Brick-and-Mortar Stores: Types, Advantages, and Disadvantages

What Is Brick-and-Mortar?

The term "brick-and-mortar" refers to a traditional street-side business that offers products and services to its customers face-to-face in an office or store that the business owns or rents. The local grocery store and the corner bank are examples of brick-and-mortar companies.

Brick-and-mortar businesses have found it difficult to compete with web-based businesses like Inc. (AMZN) because the latter usually have lower operating costs and greater flexibility.

Key Takeaways

  • Brick-and-mortar refers to a traditional business that has a physical store or stores where customers browse and make purchases in person.
  • These kinds of traditional stores have had a harder time in the digital economy, in which web-based retailers such as eBay or Amazon benefit from lower operating costs and more flexibility for customers.
  • Many traditionally brick-and-mortar companies have created simultaneous, connected web-based businesses so as to better compete with online-only firms.
  • Similarly, the long-standing and important brick-and-mortar model has had an impact on some previously web-only companies that have opened physical locations to realize the advantages of traditional retail.

Understanding Brick-and-Mortar

Many consumers still prefer to shop and browse in a physical store. In brick-and-mortar stores, consumers can speak with employees and ask questions about the products or services. Brick-and-mortar stores have the ability to offer experience shopping whereby consumers can test a product such as a video game or laptop at Best Buy or have lunch in Nordstrom's cafe while shopping at the store. Brick-and-mortar businesses also provide consumers with instant gratification when a purchase is made.

Some consumers are wary of using credit cards or other forms of payment online. These customers often associate legitimacy with a brick-and-mortar business, as a physical presence can foster a perception of trust. However, there can be disadvantages for corporations that run brick-and-mortar stores including the costs associated with leasing the building, employees to conduct transactions, and utility expenses such as electricity, heat, and water.

Brick-and-Mortar Store Sales

On a per-store basis, publicly-traded retailers typically report same-store sales, or comparable-store sales, in their quarterly and annual SEC-regulated earnings reports. These financial metrics provide a performance comparison for the established stores of a retail chain over a specified period of time. Brick-and-mortar businesses that include restaurants, grocery stores, and general merchandise stores use these figures to evaluate their financial performance to guide corporate decision-making regarding their stores.

On a macroeconomic level, the U.S. Census Bureau releases retail sales figures on a monthly basis and e-commerce retail sales figures on a quarterly basis.

Non-store retailing, such as direct (door-to-door) selling and e-commerce, posted sales of over $888.5 billion for the year 2020.

Many brick-and-mortar stores have found it difficult to compete with web-based stores like; however, companies such as Costco thrive by offering its members services such as online pickup.

Successful Brick-and-Mortar Store Example

With all the negative press surrounding brick-and-mortar stores combined with the popularity of Amazon, one might think that the brick-and-mortar business model is dead. However, Costco is bucking the trend.

Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST) is a membership retailer that charges an annual fee of between $60 and $120 to each customer. Consumers receive cost savings and service benefits for being a member. As of 2021, Costco had over 111 million members and a 91% renewal rate in the United States and Canada.

Costco beat out Amazon as the top Internet retailer in a consumer survey done by Verint Systems, Inc. Costco sells 10,000 products on its website and offers consumers the option to buy goods online and pick them up in the store, which helps offer its members a compelling alternative to Amazon.

Types of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

There are several areas where brick-and-mortar stores still provide a resilient business model. These are typically situations where a face-to-face shopping experience provides more convenience than online shopping. For example:

  • Convenience Stores: Convenience stores account for a large share of retail business locations. Because most of their revenue is from impulse purchases, online stores are unlikely to fill their niche.
  • Groceries: Grocery stores allow customers to personally inspect their products and take them home immediately, another area where online stores are at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Specialty Stores: These are stores that fill a specific customer need, such as hardware stores or bookstores. However, they do face competition from online sellers.
  • Department Stores: Large stores with a variety of different products in different departments. These are most susceptible to losing money to online sales.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Brick-and-Mortar stores offer the advantage of an in-person shopping experience, which may be important when the product must be inspected by the shopper. They are also more convenient when the product cannot easily be delivered online, such as a haircut.

Some business types are more appropriately suited to brick-and-mortar forms, such as hair salons, veterinarians, gas stations, auto repair shops, restaurants, and accounting firms. It is crucial that marketing strategies for brick-and-mortar businesses highlight the advantages a consumer has when purchasing at a physical store.

On the other hand, brick-and-mortar stores tend to suffer higher overhead costs than online stores, and they can reach fewer customers. Commercial rental space tends to be more expensive than warehouse space, especially if the store relies on foot traffic or a downtown location. Moreover, they need to hire enough staff to keep the store open, as well as pay for cleaning, insurance, and office maintenance.

Pros and Cons of Brick and Mortar Stores

  • Provides a more personal experience.

  • More effective for goods that must be effective, or do not ship easily.

  • More effective for some services.

  • Higher costs for rent.

  • Higher staffing costs.

  • Difficult to serve customers outside a specific geographic area.

Adaptations for Brick and Mortar Stores

The rise of electronic commerce (e-commerce) and online businesses has led many to contemplate the future of the brick-and-mortar business. It is increasingly common for brick-and-mortar businesses to also have an online presence in an attempt to reap the benefits of each particular business model.

For example, some brick-and-mortar grocery stores, such as Safeway, allow customers to shop for groceries online and have them delivered to their doorstep in as little as a few hours. The increasing prevalence of these hybrid business models has spawned offshoot terms such as "click and mortars" and "bricks and clicks."

Despite fairly sustained growth in the broader brick-and-mortar landscape, many traditional retailers are closing stores nationwide including Gymboree, The Limited, Radio Shack, and Gamestop. Meanwhile, other stores such as Sears and Payless ShoeSource have declared bankruptcy.

However, the importance of the brick-and-mortar model has been given credence by several large online e-commerce companies opening physical locations to realize the advantages of traditional retail. For example, Inc. has opened brick-and-mortar stores to help market its products and strengthen customer relations. Aside from opening a cashier-less grocery store in Seattle and dozens of bookstores nationwide, Amazon also acquired grocer Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion—a move that many analysts said highlighted Amazon's urgent desire to strengthen its physical retail presence.

What Is the Return Rate for Brick-and-Mortar Stores?

Brick-and-mortar stores have an average return rate of 8.9%, compared to around 30% for online stores. This may be because it is harder to inspect online goods before purchasing, or because

How Many Brick-and-Mortar Stores Are There in the US?

There are just over a million retail establishments in the United States. As of 2020, the exact number was 1,045,422.

What Is Brick-and-Mortar Banking?

Brick-and-mortar banking refers to the practice of depositing and borrowing money through online banking applications or websites, compared to visiting a branch in person. Many retail banks are now eliminating some of their branches to provide more services by mail, telephone, or on the web.

The Bottom Line

Brick-and-mortar is a colloquial term that refers to retail stores and offices that customers can visit in person, in comparison to online stores without a customer-facing storefront. Although they provide a more personal shopping experience, these stores are often being undercut by online stores with much lower overhead costs. However, some businesses such as hair salons and grocery stores are still largely done in person.

Article Sources
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  1. United States Census Bureau. "Annual Retail Sales Top $5,570 Billion."

  2. Costco. "2021 Annual Report," Pages 4-5.

  3. Verint. "Costco, Amazon, and Apple Take Top Spots in Retail Customer Satisfaction Survey."

  4. Zippia. "21 Retail Statistics: How Many Stores Are There?"