The modern market is booming as COVID-19 fades into the background, and both eCommerce and retail businesses have massive opportunities to expand. For many, there’s no better time to become entrepreneurs!
If you want to start your own business and make it as a merchant, you have to answer one key question: Will your business be an eCommerce enterprise? If you’ve never owned or run a business before, you may not know what the differences between eCommerce and retail are — or why they matter.
Today, let’s take a look at eCommerce vs. retail in detail and break down why you might consider one or the other for your business venture.
What Is eCommerce?
In a nutshell, eCommerce is any commercial activity — including buying or selling goods and services — that takes place primarily or entirely online. Some easy examples of eCommerce activities include:
- Buying a pair of shoes from an online store, then having those shoes delivered to your door.
- Buying some clothes online, then visiting a retail store to pick those clothes up.
- Selling digital currency for a video game online.
- Purchasing a subscription for a downloadable software platform, which you then use on your computer.
Therefore, an “eCommerce business” is simply a business that does most or all of its business online. eCommerce businesses can trade in physical goods and services, of course. However, money changes hands through online payment platforms, such as credit card payment gateways and cryptocurrency gateways.
What Is Retail?
Retail is not the opposite of eCommerce. A retail business is any business that sells something to customers, including both goods and services. Selling physical goods — such as clothes or tools — is a retail business. Selling software is a retail business as well, as is selling the computers those software programs run on.
Unlike eCommerce businesses, retail businesses don’t have limitations in terms of how those products get to customers and how money exchanges hands. Retail business can include:
- In-person sales at brick-and-mortar organizations or stores
- Catalog-based shopping, which was more common several decades ago
- ECommerce retail operations, such as selling products on Amazon
- Selling products in a marketplace like a grocery store or shopping mall
Is eCommerce Considered Retail?
Yes, eCommerce is considered retail. In fact, eCommerce is a type of retail activity. The vast majority of eCommerce businesses revolve around selling things to customers. Those things can be physical, like a shirt, or digital, like a software program.
Put another way, (almost) all eCommerce businesses are retail businesses, but not all retail businesses are eCommerce enterprises.
What’s the Difference Between eCommerce and Retail?
The core difference between eCommerce and retail operations is that eCommerce businesses are limited to doing most or all of their business online. Your business is not an eCommerce company if it doesn’t get most of its profits from online sales (although there’s nothing stopping you from calling it one, of course).
In contrast, retail businesses can include brick-and-mortar stores like small self-owned shops, plus an eCommerce site you use to sell online. Therefore, you don’t have to choose between eCommerce and or retail. You might choose eCommerce and retail together in many cases.
How Has the Evolution of Online Commerce Impacted Retail?
Over time, online commerce has significantly changed the retail commerce sphere. Understanding these changes will help you determine whether you want your new business to incorporate eCommerce elements such as an online store, or if you would rather stick with a brick-and-mortar operation.
Changes to Supply Chains
eCommerce has primarily impacted retail via supply chains. Simply put, the convenience of online shopping means that supply chains must now order (or create) and stock enough goods to account for online purchases in addition to purchases at storefronts.
On top of that, consumers now want additional customization and choices from their businesses. As a result, many retailers have added additional varieties and styles to their product lines than they would normally fit in a storefront.
Many retail stores have less selection for their brands than their online counterpart stores. It’s not uncommon for products to be listed as “only available online” on a brand’s eCommerce site, so customers can’t get them at a brick-and-mortar store.
Companies have changed their supply chain management practices to account for these shifts. For example, they now over-stock their most popular products, anticipating a lot of online sales (especially around Black Friday and Cyber Monday).
Stores as Showrooms
However, online shopping has also changed many in-person storefronts in a more dramatic fashion. It’s made many storefronts little more than showrooms. For example, it’s not uncommon for customers looking for tech gadgets or computers to visit stores to check out said devices and computers in person.
When the time comes to make a purchase, they go home, order the device online, then wait for it to be shipped to their doors. There are lots of reasons for this, ranging from personal comfort to preference to greater options in color and variety online (as detailed above).
Regardless, lots of brands find that they don’t have to have as many retail stores open as before. They can instead have one or two brick-and-mortar locations for customers to visit in person, particularly if they like to speak to a sales representative for advice.
Having an online store means brands can spread and earn high profits by selling internationally without necessitating international retail locations. In a broader sense, this has improved many businesses’ bottom lines.
However, physical stores are still important! Many brands now use their retail stores’ showroom status as a way to provide sales advice and offer the expertise of their salespeople to their customers. In fact, having your sales staff be a part of your communication and sales strategy could be a great way to build long-term relationships with your target audience.
One of the big limitations of eCommerce is that people can’t feel products in their hands or see them in person before receiving them. For a lot of people, this is a major downside. Purchases may happen more online for blended retail and eCommerce businesses, but relationships and decisions are made in person just as they were in decades past.
Customer Experiences and Expectations
These shifts in the retail sphere have also shifted customer experiences and expectations. For example, customers now expect more flexibility regarding pricing and payment systems.
It’s no longer enough to just offer one or two payment methods. Now, if you have an online store, you need to accept debit and credit cards, PayPal payments, and cryptocurrency payments. This is easier now than it was before thanks to platforms like CoinPayments, but it’s still a major shift for retailers around the world.
Customers also are more sensitive to price differences between similar brands. For example, salespeople at in-person stores are now used to customers pointing at cheaper prices for a product found online, then having to match that price so they don’t lose the business entirely.
If you start a blended online and in-person business, keep in mind that your people will run into this problem sooner or later. It may pay to do in-depth pricing research regarding your competitors so you usually have the cheapest prices for your goods.
As noted earlier, decentralized finance is now the norm. Online and in-person stores alike now accept crypto tokens for payment, plus other options like PayPal payments. Through decentralized finance, it’s now common for enterprises to have a handful of retail stores where their primary customers are found.
Then, they use decentralized finance tools in crypto tokens or credit and debit card payment gateways to accept business from around the world. Their online stores handle the bulk of their international business and enable them to reach a wider audience than ever before.
Above all else, modern brands should recognize that they aren’t limited to geographically close people anymore. If you launch an eCommerce site, your combined business could potentially make more money than it ever could through physical storefronts alone.
As you can see, eCommerce and retail are more connected than not. You can run either type of business successfully and see major profits, especially if you accept cryptocurrencies as payment options from your loyal customers.