Virtual vs. Real: Both Count When Selling

By Doug Mohney November 16, 2016

People have been predicting the end of “real” interaction to buy things for decades. Virtual trade shows were supposed to kill real ones, e-commerce sites were supposed to kill off storefronts, yet the results have been mixed at best, with the best companies combining both online and brick and mortar storefronts in order to grow and thrive.  You may be able to bootstrap a new venture through online efforts, but sooner or later people have to talk to you in person and "kick the tires" on real goods.

To be fair, online has killed or damaged a number of industries that have failed to adopt.  Blockbuster failed to adjust to Netflix and other online services, with little else to offer other than DVD rental and impulse-buy junk food. Did Borders die because it didn't have an online offering to compete with Amazon? Or was the market for in-store browsing and the purchase of hardcopy goods only able to support a single store -- Barnes & Noble -- that also had an e-book play?

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, continues to survive, but it has spent billions to acquire e-commerce firm Jet.com to enhance its online expertise along with a bigger investment in China-based JD.com.  As a part of its continued e-commerce focus, it is doubling the number of fulfillment centers to speed fulfillment times.

Meanwhile, e-commerce king Amazon is slowly starting to introduce physical storefronts in major cities, with stores opening in Seattle, San Diego, and Portland, Oregon, with plans to open up stores in Boston and Chicago.  It is also opening up pickup locations on college campuses and plans a line of small traditional storefronts to sell perishable groceries that people can take home, plus drive-in/drive-through locations for pickup of online grocery orders. 

Amazon storefronts will be "labor lean," with few employees, and will have to compete against Walmart's plans to win in the "fresh and consumable" space. Traditional grocery stores also have launched online grocery shopping, such as the Peapod service, providing a choice of pickup or to-the-home delivery for e-commerce customers.  

One has to wonder if there will be a future blending between existing fast-pickup locations and e-commerce. Could 7-11 and gasoline service stations chains find new revenues by leveraging existing locations? Mobile and connected vehicles may make it possible for a traveling family to quickly place a lunch order and pickup things they forgot to pack, enabling the family to save time to get back on the road and the outlet to make more money through anticipating and fulfilling demand.

Trade shows, especially those that have built and cultivated attendees over the years, continue to thrive. While a virtual email flier and a website can provide technical specifications and generate leads, prospective customers seeing services and goods -- especially those requiring a commitment in time and money -- want to meet with company representatives in order to get a better sense of how an organization and its people operate.   A website can provide an impression while a face to face meeting typically closes a deal.

The need for face-to-face contact as a confirming factor is the reason why shows such as CES and ITEXPO have managed to last and continue onward for years and decades, in spite of the (failed) promises of virtual shows to deliver equal or better success.  So where will you be in February? 




Edited by Alicia Young

Contributing Editor

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