Yes, clicks rule
No, bricks live
Best Argument: Yes, clicks rule
It's merely a question of when
It's not a question of "will" retail Brick and Mortar die, but "when". For certain types of businesses, it will happen faster than others.
Only the biggest and most powerful and most efficient retailers -- such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, and Costco --
will survive the culling. So in the future there may not be as much choice for comparison shopping in Brick and Mortar, especially if these powerful chains, or companies like Amazon, end up owning much of the electronic shopping real estate as well, or end up controlling the channel for smaller distributors of specialty goods.
For durable goods with lots of reviews, which are not highly specialized and aren't as susceptible to the sensual experience in order to make a convincing buy, customers are going to move to online sales much sooner rather than later.
All of this depends how quickly the enabling technologies mature and how much they cost. Technology is certainly moving extremely fast in this area and it is difficult to predict when this retail transformation to a largely online-based model is going to occur.
For the middle class it will very likely happen a lot faster than for the working class, since they will easier be able to afford the enabling technology. But eventually, everyone will prefer to shop online.
Change is always in the air
There's no doubt that change is in the air. Change is always in the air. That means that some retailers will go out of business, some will flourish, and we'll even see new players enter the market.
The online commerce world is tapping into the needs of consumers, but it, too, is at risk. For example, while UPS and FedEx can shoulder much of the delivery burden, so too must the very beleaguered US Postal Service. While huge sellers like Amazon can shoulder increases in shipping costs, most small e-commerce vendors can't.
And there's the rub. Even in e-commerce, there's a shake-out. Free shipping programs like Amazon Prime effectively sideline many smaller sellers, or send them into the somewhat unreliable arms of "fulfilled by Amazon."
There are good and timeless reasons to shop retail, from the need for goods today, to the desire to handle, see, and touch a product, to the desire to validate that what you're buying is what is actually being represented as for sale, to validating quality personally, to the inability to reliably get packages, to the desire to not spend on shipping, to the difficulty in surviving the individual package shipping process, to the increasing problem of poorly packed products -- and so on.
Jason is right that clicks will grow. I, personally, buy far more online than in person. But I'm relatively affluent, and when I don't want to go into a store, my wife is willing to put up with the crowds and lines.
I do have to caution that most affluent and even moderately affluent people have no real picture of what the poor in America are dealing with. The more we integrate e-commerce into our daily lives, the more we leave those people behind.
If China can push many of its formerly impoverished citizens into the middle class, so can we. And once we do, they, too, can shop at retailers like WalMart and Target, buy from Amazon and Apple, and bring pepper spray to an Xbox sale.
It's the circle of life and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing.
This debate was lopsided in Jason Perlow's favor. I went into the debate skeptical that e-commerce would trump physical retail, but Perlow almost convinced me. Jason is the winner hands down given his solid arguments for his side.
Brick-and-mortar shopping spirit will remain alive and wellIN PARTNERSHIP WITH Ricoh
David Gewirtz: No, e-commerce is not killing brick-and-mortar. Changing business models are hurting some retailers, while others are thriving.
This is not new. For more than a century, retailers have had to change with the times or lose their customer base. Whether it was the big fight in the early and mid-20th century against chain stores (there was actual legislation), or the cries in the later 20th century against so-called Big Box stores and WalMart, or the backlash against online music distribution and Amazon-like e-commerce, there's always been change and pushback by those threatened by change.
As long as there are pepper-sprayin' mamas willing to dive head first into crowds of WalMart shoppers in order to score cheap XBox 360s, the full-contact, hands-on, brick-and-mortar shopping spirit will remain alive and well.