There are basically three general views in today’s world of business. The first is that the only thing stable and asset tangible is a company that possesses a building and has in stock an inventory of whatever they are selling. The next are those who have grasped to a certain degree the benefits of virtual assets but are only comfortable with these assets as long as they are representative of a bricks and mortar company. The last of course are those who have grown up with a potion of their reality virtual, and they are as comfortable with browsing a web store as they are walking through a department store, maybe even more so.
There are the inevitable plus and minuses attached to each of these schools of though. Let’s discuss the bricks and mortar establishment. There undoubtedly some major advantages to the tangibility of a place where you can pick up the product run your hand over it smell it and make sure it is up to your approval before you lay down your hard earned dollar. Perceived or not some view a bricks and mortar establishment as a guarantee that the consumer will have the customer support necessary should any problems arise with the product. In other words we all like the idea of having a door to kick down and a face to put to the problem, or do we?
That brings us to our next group of consumers. A good example is someone who feels OK about shopping at Costco Online. Although the service provided shows little difference from any other virtual store the difference in reality is that the consumer can imagine that somehow that product is floating off of the shelf at their local Costco, packaged and mailed to their house. The justifications may vary with each person but for the most part it boils down to familiarity. I like to call this phenomenon “the Edsel factor”. For those of you born in the last 40 years the Edsel was an extremely innovative car produced in the 50s and 60s. The Edsel however was not as well received as manufactures had dreamed. The Edsel boasted some futuristic options like a push button transmission. Who would not want a car with push button controls? This is “the Edsel factor”, your average consumer is just fine with technological advancement and innovation as long as he/she has that gear shift knob to hold onto.
Just look at some of the modern equipment we use everyday, most of it is based on ancient design. Usually we have just improved on the original. If I was looking to market a laser drill, I would first of all want to make sure that the laser drill as much as possible looked and functioned like a traditional drill, even if it was not the most efficient design.
It seems silly to a lot of web design teams but familiarity is much more a factor for product acceptance than functionality is. The key is to make it familiar and functional.
The last group to explore is the virtual generation, or as I like to call them, my kids. It still amazes me to see a three year old navigate the Disney Web Site with utter ease and confidence. The virtual business place is just as real and tangible as the brick and mortar world. The next generation will recognize that the difference between an internet bank and bank on the corner is ease, convenience and cost. In my opinion the web based business will inevitably win out over a majority of brick and mortar establishments, I believe that such establishments will lose momentum in the face of a generation that is 100% web literate. As foot traffic decreases and overhead increases brick and mortar businesses will have to adapt or disappear.
The world is pushing that way at this very moment as the generational torch is passed virtual may very well become a massive part of our reality. The hand writing is on the wall, it just may not be a wall of brick and mortar anymore.