The BBC has recently put out a nice little video about the birth of online shopping:
I still remember the early days of Amazon, when a lot of people cast doubt on its ability to become profitable. After all, it was argued, we like to get our hands on goods, to look at them and touch them, before we buy. How said people must be feeling silly now.
It's not that we have turned our backs in visiting physical shops. You only have to head down to Swindon's designer outlet centre at the weekend to realize this isn't the case. But for those at work, most shops simply don't operate in the hours when they want to go shopping. If you've a 9 to 5 job, then you can shop before 9 or after 5. So when do shops open? Often 9 to 5.30. Clever thinking, guys. Is it too much of a surprise then that people turn to online retailers, where they can shop where and when they like?
Convenience has to be a major part of the argument. In our last house, where the nearest supermarket was 20 minutes drive away, we almost always had our groceries delivered. Now I've a massive 24 hour superstore 5 minutes walk away we are much more likely to just pop over and get what we need when we need it. Town centres hardly help with this by charging for car parking, so not only have we to take time to get there, we have to pay to park. Is it surprising that customers head for out of town or online shopping?
Online stores have a big disadvantage because you can't see the goods before you buy them - but they make up for this with their convenience of access and by trying to provide superb customer service. If bricks and mortar shops want to keep going they should build on the advantage of presence by seeing how they can improve their access and get much better at how they treat their customers. That way, they could still give the Amazons of this world a run for their money.