May 26, 20201 min read

Photo by Roberto Cortese on Unsplash

The line between e-commerce and offline retail is getting blurred.


On one hand, Covid-19 has accelerated many offline retailer's adoption of ecommerce.

The total goods sold on Shopify platform grew by a whooping 47% in Q1 2020 compared to last year.

In New York City, we are seeing mom-and-pop retailers - groceries, bakeries, lifestyle stores - all popping up new websites with the same Shopify template.

Also, due to restaurants closure, many food wholesalers that usually supply to these restaurants are turning up online to go direct B2C.

Even Facebook is joining in the fun with launching Facebook Shop.


On the other hand, over the past few years, we are seeing Online-to-Offline (O2O) trends from e-commerce companies:

  • A friend's gaming accessories ecommerce has rented a retail space to serve as product showroom and pickup.
  • Online fashion retailer Zalora has regular pop-up stores.
  • Casper (mattress) and Warby Parker (eyewear) are opening stores across the country as they realize customers prefer to try before making significant purchases.
  • In an ironic twist, even the original destroyer of book stores - Amazon - has its own chain of physical book stores, Amazon Books.


Perhaps in the coming years, there won't be any ecommerce vs offline retail distinction.

It will just be commerce - with a better customer experience offering omnichannel touch points: browse/buy online, try and pickup in-store, instant customer support via chatbots.


Several big-name retailers in America - JC Penney, JCrew, and Neiman Marcus (112 years old) - filed for bankrupcy in the past few months.

Let's be clear: their fall from grace was not because of Covid-19 - though it was the final nail in the coffin, nor because they are offline businesses - in fact, they have online stores too.

They simply did not offer a good enough customer retail experience as consumer expectation changes, and could no longer compete solely based on their brand name and the prime locations of their stores.

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