The history of retail + the rise of omnichannel shopping

It all started with a department store in the late 1890s.  

Then came the supermarkets and convenience stores.  

Download the whitepaper "How the lines between ecommerce and brick and mortar  are beginning to blur" to learn about the state of the omnichannel experience.

The mall culture emerged in the 1950s, and big-box retailers were next.  

By 1985, the first whiff of omnichannel shopping became visible: TV and shopping merged with the creation of the infomercial. By 1994, online shopping was born, and the retail world as we knew it was changed forever. 

Brick and mortar: The single shopping channel of the past 

In the past, the traditional free-standing “mom and pop” store was the one and only shopping channel for consumers. People ventured out on their Saturday afternoons to buy new clothing, food, and dishware. It was the way of life. It worked for everyone.  

People went from requesting purchases of a store owner at the counter to browsing the shelves, as Frank Woolworth’s innovation of taking products from behind the counter to displaying them on shelves revolutionized retail as it was known. People didn’t need to ask for an associate’s help to shop anymore. They could touch and feel items. Consumers became truly involved in the process of shopping.  

Eventually, stores began adding elevators and public bathrooms to their stores, enabling people to shop for longer periods of time. Shopping became an enjoyable activity – much like the experience we know today.  

Ecommerce: The new guy on the block 

However, when Pizza Hut took the very first online order in the world in 1994 – a mushroom and pepperoni pizza with extra cheese – retail was transformed.  

Consumer preferences changed quickly with the birth of online shopping after this. It’s no surprise that increasingly busy people fell in love with the idea of shopping without having to leave their homes.  

They had their Saturday afternoons back.  

They didn’t have to shop during regular business hours.  

They weren’t limited by the stores or inventory levels near their homes or offices.  

The appeal of malls and in-store shopping started to decline.  

All shook up (and closing down) 

Brick-and-mortar stores felt the impact ecommerce had on their bottom lines. Online shopping was, in many ways, more convenient, so people flocked to it. People could read and post reviews, compare prices, and compare products online. More orders were made online and fewer were made in store.  

Then came online discounts. 

Free shipping. 

Next-day shipping. 

Eventually, what many called “the retail apocalypse” occurred.  

Sure, brick and mortar still owns retail by a ratio of about 4:1 today. However, many brick-and-mortar stores haven't been able to keep up (Forever 21 being the latest victim). The costs of doing business – including paying staff salaries and rent – are getting higherSales are dipping. Many physical stores, big and small, have been forced to close down. They just can't compete with the ecommerce boom 

Mobile commerce breaks through 

If ecommerce wasn’t a dramatic enough innovation, mobile commerce became a worldwide phenomenon. People still aren’t giving up on in-store shopping, but now they have a new sales channel to choose from: their smartphones.  

Not only can consumers shop at home, but they can also shop on the go now – from anywhere. Every day, more and more consumers use their smartphones and tablets to make purchases. With the creation of mobile ecommerce has come the rise of the omnichannel experience 

Today, creating a great customer experience has become a top priority for retailers as the lines between online and offline channels begin to blur. Shop owners must adapt and keep up with consumer demands, such as “buy onlinepick up in store shopping. They must not only offer online shopping and mobile shopping to meet the needs of their customers, but they must ensure the experience across all sales channels is seamless, consistent, and enjoyable.  

While brands develop stronger omnichannel strategies, it’s inevitable that some companies will thrive in this new age of retail while others will fail to keep up with new technological innovations and modern consumer expectations – to their detriment 

The question is: Will you thrive or perish? 





Text Size

Solange Messier

As the director of digital marketing, I manage BNA Smart Payment’s online presence while promoting its (awesome) brand and reputation. Day to day, I plan, manage, and lead large and small marketing projects from conception to execution and work with the sales team to connect effectively with prospects.

Find Solange Messier on:

Subscribe to our blog