The Disadvantages of E-tailing

By Dan Keen

There once was a time when the only way people could make a purchase was to physically go to a brick-and-mortar retail store. Then came catalog sales, where people could sit in the comfort of their own home and browse through pages of color pictures and descriptions of products. In today’s Internet age, the catalog concept goes a step further, with customers able to make instant purchases online. While e-tailing, or e-commerce, has many advantages, such as being open for business 24/7, this retail medium does have some disadvantages.

Can't Feel Products

Just looking at a photograph and reading a description of a product may give enough information for a consumer to make a purchase online. Some products, however, need to be held, smelled, touched and listened to in person, making them poor candidates for e-tailing. Musicians, for example, will typically want to play an acoustic guitar before making a purchase, since every guitar has its own unique feel and sound. A person interested in buying speakers for his home stereo may want to listen to them, which can be demonstrated in a retail store but not through an online e-tailer. Deciding on the purchase of a new car is another instance where people are apt to want to smell, sit in and test drive the car.

Hard to Build Customer Relations

The friendly smile of an employee greeting you as you walk into a retail store can go a long way in building customer relations, helping ensure repeat business. Helpful and knowledgeable interaction with store employees creates confidence with customers. E-tailing lacks the opportunity for face-to-face contact and must try other means to establish long-term relationships with customers.

Additional Costs

E-tailing involves additional costs for purchased items compared to purchases made at brick and mortar stores. Items must be mailed or shipped, incurring not only the additional cost of postage but also for packing materials, which can be significant if items are large or fragile. When items have to be returned, even more postage may be required by the e-tailer for return shipping costs.

Finding Your E-tail Store

In the 1989 movie, “Field Of Dreams,” the theme was, “If you build it, they will come.” Unfortunately, just creating a website does not ensure potential customers will visit your store. A retail store in a shopping mall is almost guaranteed it will get a lot of interest generated by foot traffic. While there are strategic promotional steps an e-tailer can take to try to increase the odds of his site appearing in the results list from a Google search, driving Internet traffic to a site requires a lot of work, with no sure results.

Lack of Consumer Trust and Security

People may have more trust and confidence in dealing with a physical retail store than with an online e-tailer. They know that the store is there, and if they have a problem they know where to go. In contrast, a website might look very impressive, yet the business might simply be a person working part-time with a laptop computer on a kitchen table, who could close the business at any time or simply decide to ignore customers who have complaints. Some consumers might not only be leery of the solidness of an e-tailer but also be hesitant to share credit card and other personal information over the Internet to someone they can’t see.