The various and vast influences of the rise of the Internet can never be fully appreciated, chiefly because the technology impacts radically on every facet of human interaction. As more and more people globally rely on it to attend to their commercial, financial, and even personal needs, the very totality of the usage renders definitive assessments of its influence impossible. This has been true, as well, of the impact of the Internet on retail markets. Something like an arms race between brick-and-mortar retailers and the Internet was set in motion by the advent of online shopping venues, and it was a race which appeared to be favoring the new technology.
For some time, it seemed as though the brick-and-mortar purveyors were destined to an abrupt and ignominious end, and this was largely due to the speed with which the Internet became a fixture in modern living: “At the end of the 1990s, the prevailing opinion was that traditional retailing was going to disappear with the advent of the Internet”. Rather suddenly, it very much looked as though an ideal commercial opportunity evolved, and one with incalculable benefits for both consumer and retailer. It was seen as inevitable that people would embrace a form of shopping that required none of the energies and obstacles of venturing out of doors. Internet retailers, along with hybrids of commerce like eBay reaching gargantuan proportions within the space of a few years, were gaining ground at dizzying rates. Moreover, financial institutions stepped up to accommodate lingering concerns regarding such consumerism, and safety protocols assured the buyer that any purchase made from home was as safe, if not safer, than one made in an actual store.
Interestingly, however, and despite the inevitable failures of some brick-and-mortar concerns due to online competition, the “arms race” has evolved into more of a mutually cooperative venture, as each component accepts that the other is a significant and permanent force in the realm of commerce. This has come into being chiefly because, conveniences and allures notwithstanding, it has become evident that commerce entails a great deal more than the simple act of buying and selling goods. That is to say, the survival, and often increased success, of brick-and-mortar retailers powerfully illustrates a social component in the process most people are not willing to abandon.
It is virtually impossible to estimate how important the social experience of shopping is, since it is inextricably woven into the fabric of all communal life. There are, of course, other disadvantages to online commerce which literal shopping eliminates. The actual ability to see and investigate the product is denied by the online experience, despite increasingly advanced virtual presentations, and people very much like to assess merchandise in a sensory manner. Then, an online retail outlet is only as reliably stocked as the data which has been fed into it, and consumers are aware that communication, even that rendered nearly immediate by the Internet, may often lag behind a physical reality.
Ultimately, however, brick-and-mortar shopping experiences are in no danger of extinction because people actually require the experience itself, certainly as much as they require the products. In any society, from that which centers on bazaars in a rustic marketplace to those boasting sophisticated and comfortable shopping avenues and malls, people turn to these excursions to satisfy profoundly social needs. For many, in fact, actually entering into a commercial venue is the only fully social experience they have (Harrington 124). A visceral interplay occurs in these environments, one combining cordial relations with the exercise of bargaining and discretionary powers. Then, in such brick-and-mortar scenarios, the consumer also enjoys a validation not attainable through online purchasing; he or she is acknowledged in a dimensional way as a human being, and it is consequently a more inherently gratifying experience. While it is not likely that the enormous advantages to online purchasing and trade will be discarded, and even as the largest brick-and-mortar concerns have been compelled to maintain an Internet presence, the reality also remains that the brick-and-mortar retailer, merely by virtue of providing a literal forum, is essential to the people of any society.