, m-commerce. And the newest trend, smart TV-shopping. Already TV retailers like QVC and HSN have an option to shop using your remote…even without a smart TV.

In days to come, that may be the tip of the TV-shopping iceberg. My prediction…I think one day you will see something on TV, click your remote and be directed to the website that sells the shirt the actor is wearing. Catalog retailers have been one of the winners in the e-commerce wars. Many turning their paper catalogs into more robust online stores.

We often hear doomsday predictions when a new technology disrupts the “traditional” landscape…

While Radio didn’t kill live performances or books, TV didn’t kill radio, and the internet didn’t kill TV – each new technological improvement did force the purveyors of the old to adapt. But we’ve already seen evidence that Amazon’s e-commerce activities were likely a factor in the demise of Borders Books & Music, both online and their bricks-and-mortar stores.

Who is next to go down? Or who is the next bricks-and-mortar retailer to embrace online technology and grow their business? Personally, I prefer to try something on or to hold an item in my hand before buying. While I welcome the innovations of e-commerce, I hope my favorite stores manage to adapt and stick around.

There is a tug of war going on between traditional retail and ecommerce

Both types of stores keep trying to up their game to capture the attention of their customers. Some companies keep trying various ways to customize the customer experience. This can be a workable strategy, or a never-ending wild goose chase. How a store or website looks and functions is important, but beware of innovating too far ahead of your customers.

As JCPenny’s former CEO found out. They tried mobile point of sale checkout, but many customers looking for the cash register…couldn’t find the check out people. An online example is remarketing or retargeted ads – ads that follow you around the internet after you browse and online merchant.

To some they are creepy…like the store sales associate who won’t leave you alone to shop. I find retargeting a waste, as they often chase me long after I have bought from another online merchant, store or brand.

Another trend: cross-channel integration

Trying to make sure the website recognizes the customer on web or smart phone, and have similar branding in store and on social media. For larger operations this can be costly, but can lead to stronger customer loyalty. For smaller companies, it might be too costly, although similar branding in store and on the web should be achievable.

Responsive web design

This also a growing trend. Instead of having a separately-built mobile site, many sites are shifting their M-commerce -to mobile-responsive sites – one that resizes itself to size of screen. While I think this is good, some customer-friendly features can get lost in the simple responsive sites. tablets work well, but on smart phones, sometimes a dedicated site makes more sense. Although responsive web design is still in it’s infancy. I’m betting we will see more innovations here.


Retailers, online and off, need to manage growth wisely. It’s not good enough to sell lots of products these days…to last you have to sell good products, with an easy to navigate online and/or offline store, handle shipping and fulfillment to the customer, and try and bring them back for more. S/he who masters those items will rocket ahead, especially when dissatisfied customers can squawk loudly via social media. Estimates suggest that the cost of acquiring a new customer is 21 times more than keeping an existing one.

E-commerce cons:

One thing that is still missing from the online shopping experience is the personal touch. Customer reviews and “chat with a rep” features help, but you also can’t try clothing on when shopping online. But there is often a trust factor with customer reviews, which some people don’t trust. Let’s face it they can be gamed. Also, some are still loath to trust their credit cards to the whims of the internet and problems of identity theft.

Online e-commerce venues seem to have gotten the view and buy product thing right, but are still struggling with keeping customers happy after the sale – shipping, handling etc.

There is some hope for traditional retail…

One study indicates that millennials end up selecting Walmart as their store of choice, over Amazon, after they become parents.

New retail trends…pop-up retail

Like the food truck, pop-up retail has taken off in a big way in the U.S. it can be a great way to test products, concepts and generate buzz with less investment for small innovators, and for larger retailers as well. works great with social media to let people know where the physical location of the store is. Mobile commerce has fueled this growth. These ideas came from a white paper available on

This article was written by Elli St. George-Godfrey and published on KaizenBiz…developing people and business ideas…