Sometimes Old Technology Beats New as E-commerce Embraces Bricks and Mortar

I’ve written before about the potential value of older technologies. I’ve pointed out how, if the old way of doing something still offers some benefits, the old way can remain viable even when newer technologies that might seem disruptive emerge.

Of course, companies should pay attention to new technology. They should determine its impact and how it might fit into their business. But, sometimes older technology might still offer a benefit, or it may continue to appeal to particular market segments. When this is the case, some companies can still have a business advantage offering those older technologies. Those advantages should not be ignored, especially when companies are lured by the attractiveness of the latest new technology and might be tempted to overemphasize it in ways that do not fit the business.

So, as I said in previous writing, if an older technology continues to offer benefits, there may be a place for the older technology in the market. And, that’s what we’ve been seeing recently with bricks and mortar. For a long time we had been hearing that e-commerce was disrupting bricks and mortar retailers. Now, we see online retailers recognizing the benefits of a physical building and experimenting with bricks and mortar locations. They might do so to offer better service, to reduce costs, or merely to better compete with the online business of traditional bricks and mortar retailers.

Even Amazon is planning its first bricks and mortar location, as described in the October 10, 2014 Wall Street Journal article “Amazon Experiments With First Physical Store” by Greg Bensinger and Keiko Morris. In a related article, “Online Retailer Conquers a New World: Physical Stores” by Douglas MacMillan, the November 18, 2014 Wall Street Journal described how an online eyeglass seller is adding bricks and mortar locations, and how other online retailers are experimenting with physical stores as well.

Still another somewhat related Wall Street Journal article is “The Deals vs. the Noise” with the subtitle “Strategies for a Season of Early Holiday Discounts; Savvy Shoppers Can ‘Webroom’ “, by Elizabeth Holmes, November 26, 2014. The article points out that today’s shoppers are ’webrooming’. As the article reports, “this is when shoppers research products online, then dive into a store to buy and get out. It’s the reverse of ‘showrooming’ “. ‘Showrooming’ is when shoppers come into the physical store to look at a product, then buy it online. The Wall Street Journal article explains that ‘showrooming’ is “still a threat: targeted shoppers aren’t in the mood to browse.” But, unlike ‘showrooming’, ‘webrooming’ brings business to bricks and mortar stores.

‘Webrooming’ is one more example of what I discuss above: when old technology still offers a benefit, it can continue to have a place in the market. Along these lines, bricks and mortar retailers offer ’webrooming’ shoppers a benefit not available from e-commerce companies that only have newer technology, such as online shopping.

Yet, newer technology cannot be ignored. Companies, including bricks and mortar retailers, should be applying new technology in ways that fit their business. And, “The Deals vs. the Noise” Wall Street Journal article does describe how bricks and mortar retailers are adopting those newer technologies, such as smart phone apps, for example.

What do we learn from all of this?

When new technologies loom, think through how your business should evolve as technology changes. Evaluate your business strengths, and assess how the new technology might fit your business. Although the new technology may seem like a threat, there may be ways to readily fit the new technology in with your business strengths. And, by sticking with the strengths of your business, you may even have marketplace advantages that the new technology alone cannot offer.

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