Can Clicks Live Without Bricks?

E-commerce is clearly a media favorite at the moment, occupying significant space in most major newspapers and magazines, but most people are still shopping the old-fashioned way.

Many consumers research products online, only to log off and drive to the mall to make their purchases. Pundits in print and talking heads on TV may debate the reasons for this behavior, but the basic news for e-businesses is simply that centuries-old buying habits die hard.

If and when online commerce becomes the norm, it will not necessarily signal the demise of traditional shopping.

Simply put, clicks still need bricks, and the wisest e-businesses are embracing their counterparts’ heritage and economic power. Some observers might suggest that e-businesses are simply paying respect to their elders, but the truth has more to do with learning the lessons of offline selling.

How Not To Create An Angry Mob

Some consumers have already expressed levels of dissatisfaction with elements of online shopping. Privacy is an ongoing concern that has not been fully addressed. Fulfillment and delivery of goods appear to still be in the formative stages. Lack of real people to address when a problem in purchasing arises is another dilemma, and return procedures for unwanted merchandise are getting better in some cases, but not universally.

Integrating Clicks And Bricks

Still, businesses that maintain both online and offline stores, such as Barnes and Noble, are not showing a real sense of urgency in establishing cooperative efforts. For example, a recent stop at resulted in the purchase of a top-selling book for 50 percent off retail, while in the brick-and-mortar counterpart, the same book was only 20 percent off.

Furthermore, some companies have not yet recognized the necessity of offering easy returns for consumers. CompUSA, the national computer retail outfit, will not accept returns of merchandise that was purchased at

Unfortunately, consumers do not really make a distinction between distribution channels, and the reputation of both online and offline locations will suffer for this inefficiency.

The consumer is in search of convenience, a desire that savvy retailers understand. The Gap, for example, offers its customers the opportunity to purchase a garment online, and then return it at a physical store if they choose to do so.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em

Meanwhile, long-established traditional businesses are putting the pressure on even the most successful e-businesses. Although some major brokerage firms have been slow to move online, their reach is clearly being felt by their electronic counterparts.

Merrill Lynch, for example, is clearly focusing some effort on online business, making the popular E*TRADE nervous. E*TRADE has to have clients with portfolio-power in order to thrive, but those particular customers are often more conservative and demand exceptional advice from experienced traders.

Maybe that’s why E*TRADE CEO Christos Cotsakos recently told Wall Street analysts that his company would likely form an alliance with a major brokerage firm.

Cotsakos, like so many e-wizards, has apparently come to feel the unmistakable allure of bricks.

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