Online shopping offers convenience that could be outweighing the experience of shopping in a store. But will customers always choose convenience? It’s possible they won’t, since a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of U.S. adults preferred to shop in brick-and-mortar stores rather than online.

There are some aspects of shopping in a physical store that can’t be matched online. Even while the retail tech landscape changes rapidly, brick-and-mortar retailers have several competitive edges that will always withstand those changes -- and the smartest retail leaders recognize and capitalize on those advantages.

Better customer service

While most online retailers offer customer support, it can be difficult to get in touch with a real person right away. The options are typically:

  • Chatting with a virtual assistant
  • Choosing from a list of options a recording offers
  • Sending an email and waiting for a response

All three options lack the immediacy and expertise that a well-equipped in-store associate can offer.

American Express research found that 67 percent of customers surveyed have hung up on a phone call after not being able to talk to a real person. Another survey by Harris Interactive found that 75 percent of customers think getting in touch with a live agent takes too long.

Spending extra time trying to tailor questions in a way a virtual assistant will understand, fighting with a phone recording that doesn’t offer the exact option you need or sending an email and waiting a day or two for an answer defeats the purpose of shopping online in the first place.

If one of the main pros of online shopping is getting what you want as fast as you want, then spending extra time trying to tailor questions in a way a virtual assistant will understand, fighting with a phone recording that doesn’t offer the exact option you need or sending an email and waiting a day or two for an answer defeats the purpose of shopping online in the first place. Well-trained store associates can answer questions immediately, lead shoppers to the items they want and make more personalized suggestions.

More confidence in purchases

Shopping in-store takes the guesswork out of sizing, fit and quality. This is especially helpful with apparel, where shopping online can be more of an exercise in hope and guesswork than certainty. Shorr Packaging found that the most popular reasons customers returned items bought online were:

  • ”The product was not what I expected” (25 percent)
  • ”The product did not fit properly” (17 percent)
  • ”I had the wrong item delivered” (16 percent)
  • ”My product arrived damaged” (5 percent)

Size charts can’t tell a shopper how a piece will hang on their body, the sheerness of the fabric or how it will make them feel. Pictures can be misleading in the fit, quality or color.

That hasn’t stopped online-only retailers from trying to find ways for customers to virtually try on items. But they’re all just poor imitations of the real thing: These features are more or less uploading a picture of yourself and pasting the item on top like a paper doll. It’s fun, but what shows up in them mail a week later can still fail a customer’s expectations.

No shipping hassles

While online shopping does allow for quick ordering, customers still have to wait for their items to be shipped to them or pay a premium to have it expedited.

FedEx and UPS estimate the average shipping method within the U.S. can take up to 5 business days, while other shippers can take weeks.

Shopping in-store cuts out the wait time and any stress wondering if a shipment will arrive on time (or worse, get stolen off the porch).

"Shipping snafus of all kinds are an unfortunate fact of life when it comes to online retail, which many lovebirds learned when their flowers never showed up on Valentine’s Day." (TheStreet)

On TheStreet, Matt Brownell lists online shopping woes from his readers, mentioning that one of the biggest downfalls of online shopping is the absence of instant gratification. Whether the item purchased is a necessity or a fun impulse buy, customers are going to need or want it right away. Brick-and-mortar retailers offer that immediacy, and with that convenience comes an experience.

The in-store experience

Brick-and-mortar stores offer an experience that just can’t be matched online. Decor, music and smells can draw a customer in and relax or excite them.

If you walk into Sephora looking for a new eyeliner, not only are you met with endless options, but you’re also given an experience. Everything about the store is designed to make shoppers feel as though they’ve entered a high-end makeup playground.

Sephora interior

The mirrors and vanities where you can try on different shades or colors makes you feel like you’re behind the scenes of a high-fashion runway show. The store associates wearing the latest bold lip colors and dramatic eye makeup show you you’re in the hands of experts. Being able to try on and play with the products make the trip more than just an errand: It becomes an event.

Human connection

Can you recall a recent online shopping experience, or do they kind of blend together? We’ll guess the latter. It goes something like this: you needed something or got an email about a sale, you scrolled and scrolled, read reviews, placed and deliberated about items in your cart, then checked out.

Brick-and-mortar stores offer something people ultimately crave more deeply than convenience: Human connection.

Think of memorable in-store shopping experiences. A Black Friday expedition with your relatives. Shopping for an occasion dress for your daughter’s prom or wedding. A post-breakup thrifting "bender" with a friend. Waiting in line at GameStop for a turn with the Wii. Hanging out in a mall food court with your friends in high school. Buying your first car.

The list is probably a little bit longer.

Customers have said they’ll pay more for and switch to brands that offer superior customer service. Are you scheduling and training your staff to meet that opportunity?

You already know your brick-and-mortar store offers a unique experience that online retailers can’t match. But your potential customers may not.

Why should retailers care?

You already know your brick-and-mortar store offers a unique experience that online retailers can’t match. But your potential customers may not.

We’ll be back later with creative new ways to play up these unique aspects of your business in advertising materials. (Scroll down to subscribe so you don't miss a post!) Until then, just keep offering the best customer service and in-store experience possible. It's what makes your brand powerful.

Agree to disagree? Want to point out brands doing this well? Comment below or share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.