Guest Column | November 2, 2017

Is E-Commerce Really All That Different From Brick-And-Mortar?

Walmart & Sam's Club eCommerce Site Upgrades

By Ryan Alovis, LensDirect

Believe it or not, e-commerce isn’t that much different than brick-and-mortar retail. While e-commerce is a completely different medium and shopping experience physically, it shares the same principles that make a retail store successful.

Crazy? Maybe. But, while most retailers believe they are a completely different experience, the factors that drive why customers decide to purchase are the same. What really makes a consumer shop online at a particular website versus another are the same reasons they would shop at a particular retail store over another: customer experience.

That’s right. Customer experience trumps price because it’s often not the best-priced business that wins, rather it’s the one that resonates with customers best. I can recall many times walking into a nearby retail store and observing how their store design was clean, items were easily found, prices were fair, and their employees were courteous. Next thing I knew, I was coming out with a purchase I hadn’t planned to make.

Like many shoppers-turned-business owners, I’ve discovered that a great customer experience boils down to five factors: location, design, service, price, and convenience. Let’s look at these factors a little closer.


We all know there’s nothing more important in retail than location, but did you know people care about your online location as well? People use location to figure out whether your website can ship to them and how convenient the return process will be. They want to know if an exchange or return can take place at a physical store close to them if something goes wrong with their order.

To help understand why people care about your retail store’s location online consider the results of a study conducted by a company greatly in-tune with e-commerce: UPS. Its 2017 Pulse of the Online Shopper study looked at customer satisfaction and purchase behavior in regards to location and found:

  • 55 percent of consumers were satisfied with the “ability to pick up at a retail location that is convenient to me”
  • 50 percent of consumers have actually shipped to store for pickup; of these:
    • 44 percent made additional purchases in-store
    • 41 percent of them are planning to use ship-to-store more often in the next year

The study also found 58 percent of shoppers preferred to return items in-store, however more of them actually made returns by shipping items back to the retailer.

The study shows that allowing ship-to-store can increase overall sales and having the option to return in-store is valued by a majority of customers but may not reflect how customers actually choose to return items. So, by being more convenient to the online shopper with your purchase and return policy, you can influence online sales by representing what customers value.


An inviting store front and beautiful store design can lead to an increase in sales. A well-designed retail store is easy to navigate and has organized signs in sections that tell the shopper where to find items easily.

Websites are no different. If your website’s design, navigation, and ability to find products are easy and visually appealing, you will win more customers online. After all, that is the basis of what we call conversion rate optimization.

Just think about a time you visited an e-commerce website and found the navigation unintuitive, graphics out dated, and the overall shopping experience a nightmare. The same design and organization techniques applied to creating a convenient shopping environment in-store affect sales online.


Great customer service plays a vital role in your brand’s reputation whether online or offline. Making it more convenient for them to reach you can impact the customer experience and have a trickle-down effect on generating more sales.

In stores, customer service is upfront and personal. It can determine how a shopper remembers your store and can influence their overall satisfaction. Customers are looking for service that helps answer their questions, find what they need, and solve any issues.

It’s no different online, although it may be even harder to represent the same level of care digitally. To improve customer service online try being available everywhere, anytime and focus on making help convenient. You want to reach your customers on every digital channel in any way they prefer to connect with your brand.

At, we went a step further to make the customer feel like family. We’ve done away with general customer service and have created Dedicated Account Reps which gives every customer a specific person to help them. Additionally, we’ve created a discount subscription program called AutoRefill that allows the customer to always have contact lenses while saving money and getting free shipping. These are just some of the reasons our customer retention and satisfaction scores remain so high.


There’s no avoiding it: price does matter. And retail stores can alter their price with sales, coupons, and special events that help drive sales. Online brands, however, can use convenience in pricing to drive sales online.

When shopping online, most consumers just want a code, any code, to receive special pricing. They don’t want to scour the internet for a coupon, hence the popularity of browsers that automatically find the best coupons. Being transparent and clearly identifying your discounts can go a long way with your shoppers. Combine that with exclusive discounts for online shoppers — just as promotion and special events might be for in-store sales —will produce delighted customers and increased sales.


Convenience is the driver that allows for a greater customer experience and is the reason certain brands are winning online. In retail, convenience usually equates to location, but that’s not the whole picture. Other elements include whether the customer can purchase everything they need at your store, how easy your store is to navigate and find items, and store hours.

This is where e-commerce differs from retail the most and how the best brands deliver convenience correctly. For example, even though your e-commerce store is considered a “one-stop shop” and is well designed and optimized for all devices, it can still fail to deliver a convenient experience for the shopper. Since convenience is a byproduct of the user experience your website creates, look for ways to differentiate the online shopping experience, such as:

  • Your checkout process — the less forms in a checkout process, the more convenient the experience.
  • More payment options — people want to use their preferred way of payment, so let them.
  • Optimized mobile experience — the better your mobile website or app looks and functions, the better and easier the shopping.
  • Around the clock customer service — let your customers reach you when and how they want.
  • Flexible return policy — allow for returns to be easily processed online or in-store.
  • Flexible delivery options — it matters when and how products arrive, and consumers want more options and more control.

Flexible delivery such as free or premium shipping isn’t optional anymore; it should be considered standard. Based on the UPS study, 78 percent of respondents choose the most inexpensive shipping option, but more than half expect to have speedier options for delivery. And 75 percent of online shoppers are willing to pay a premium for expedited shipping to fit their scheduling needs.

Customers love free shipping and want premium shipping options to fit their needs. To make it more convenient for them to receive their order, provide them with flexibility.

E-Commerce and retail share many similarities and drive sales success based on what customers value most: location, design, service, price, and convenience. Focus on convenience and your business will win and keep customers by offering unique solutions that provide a great customer experience whether they’re shopping online or in the store.

About The Author

Ryan Alovis is the Chief Executive Officer of The Stella Group, the parent company of (national retailer that allows consumers to buy contacts online), 1-888-GO-ANSWER! (a leading outsourced contact center company), and InTouchMD (a premium healthcare technology company).

In 2006, fresh out of college, Alovis started The Stella Group with no outside capital. Today, The Stella Group has grown into one of the fastest growing multi-industry companies in the country, earning placement in the coveted Inc. 5000, Internet Retailers Top 1000, LIBN’s 40 under 40 and a finalist in the New York Enterprise Small Business Awards. 

Alovis himself has been featured in top-tier media outlets including Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business Network, Inc. Magazine, The New York Observer and Newsday.