Online vs. Brick & Mortar Shopping 5 Key Differences

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Over the years, the internet seems to have changed how we connect and share information. It’s also changed how we shop for our next meal, a new outfit, or a gift. When online shopping became the norm, fears arose over the possibility of in-store shopping plummeting. Stores not embracing the digital shopping format envisioned a future where their business model simply ceased to exist but over the past 20 years, that has proven to be untrue.

In 2018, statistics provided by Statista show us that e-commerce sales globally were at $2.84 trillion, with figures expected to climb as high as $4.88 trillion during 2021. While these are astounding figures, and while most prominent brands and retailers have a notable online presence, one cannot overlook that in-store retail sales in 2018 were at a whopping $24.86 trillion and pushing up steadily each year. We can use these figures to conclude that, yes, e-commerce is lucrative, but there’s still a lot of money to be made with brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. The statistics show us that it is still the preferred shopping choice for millions of people.

Comparing Brick & Mortar Shopping with Digital Shopping

Having a better understanding of each shopping format is essential when comparing brick and mortar with digital shopping.

A business that sells a product or service from a physical location is referred to as a brick-and-mortar store. A brick & mortar store is a local grocery store, a florist, a clothing store, and retail chains that you can physically walk into and see/touch the products on offer. A business that operates purely online and sends products directly to a customer’s doorstep is a digital store. Digital stores may have a warehouse where they hold stock or participate in affiliate or dropshipping, so they don’t have to keep inventory on hand.

A combination of a brick & mortar store and a digital store refers to an omnichannel business that offers both in-store and online shopping – these are “click and mortar” stores. Customers can shop online and then decide if they will pick the goods up in-store or have them delivered to their door.

Brick & Mortar Stores vs. Dedicated e-Commerce Stores: What Sets Them Apart?

One of the most significant differences between a regular brick-and-mortar store and an e-commerce store is the business model. Brick and mortar stores offer customers the opportunity to shop for goods at a physical location. They can see the product and know what they are buying. An e-commerce store is quite different in that there is no physical location for a customer to view a product range.

Another big difference that comes into play is that brick-and-mortar stores operate during set hours, and trading or customer assistance is rarely provided after hours. E-commerce stores are pretty different from brick and mortar stores in that they capitalize on being always-available. Their products can be viewed and purchased online at any time of the night or day, and in most instances (not always), there is some form of contact available after hours.

That said, while the convenience of digital shopping is undeniable, most customers still prefer to visit a physical store to compare products and select items that suit their needs and budget. A trend has been seen of customers doing online research on a product and then heading to a store of their choice to make the actual purchase.

What’s the Difference Between the Brick & Mortar and Online Shopping Experience?

Below is a look at how online shopping experiences differ from brick and mortar shopping experiences and why there’s still a lot to gain from operating a physical store.

1. Physical connection with the product (sensory)

When shopping online, customers cannot physically touch, hold, try-out, or investigate a product. There is only so much that you can glean from online reviews. This makes the in-store shopping experience far superior as customers can browse around and fully engage all of their senses in the decision-making process.

2. The need for instant gratification

Everyone is guilty of needing instant gratification. Customers may like the idea of shopping online, but then there’s the wait to get it delivered. With online shopping, the gratification is somewhat delayed. Customers who want to enjoy their purchase immediately will shy away from online shopping and head down to the local retailer instead.

3. Instant returns/exchanges

Another area where digital and brick-and-mortar stores differ is in the handling of returns. If a customer purchases the wrong product or the product is defective, a quick and hassle-free return or exchange process is preferable. Brick and mortar stores offer a quick turnaround on returns and exchanges. The same cannot be said for digital stores. Online purchases must be logged online for return by customers, packaged, and sent back via the same shipping method, resulting in weeks of waiting to get a refund or exchange the product.

4. The social aspect

There’s nothing social about online shopping, not in traditional terms at least. Shopping online is about swift convenience and having to deal with as few humans as possible. The in-store shopping experience is quite the opposite. Research has shown that the simple act of shopping can light up pleasure centers in the human brain. When shopping in-store, customers are greeted warmly by shop employees who can instantly assist with product queries and concerns. For many, in-store shopping is also a social engagement, especially when done with a loved one, family, or friends. This fact alone makes it a preferred shopping method for people who want to get out and about and connect with the world around them.

5. Access to information

There’s no denying that the internet is jam-packed with information, but how accessible is the information on a product listed in an e-commerce store? Can customers ask in-depth questions and expect instant answers, or must they wait weeks for an emailed reply that merely refers them to FAQ articles that don’t satisfy their needs? Sadly, digital shopping pales in comparison to brick and mortar shopping when it comes to access to information. A brick-and-mortar shopping experience provides customers with access to instant shopping assistance – no need to wait.


As a business owner grappling with whether to have a brick-and-mortar store or digital store, it’s essential to understand this: human interaction plays a big part in the human condition, and as such, in-store shopping will always be a desired aspect of human life. That’s not to say that you don’t need an online presence. It is better to create an omnichannel shopping experience that offers customers a phenomenal in-store shopping experience and access to online shopping if so required. Online shopping may provide convenience, but it doesn’t offer the same personalized, satisfying shopping experience as brick-and-mortar shopping does, so don’t lose sight of that.

Jacob Lindqvist

Jacob Lindqvist

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