Will E-Commerce Completely Replace Stores? Not by a Long Shot
One of the dangers of technical tools is that you can come to be too dependent on them.
Take e-commerce, for example. It's so easy, right? All those online sales between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, accessible with the click of a button. And perhaps therein lies the problem. As Jason Del Rey wrote in All Things D of how quickly and easily he could buy presents for his wife:
...by letting our fingers do the shopping, we tell ourselves that we are freeing up precious time in our busy, busy lives. Oh, the things we'll do with the time we save!
Except, at least in my experience, that's totally a farce. The time saved? We end up allotting it to some other digital exercise. And along the way, we sacrifice almost all of the serendipity that emerges when picking out a gift in a shop in the real world.
It's too easy to shop, with most people going directly to what they want rather than having to consider what is available and hunt down the perfect gift for the person in question. E-commerce often becomes business without the emotion that marketing needs. It can be too cerebral, with people going through the motions of something they need to do, but no heart in the process.
There are signs of this gap between e-commerce and traditional retail. Online companies have started to use pop-up stores to reach consumers in ways that are impossible in a purely virtual way. Even Amazon has experimented with a pop-up to push its Kindle line.
Learning to cross the line between virtual and physical will become more critical, as large retail experts have not stood still. They made a major online and offline effort to stake out territory in holiday sales.
The object lesson is that technology is a tool to serve a business, not a replacement for merchandising, marketing, customer service, partnerships with other companies, or product design. As important as effective use of technology can be, never let yourself lose sight of the fundamentals of business. It is always a human activity.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.