Consumers Still Prefer Brick-and-Mortar Shopping—Especially for Jewelry

Despite all the hype about e-commerce, most consumers still prefer shopping at brick-and-mortar stores to shopping online, particulary for jewelry, according to a new survey by A.T. Kearney.

“The future of retail is omnichannel, but it’s anchored in brick-and-mortar,” says Michael Brown, partner in the consulting firm’s consumer and retail group and coauthor of its new omnichannel shopping preferences study. “Brick-and-mortar will remain the cornerstone of retail.”

The survey found that 90 percent of all sales are made in physical stores. In two-thirds of online transactions, a physical store is involved in some way, the study found.

Consumers still like shopping in stores, because “it offers a variety of experiences. It’s sensory, it’s entertaining, there is a treasure-hunt aspect,” Brown says. Consumers “want to spend time with friends and family, they want to touch and feel the product, and engage a knowledgeable sales associate. Those things aren’t always available online.” 

The preference for physical stores was even greater in “high touch and feel” categories like apparel and accessories, Brown says. Consumers favored buying jewelry in particular in physical stores because they felt those stores offered service not available online, the survey said. They also preferred jewelry for in-store pickup. 

“We find that the businesses that do well online are commodity businesses with products that are easily compared in terms of their quality,” he says. “If you always buy your polo shirts at L.L. Bean, you know how they fit, their quality. Jewelry is unique. Every piece is different, in terms of look, sparkle, and fit. That will stand the test of time no matter how commoditized people think diamond studs are becoming.” 

The study found that only 15 percent of jewelry purchases are conducted solely online—which nevertheless is higher than some past estimates, which generally placed the number at less than 10 percent.

Among age groups, seniors and baby boomers showed the greatest preference for physical stores. However, teens preferred brick-and-mortar shopping more than Generation Xers and millennials.  

“Teens prefer to shop because of the social aspect,” he says. “They frequently coordinate shopping trips with friends, and it becomes a social experience in the mall.”

Still, the study predicted that e-commerce will continue to grow, as shoppers “want to shop anywhere, anytime.” So, traditional retailers will need a way to get customers in the store.

For brick-and-mortar stores, the big lesson here is “to create compelling and differentiated experiences and build relationships with customers that keep them coming back,” Brown says.

JCK News Director