Over the last three years, online retail has dramatically grown in sophistication, accessibility and magnitude. As our market gradually deviates towards vast online transactions that consume our daily lives, it is evident that numerous conventional retailers and local stores have been shutting their doors. Most people now carry a virtual shop in their pockets in the form of mobile phones or tablet devices. With so many purchasing options literally in the palm of everyone’s hand, it is clear that e-commerce has drastically altered our perception of retail and shopping.
Before the upsurge of e-commerce, all shopping had always been done conventionally through the stores themselves. Nowadays, with companies like China’s e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba spearheading this revolution, it is evident that online shopping will only continue to grow. As more and more people diverge from traditional shopping towards websites such as Taobao or Amazon, the already enormous-commerce market expands. This expansion creates a positive reinforcement loop, generating more and more revenue and attracting more and more consumers –and how could they resist? The allure of having purchases delivered to your doorstop without any physical effort is effective and efficient.
While the e-commerce industry has provided us with virtuous increases in convenience, criticism of the market is widespread; many condemn the lack of personal touch and finesse, while others point out the frequent absence of quality control. However, while these disadvantages may be evident, the bigger problem that e-commerce generates is the demise of small, intimate boutiques and personalized shops. In Beijing in particular, we are witnessing small, family owned businesses close their doors for good due to lack of revenue. This raises distressing questions regarding the direction of online retail: will our future will be consumed and engulfed by the big cooperate name brands of e-commerce? Will small and intimate stores cease to exist?
However, e-commerce prevails is in its cost effectiveness, which is not only beneficial for consumers, but also for businesses. Products in online retail websites are often cheaper than their store-bought counterparts, as firms forgo the cost of running a physical shop. Furthermore, e-commerce businesses lack traditional limitations of shelf size or store capacity; therefore, everything businesses intend sell can now be listed and presented to the consumer.
In the years to come, e-commerce will most likely be the most popular means of retail; but for e-commerce to flourish even further, it must begin to emphasize personalized consumer products. It is essential not to neglect the power of a direct relationship with the consumer, as doing so will fill the void left by the eventual absence of intimate boutiques.
There are countless advantages and disadvantages when it comes to online retail, but the undeniable fact is that the e-commerce revolution is in full swing and is indisputably changing the way we live. The convenience of e-commerce has cemented its place within our lives, and almost every one of us is engaged in the market in some way or another. So sit back and relax until your next package arrives – I’m sure it will be worth the wait.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Matthew Ding, a student at Dulwich College Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo: bfishadow (flickr)