The myth of offline retail death, to be or not to be?

By February 21, 2013
Keywords : e-commerce, retail
retail death

Marc Andreessen, famous American entrepreneur, VC investor, software engineer, and multi-millionaire recently predicted the absolute death of traditional retail. Interviewed by Pandodaily, he said “Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice…” Well, I vaguely recall Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and current king of China e-commerce said those similar, though not that extreme views, “e-commerce is like machine guns to shoot all the Kongfu masters of traditional retailiers”. So perhaps “offline retail death, to be or not to be” would become a great topic for sophist debate.

To me, above bold “e-commerce prophecy” from men, technology men or men doing e-commerce business. Well, if could, perhaps most males, would love to see the shutdown of all physical stores (I mean woman knows one of the ways to torture a man is asking him to go offline shopping with her…). Technology is for sure constantly changing, but will it ultimately take certain intrinsic inclinations out of women in future; for instance for decades women love lingering in malls, walking through door to door, trying and touching different commodities, and carrying those heavy shopping bags like trophies to go home? I do not know.

According to a recent global survey conducted by PWC, it claimed the death of the physical store has been greatly exaggerated. Consumers still prefer to research products online and then go to a store to buy the product, instead of doing the other way around. The findings are consistent across several product categories, however with the exception of the books, music, movies and video game category. Physical store remains the centerpiece of the purchase journey. There may still be a place for the offline store at least functioning as a showroom.

PWC report also indicates China’s online model is unique, ahead of digital curve, in terms of using new devices, social media savvy and more driven by social commerce. Demographically, China’s online shoppers are the youngest and most employed.

I noticed in China that younger generation women tend to spend long hours on Taobao and Tamll (China’s biggest online shopping platforms) for virtual window shopping, gradually replacing the time of offline shopping. So will the opportunity cost of that bring the major downfall of offline retailing in China in future? Again I do not know, and again it is a good debate topic.


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