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Insights | By Howard Tiersky

The Downsides of Digital Retailing

Having a great digital customer experience is essential for any company; customers demand it and it has other benefits like lower costs and broader geographic reach compared to traditional channels. 

But everything has downsides, including driving people to your digital channels rather than dealing with them in-person. 

Here are seven downsides to digital retailing. 


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Conversion rates are almost always lower for e-commerce purchases than they are for in-store purchases. 

Traveling to a physical store is a much greater level of effort than navigating to a website or app, so that means customers usually have higher buying intentions when they go to a physical store and less likely to want to leave with nothing and waste all that effort.

But the flip side of that coin is that because it’s far easier for the customer to come to your e-commerce presence, you probably have more traffic than in physical stores, despite the fact that the lowered effort also means there’s less investment and, therefore, less pressure to complete a purchase in that visit. 


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Similarly, because it's easy for customers to come back to the store anytime without a significant investment of effort, they are more likely to wait for items to go on sale before purchasing. 

Some digital tools, such as Honey, actually alert customers when items they have browsed in the past have price drops or go on sale, further encouraging this revenue-reducing behavior.


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Digital shopping gives customers the ability to compare products and prices across merchants with ease

As a result, customers in the digital world are far more likely to comparison shop because you (and other competitors) have made it so easy for them to do so. 

While this is of course possible in physical retailing, its orders of magnitude more effort for customers to visit multiple stores, find the same product and check the prices, so they are far less likely to do so to save a few dollars.

If your products are truly a better value, then this can work to your advantage; if they are not, this transparency may cause you to lose sales.


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Unfortunately, the easier it is for people to shop online, the easier it is for cybercrimes to occur. 

Cyber crime has many advantages to the criminal over traditional crime.

Cybercriminals don’t have to put themselves in physical danger the way they do if they shoplift in a store. They can also commit crimes such as credit card fraud from anywhere in the world, often outside of the reach of the law enforcement entities that are on point to protect your business. 

Digital also makes crime more efficient than in the physical world. For example, a cybercriminal can write a simple software program to attempt to make purchases using thousands of stolen credit card numbers in an automated fashion. Even if only a few of them work, the rouse can be profitable, unlike the in-person use of stolen or counterfeited credit cards.


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In order to be competitive, e-commerce sites need to make it quick and easy for customers to get help, such as via online chat. 

This can be a far superior experience to tracking down an associate at a retail store.

But once we make it that easy for customers to request service, they are more likely to do so. 

The more service requests you get, the more staff is needed to handle the additional requests.

This may be viewed as a downside of digital retailing however digital tools also create opportunities to proactively answer customer requests via site content, reviews, or via automated tools such as chatbots, so many leading digital retailers are avoiding this downside and improving customer service while keeping costs down.


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Customers have come to expect free shipping when purchasing online. 74% of online shoppers say that free shipping is one of the most important factors at checkout. On top of that, 25% of shoppers will actually abandon the items in their shopping cart if they see an unexpected shipping cost added right before checkout. 

But free shipping isn’t free to the retailer. In fact, e-commerce retailers end up paying almost double in both warehousing and shipping costs compared to retailers that operate primarily in physical stores.  

While the cost of shipping can really impact the profitability of online sales, there are, of course, diminished costs, such as real estate, utilities, and security.


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Products that were purchased online are over three times more likely to be returned compared to products purchased at a “brick and mortar” store. 

This may be for a variety of reasons. For example, if you’re shopping for apparel, you are able to try the clothing on at a physical store, whereas when you shop online, you have to wait until you receive the item in the mail to try it on at home. If the item doesn’t fit, you’ll likely return it. 

And similar to the lowered conversion downside, e-commerce returns are easier and, therefore, more appealing because they usually don’t require a trip to the store, instead merely involving re-boxing the item and printing out a label. 

Of course, the flip side to this is that customers who feel confident that they can easily return a product if it doesn’t meet their hopes or expectations are more likely to click “check out,” and this can result in higher overall sales.


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Today’s customers are living a digital-centric lifestyle, so few businesses will succeed without an outstanding and easy e-commerce option. 

As demonstrated, there are clear downsides to digital retailing, but creative retailers are finding ways to make e-commerce even more profitable and scalable than brick-and-mortar stores. 

The upsides of “Digital” include the ability to have far more selection, create a more personalized shopping experience, and sell nationally or even globally without increasing your geographic footprint. This makes it a tremendous opportunity for any retailer. Book a FREE 30-minute call with us

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Wall Street Journal Best Selling Book


  • Learn the three patterns of all successful digital brands (including companies like Apple, Netflix and Uber).
  • Understand why many great new products fail, and the formula for building products that won’t.
  • Discover the key reasons companies resist change and how to overcome them.

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